5 steps to prevent next Napoles scam

MANILA, Philippines – The Napoles NGOs are no more but will other ghost foundations still receive millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money?

Beyond the filing of plunder charges against top lawmakers, the draft Senate blue ribbon committee report recommended reforms in government systems to avoid a repeat of the country’s biggest corruption scandal in recent history.

Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III called for stricter monitoring of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, and stiffer corruption penalties to plug loopholes that plunderers exploited to pocket public funds.

“The Committee’s findings would show that there have been reckless disregard of standard operating procedures, a cavalier violation of laws, rules and regulations and other government issuances, and a systemic, endemic and orchestrated pillaging of the national treasury in the use of PDAF,” the report stated.

The findings come after an 8-month long investigation into the scam where Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile allegedly funneled their pork barrel funds to mastermind Janet Lim Napoles’ fake NGOs in exchange for kickbacks. (READ: 'Madame Jenny' Napoles, woman in the eye of the storm)

The report released on Tuesday, April 1, suggested policy and legislative reforms for “prevention, transparency, accountability and good governance.” It also recommended the disbarment of Enrile and his former chief of staff lawyer Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes

Here are the top 5 recommendations of the inquiry in aid of legislation:

1. Tighten NGO accreditation

The report called for the passage of a law requiring all government agencies releasing funds to NGOs to validate them through a process that includes project site visits and community interviews. This aims to address the glaring problem of implementing agencies merely relying on documents to check NGOs’ legitimacy.

The committee also noted that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) expressed willingness to act as the government’s accreditation body for NGOs dealing with public projects.

The report said the private group Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) can act as the government’s NGO Accreditation Council, giving NGOs a “seal of good housekeeping” signifying that they can transact with the government.

To make the accreditation process easier, the report recommended the creation of a computerized and centralized database of NGOs dealing with the government. Agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), COA, Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), DSWD, and Department of Budget and Management will share the database for fast risk assessment, red flag alerts and easy cross-reference with others’ information. 

The committee added that the COA must prohibit NGOs less than 3 years old from receiving public funds to serve as an “incubation period” for the organization.

When an NGO is found to be questionable, the panel said that the government must be proactive.

“Government agencies should therefore blacklist NGOs, people’s organizations, their incorporators, officers and other private sector partners who either refuse to submit documents, present spurious documents, or fail to liquidate public funds properly.”

2. Strengthen the SEC  

The committee called the SEC the government’s “frontline troop” in fighting dubious organizations. Yet it noted that the agency has only 8 employees handling the application of 10,000 active foundations.

To address this, the report recommended augmenting SEC’s manpower, strengthening its investigation and surveillance authority, and setting up a computer system to review applications.

The committee also called on the CDA to intensify its efforts in supervising cooperatives. Compared to the SEC, the CDA does a more thorough review of cooperatives by conducting regular site inspections in every congressional district.

3. Audit NGOs receiving public funds

For project implementation, the report urged Congress to pass a law mandating the Commission on Audit (COA) to audit NGOs receiving government funds.

“Considering that government funds transferred to NGOs maintain their character as public funds, a law is needed so that public funds entrusted to NGOs are always subjected to COA rules and regulations,” the committee said.

The committee also said that the NGOs should be subject to “real-time auditing” or auditing done as the project is implemented. “With this mode of auditing, government auditors will be given the opportunity to detect and investigate fraud and all sorts of irregularities in a timely fashion.”

The panel added that Congress must pass a law requiring NGOs receiving public funds to comply with government procurement laws.

4. Pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill

The committee reiterated the need to pass the Freedom of Information Bill, which seeks to provide access to government records and information.

FOI proponents have argued that the measure would have helped expose and avoid controversies like the pork barrel scam because the public will have access to COA and budget documents.

Languishing for a decade, the bill is now pending with the House of Representatives. The Senate passed the bill on final reading last March.

5. Raise penalty for corrupt acts

The committee affirmed its support for a bill amending the Anti-Graft & Corrupt Practices Act to raise the penalty for corrupt acts. From 6 years and 1 month to 15 years imprisonment, the report wants the punishment to be imprisonment of not less than 12 years but no more than 20 years.

The report also reiterated the need to pass the bill amending the Government Procurement Act.

“Under this bill, recommending, approving &/or awarding a contract to a bidder that is not legally, technically &/or financially capable will now be punishable.” – Rappler.com

What do you think of the committee’s policy recommendations? What else should be done to plug loopholes in the system? Let us know in the comments section below.