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Gov't eyes citizen groups to audit COVID 19-related expenses

The government through its auditing agency is set to improve its systems to regulate coronavirus-related expenses.

Commission on Audit disclosed its plan last week to team up with members of civil society organizations to comply with the procurement regulations mandated under the Bayanihan Act.

COA Chair Michael Aguinaldo said that online capacity-building activities for citizen-led auditors will be conducted and they will be assigned to specific audit teams as citizen partners.

Aguinaldo was a guest speaker at the online Pilipinas Conference organized by  Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute.

He presented his revolutionary concept aligned with the theme "Opportunities within the Covid-Crisis: Towards Transparent and Accountable Governance".

Aguinaldo said CSO members authorized by the COA as citizen-auditors will perform auditing and related works in the comfort of their homes using digital technology.

He said the voluminous number of funding recipients is very difficult to monitor because there are millions of them and the government have difficulty in doing the liquidation works.

"They (government auditors) always rely on the liquidation done by the distributing government agencies," he said, adding that private citizens engagement will be valuable in auditing the actual receipts as prescribed by law.

Such system will also test the efficiency of the government agency’s mechanism in the distribution of COVID-related assistance, he said.

In the same forum, Legal International Foundation for Electoral Systems senior global adviser Katherine Ellena said the pandemic has required a large amount of government spending and very rapid response to around US$9 trillion globally.

"At the same time, there was a loss of transparency and accountability whether that was from emergency procurement procedures, interruption to access to information processes, various social distancing requirements and lockdowns.” Ellena said

Ellena said with governments handling large sums of relief and economic funds especially in countries that have upcoming elections, it may be difficult for people who are voting to be able to tell the difference between necessary spending or if it’s meant to influence their vote.

She said that civil society can play a role in helping develop judicial independence protections that can weather political pressures even during future emergency.

In the same forum, International Anti-Corruption Conference Council chairperson and former Transparency International chairperson Huguette Labelle said that in crisis situations, “the need to act promptly on several fronts is vital but can become multiple opportunities for corruption and loss of needed resources though all kinds of things, especially money laundering.”

“Mexico did something very interesting a few years ago because they did establish an independent, totally independent, oversight group that would look after, do oversight of all their major projects from the specifications right to the final delivery.  They have identified how many tens and tens of millions of dollars that they have saved because of that, and have gained more trust by their population.” Labelle said.

Topics: Commission on Audit , COA , civil society , auditing
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