Auditors told: Don't let findings just lie there

By Michael Punongbayan, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 22 2014 10:18 AM | Updated as of Mar 22 2014 06:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan of the Commission on Audit (COA) has ordered assistant commissioners, directors, supervising auditors and audit team leaders to monitor compliance with recommendations contained in annual audit reports to ensure that government agencies and institutions take them seriously and act to implement such corrective measures.

In a memorandum dated March 18, Tan ordered the enhanced monitoring through an Agency Action Plan Status Implementation (AAPSI) form.

Tan hopes the new system would put an end to auditors reporting the same recurring problem every year because their jobs no longer end at issuing annual audits.

Audit findings will then not suffer the same fate as dreams in the song “Mona Lisa,” Tan said, where they “just lie there and die there.”

“Recent events have revealed a heightened awareness of the observations and recommendations contained in annual audit reports as well as of an urgent need of the public to be kept abreast of what is done to implement them,” read the memorandum.

“There is a felt need as well for concise and comprehensive information on the matter covering all government agencies. In this regard, the commission hereby prescribes the use of a form that combines both an action plan and status of implementation of the previous year’s recommendations.”

Tan said an AAPSI, prescribed under the Integrated Results and Risk-Based Audit Manual, is a tool to allow government agencies to report what they plan to do to address unfavorable audit findings.

Under the rules, concerned agencies audited have 60 days to report an action plan after receiving a copy of an audit report, she added.

Within 30 days from receipt of the AAPSI form, COA auditors are directed to validate the same and submit a report to the cluster or regional director for monitoring purposes.

The new COA requirement is expected to address, among others, the problem of unliquidated cash advances appearing year after year in annual audit reports.

Some remain unacted upon for decades.

Last week, Tan told a Senate hearing that the unliquidated cash advances of government agencies have accumulated to more than P5 billion over time, dating as far back as 20 to 40 years.

“We are making a final demand that you liquidate now or we will file charges against you,” she said.

P1.136 B for local gov’ts

COA records show local governments alone have posted P1.136 billion in unliquidated cash advances as of Dec. 31, 2012.

An annual financial report submitted to President Aquino on Sept. 27, 2013 said governors and mayors from provinces, cities and municipalities nationwide must deal with the issue immediately.

It recommended the filing of appropriate charges against those who fail to submit a liquidation after due notice.

Data showed that of the P1.136 billion in unliquidated cash advances to local officials and employees in 2012 and in previous years, P1.119 billion were from one to more than five years past due.

Cagayan Valley accounts for the highest amount with P482.6 million, followed by Bicol, P220.8 million; Ilocos region, P147 million, and Metro Manila with P145.4 million.

Annual audit reports call for compliance with the Auditing Code of the Philippines and COA Circular No. 97-002 requires that all cash advances be fully settled at the end of each year.

However, government agencies and local governments seldom follow the regulations and findings, and the recommendations of state auditors are ignored and the problems end up being repeated the following year.

The COA has been very active in keeping a tight watch over the spending of public funds.

Last year, it came out with a special audit report covering the years 2007 to 2009 on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of senators and members of the House of Representatives.

The audit bared how 82 dubious non-government organizations and groups received P6.156 billion in pork barrel funds, including 10 linked to the JLN Corp. of Janet Lim-Napoles.

Most recently, COA’s special audit report on a P900-million Malampaya Fund anomaly in 2009 called on the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate former officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for their alleged role in transactions that led to “a great loss of public money.”

Last month, Tan and Commissioner Heidi Mendoza ordered the creation of a Prosecution and Litigation Office to allow the COA to take a more active role in the fight against graft and corruption in government.

Taking in lawyers to form a legal arm, the new unit will take on the task of “initiating complaints and assisting in the prosecution of cases arising from audit actions.”

Tan and Mendoza said the Prosecution and Litigation Office will also act as counsel of COA in civil cases for collection, and as counsel of employees, personnel and officials in cases arising from the performance of their official duties and functions.