New chair determined to keep COA clean

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Apr 09 2011 03:39 PM | Updated as of Apr 13 2011 12:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Audit (COA) has a new chairperson in Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan.

Tan takes the helm of COA chair, taking over from Reynaldo Villar.

With her experience as a lawyer in the private sector and as an accountant, Tan is well-suited for the top COA post, said Malacañang.

A private lawyer by profession, Tan was not always enthralled by the prospect of serving in government. But when the late Presidential Commission on Good Government Chair Haydee Yorac tapped her to serve in the agency, she didn't think twice.

"It was very important to me that if I left my comfort zone, I wanted it to be with someone I admired and respected. I said yes," she said.

Tan later served as Finance Undersecretary for Revenue Operations under the Arroyo administration.

"I was there not to have a career in government. I was needed at that time," Tan revealed.

When Secretary (Isidro) Camacho resigned, she said she would also resign with him, but decided to stay on to help Undersecretary Juanita Amatong who took over the post, before she eventually returned to private practice.

Today, Tan said she intends to lead by example to ensure the agency remains above board.

"When you say 'graft buster', we always start with ourselves," Tan said on ANC's "The Rundown" on Friday.

"As head of the office, the buck stops with me. It's command responsibility. We have to police our own ranks so we can do the job we have been called upon to do the best way we can and in the most efficient and effective manner."

Cleaning up COA

Despite claims of irregularities among some COA officials, Tan said she believes there are dedicated public servants. She said she wants to get to know the commission's staff and will not hesitate to tap corrective measures if necessary.

Tan subscribes to proper documentation, and rotating auditors to keep them from becoming overly familiar with the agency they're auditing.

But Tan admitted it may not be easy to report discrepancies as there is still a need to balance this with the right to due process.

"Are we going to be proactive in filing complaints? We have to look at that because we might be going beyond our mandate. On the other hand, when there's a complaint, we can't just dismiss it. We have to identify and authenticate the report.

"I don't want to focus on it being a time of controversy for the COA, rather it's a time of coming out for the COA," she added.

A Commission of three

Tan said she welcomes the chance to work with celebrated whistle-blower and now COA commissioner Heidi Mendoza.

Tan added that Mendoza's own efforts at fighting corruption in government, by baring what she knows about alleged corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Congressional hearings, has helped bring the commission's work to the forefront.

"It's going to be a commission of three: Heidi, me and Commissioner Juanito Espino Jr.," Tan said.

"I'm not intimidated at all. I'm happy for her [that] people are taking notice. She brought the COA to the public consciousness, the nature of its work, and what the public can do to help.

"I'm glad she's there. That's going to make my job easier at the COA. What's important for me is if we're getting the job done," Tan added.

Bringing COA closer to the people

Tan will serve as COA chair until February 2, 2015.

During her term, she hopes to bring the Commission closer to the public by tapping its media arm. She also wants to make Filipinos realize that they have a stake in making government officials accountable.

"The COA was meant to give people a proper and full accounting of their money.

"We will strengthen the COA. We will bring it closer to the people. We will engage the people to help us carry out our constitutional mandate," Tan said.