Disaster aid and citizen participatory audit
Last week, it was reported by the Daily Mail, a London tabloid, that food donations from the United Kingdom (UK) intended for Typhoon Yolanda survivors have been diverted to malls in Manila by local officials.
The Philippine Star quoted the report as saying that “Crucial aid sent from Britain to help the victims of typhoon-ravaged areas of the Philippines is being siphoned off and sold for profit by corrupt local officials.” Subsequently, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, whose word I completely trust and whose work in this and previous disasters have truly been superhuman, said that no UK aid came in the form of food donations. The UK embassy itself disputed the veracity of the Daily Mail report.
It is in this context that Citizen Participatory Audit in donations for disaster relief operations becomes crucial. This is a timely question given the massive humanitarian assistance the Philippines is receiving and will still receive from various donors all over the world for the relief and rehabilitation of the affected areas in the Visayas.
As of November 19, the government’s Foreign Aid Transparency Hub or FAiTH – a website tracking donations for Yolanda survivors – currently reports foreign donations worth P21.65 billion (as of Dec 10, 2013).
FAITH allows citizens to aid the government accountability institutions in gathering on-the-ground information on whether or not the donations really reached the rightful recipients. This is the heart of Citizen Participatory Audit or CPA.
While not rocket science, CPA is not however a simple process. Both the Commission of Audit (and other accountability mechanisms that may use this tool) and the citizen groups that are interested to embark on this initiative need to study carefully the methods and applications of CPA in disaster donations and how citizens can meaningfully be part of it. Such effort will hopefully protect the integrity of the donations and help correct their previous misuse.
Open Government Partnership (OGP) Award
A few weeks ago, during its Summit in London, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) recognized the collaborative project between the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA–EAP), to implement Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA), in the Philippines.
This award is arguably worth our collective pride and admiration. It’s not as sensational as our Miss Universe and boxing wins, but in the realm of ideas and social innovations, the CPA is undoubtedly important and deserves special attention.
As the people get more concerned with governance and more excited with ways to take part in it (note the One Million People March in Luneta and current burning calls for monitoring donations for relief operations), the international recognition for CPA as a truly bright spot in open government efforts is a signal that we are at the forefront of innovations in this field. We should celebrate it, share it, and continue to cultivate and learn from it.
So what’s so bright about the CPA? The CPA is a pilot project that aims to involve citizens in the challenging task of auditing government programs and projects. It is an embodiment of an ideal social accountability initiative because it has the cooperation of both government and citizen groups. No less than COA’s top leadership welcomes and supports it while a regional facility, ANSA-EAP Foundation (an institution incubated in the Ateneo School of Government), serves as intermediary for civil society advocates and community and citizen organizations.
The Australian government, through its Public Financial Management Project (PFMP) in the Philippines, finances its pilot phase.
Testing the limits of constructive engagement
The Memorandum of Agreement is not a magic wand that automatically makes citizens and government understand each other. It actually signals that more work is needed to continue leveling off expectations in the course of crafting a strategy to find ways for citizen groups to work in partnership with government auditors.
The CPA tested the breaking point of constructive engagement. COA would assert its supremacy and autonomy in matters pertaining to the audit; and would tend to doubt civil society’s competence to undertake a serious and credible audit.
Civil society, on the other hand, would react when their technical limitations are highlighted and, in response to it, invoke its right to know and right to participate in all matters of public affairs.
Obviously, different perspectives needed to be reconciled. ANSA-EAP was in the midst of all these since it talks to and hears both sides. Thus, through the project, the CSOs underwent Audit 101 to better appreciate the intricacies of the audit process, while COA went through CSO 101 to better appreciate the nature and dynamics of CSOs.
The CPA experience indeed is a good case study on constructive engagement. It demonstrates the process of a government agency opening up to citizen groups, learning their ways and adjusting government practices to accommodate citizens’ voices. On the other hand, it also showcased the expanding appreciation of how citizen groups understood COA’s mandate and processes. Together, they embarked on a journey on learning how to use their differences to strengthen each other.
New as it is, the CPA project shines brightly because it highlights the importance of government championing this kind of engagement. Leadership, in the person of COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan, became crucial in steering the direction of CPA as a flagship project of COA. It responded to the President’s call for greater transparency and citizen participation in governance.
CPA and COA
The CPA project has become the Philippine Government’s concrete contribution to the international advocacy of OGP. During its pilot phase, it has proved to be viable, effective and beneficial to COA and to the public.
Internally, CPA can complement COA’s limited number of auditors. With less than 7,000 state auditors and more than 61,000 government agencies – the magnitude and amount of transactions make it virtually impossible for them to carry out their work each year.
If CPA is institutionalized, citizen groups can provide complementary manpower, and have an impact on sustaining governance reforms. It can also benefit citizens by enhancing their ownership of governance issues.
To date, 4 pilot audits have started. In each of these, a unique methodology of citizen involvement is introduced. The first involved the flood control project implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways. This pilot adapted a formal mechanism wherein CSO representatives were officially designated as audit team members attached to the COA.
The 2nd audit pertained to the mandate of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Under this pilot, a survey questionnaire was used as an audit tool to determine whether the selected local government unit has complied with certain provisions of the Solid Waste Management Act.
The 3rd audit covered the health component of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Conditional Cash Transfer program. Under this pilot, DSWD parent-leaders and health center service providers gave feedback through the community scorecard (CSC).
The 4th pilot audit focuses on the Department of Education’s Public Private Partnership on School Building Infrastructure Project. The audit methodology for this benefits from the experiences and lessons from the 3 previous ones.
An online communication platform also complements the on-the-ground participatory audit work. It helps create awareness and generate support from the internal and external stakeholders. The COA calls it the Citizen’s Desk. It was designed as the initial point for receiving inquiries, complaints and feedback.
A citizen website (www.i-kwenta.com) was also developed to generate interest by uploading infographics to make audits easy to understand.
In times like this, we need bright spots to light our way. The showcase of social accountability in the Citizen Participatory Audit project is truly commendable and the governance innovations it brings must be utilized effectively as we continue to confront big challenges, such as the Yolanda typhoon – not to mention some man-made political disasters that cannot help but get in the way of our progress and development as a nation. – Rappler.com
Watch the discussion below: #TalkThursday: Beyond Napoles, guarding public funds: