New COA chief seeks sweeping reforms

by David Dizon,

Posted at May 05 2011 09:18 PM | Updated as of May 06 2011 04:27 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Commission on Audit (COA) chairman Ma. Gracia Pulido Tan on Thursday outlined her plans for the agency including sweeping reforms on how the COA conducts its audits.

Among the reforms being lined up by Tan are a review of the capacities and specialization requirements of resident auditors and the secondments of auditors to posts outside the country.

Tan said one of the major complaints against some COA auditors is the residency of auditors to choice government agencies, which allegedly leads to abuse.

She noted that some auditors such as former Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) resident auditor Divina Cabrera are accused of staying at just one post for 10 years.

Cabrera has been accused of pocketing 2% of all intelligence contracts.

"We are going to review policy on residency of auditors kasi di ba ang dami mga complaints. Si auditor na ganito, 10 years na...Offhand, that's not good. Staying in an agency for so long is not good," Tan said.

The COA chief said Cabrera is under investigation after a complaint was filed about her extended stay in ISAFP.

"If there is sufficient lead to go on, for administrative investigation, then we can do that. My understanding is may complaint na naka-file. They can work until they are suspended. We do have a process. I don't want to forget that," she said.

Tan said she will not recommend a lifestyle check of auditors just yet since she believes that 95% of COA employees are dedicated to their work.

She said she asked COA's Human Resources Department to do an inventory of the agency's 8,500-plus employees including resident auditors.

She said she had received reports that at least one resident auditor has a secondment to New York City even though there is no ongoing audit in there.

"I want to know why they are there. If I cannot rationalize, they would have to come back," she said.

Auditing intel funds

Tan said COA would also like a review on the rules of audit for military intelligence funds especially since 80% of the expenses are only supported by a certification from the responsible officer. The theft of military intel funds was recently investigated in congressional investigations this year.

"Wala details. I understand the very nature of the intel funds has national security issues. Gusto ko ma-review yun kung ano pwede namin gawin sa audit that will be a little more substantive. Kasi kung ganun, parang clearing house lang kami...Ano limits ng confidentiality? Anu pwede i-detalye ng kaunti? Di naman pwede 80% puro confidential," she said.

She said the COA will also ensure that proper audit techniques will be conducted on projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways, considered one of the prime sources of corruption in government.

"Kung magbibilang ng pako, magbibilang ng pako. There are audit techniques maski sa private auditors hindi lahat tintignan, may sampling. The selection of a sample is also scientific so it will be representative. Pag may makita ka sa sample mo umabot ng 90% clean , clean na yan," she said.

'Heidi a big help'

Tan revealed she did not aspire for the top COA post but was prevailed upon to accept it by one of the Cabinet members.

She said the appointment of Senate whistle-blower Heidi Mendoza as COA commissioner has been a big help to the agency.

"When I was told Heidi will be a commissioner,  I said 'Wow, great.' This is someone I can work with. Being a total outsider having had no practice before the COA and not knowing anyone there, I thought she will be a great help. Plus the fact that sabi ko 'Magkautak kami. She's anti-graft. She's for integrity. We speak the same language.' We've been OK, I can really count on her," she said.