MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) will issue new guidelines to vet non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving public funds, following the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.
COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan said her agency will release the guidelines this year. With the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the COA will come up with a consolidated list of NGOs that the government can transact with.
“Our intention, and we hope the DBM and DSWD will agree with us, is to start from scratch. Even those in the existing list [of DSWD] should again go through the process because if they have good track records and are legitimate, that should not be a problem. To level the playing field, we must weed out those that should not be on the list,” Tan said in a Senate hearing on Monday, March 17.
The move comes 8 months after the pork barrel scam broke out, where the COA and justice department found that bogus NGOs got millions of pesos in development funds in an intricate scheme involving top lawmakers and scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. The scheme violated procurement laws. (READ: Why fake NGOs got away and Wanted: Tech, manpower to catch Napoles NGOs)
Tan said COA will send the draft guidelines to the DBM and the DSWD in April, form a technical working group, and come up with joint rules after two months.
“The guidelines are rather thick because there are many controls,” Tan said.
DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said her agency also needs guidelines because different departments had different lists of accredited NGOs using varying standards.
While the DSWD has an existing list of registered, accredited and licensed NGOs, Soliman said there are “specific competencies” beyond the agency’s work.
“For infrastructure, it takes a specific skill to monitor infrastructure. For budgeting, it also takes a certain set of skills. That’s the same case in other agencies. We support a consolidated list, but specific competence will be based on the kind of agency’s competence,” Soliman said.
Besides the COA, DSWD and DBM, Tan also suggested that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) be part of the process of consolidating the list of NGOs.
Tan explained that the Local Government Code allows local government units (LGUs) to transfer funds to NGOs. She said this explained why, when COA tightened its rules on the use of implementing agencies in 2010, those part of the scam resorted to using LGUs as conduits.
“So the DILG should also be included so we have common standards, even for the local governments.”
Before the issuance of the new rules, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Escudero asked the DBM to issue a circular to make it clear that only the DSWD’s list of NGOs should be honored in government transactions.
DSWD primarily in charge of accreditation
Soliman said that the DSWD should take primary responsibility for vetting NGOs, even if she agreed that the agency can enter into a partnership with groups like the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC).
“What I would like to see is that a partnership of PCNC, DSWD can be done but because we are the government agency, we think we are responsible. But a partnership will be welcome. They are focused on financial responsibility.”
Soliman said the partnership with the PCNC will help the DSWD because the group is focused on financial responsibility.
The PCNC is a self-regulatory body that certifies NGOs applying for donee institution status. This means accredited NGOs can receive tax-deductible or tax-exempt contributions under the law.
In a previous hearing, the group said it is able to conduct a more thorough check of NGOs through accreditation teams that conduct site visits, and talk to board members, staff and beneficiaries.
Escudero agreed, “I just want a government agency doing it so accountability is pinpointed to a government official. I want to be able to put the blame on someone, make someone liable for inefficiencies, malfeasance in NGO accreditation.”
‘NGOs should report fund use online’
Tan said part of the regulations the COA is drafting is to require NGOs and civil society organizations (CSOs) receiving government funds to submit reports that will be accessible online
“What we’re thinking of is some kind of technical structure commenced by DBM, online. There is a portal by which the CSOs…can make the disclosure online and the DBM captures the data. Maybe it’s better if we make it the CSO’s primary responsibility to report and to give this to DBM and furnish us a copy,” Tan said.
Tan said this was part of the Government Integrated Financial Management information System, a project the COA is working on with the DBM and Department of Finance under a plan from AusAID.
“We can integrate the disclosure requirements, access to information requirement of the current bill. In two years, we already have to put it in place so there’s much work going on in this direction,” Tan said.
In the COA pork barrel audit report, it found that indicators of anomalous project implementation were ignored like interlocking incorporators of the NGO, recurring beneficiaries of the same training, overpricing, ghost beneficiaries, or non-delivery of the project. – Rappler.com