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Business

Not just honest auditors, intelligent too

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The search is on for a replacement for COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan whose term expires next week. She leaves behind a constitutional body just gaining credibility with the big mission of making sure public money is not just spent according to law but spent well.

COA has long lost the public trust because its auditors have conspired with the people they audit, who misspend public funds. The big corruption problem we now have in government could have only happened with the connivance of COA auditors.

Things have changed quite a bit during the incumbency of Ms Pulido-Tan. She provided much needed credibility to P-Noy’s anti corruption drive. It was during her watch that very bold questions were raised on the use of public funds, particularly the so-called pork barrel funds of legislators.

Taking advantage of whistle blower information, COA undertook extensive real audits that eventually supported public suspicion of massive misuse of public funds through the connivance of senators, congressmen and well connected private individuals working through fake NGOs. The work has just started.

It is easy for an organization of over 7,000 people to go astray. One thing Pulido-Tan proved is the absolute necessity of having a competent and honest head of this constitutional body.

Still, miracles cannot happen overnight. Before we realized it, Pulido-Tan’s term was over. She has not even scraped the surface of corruption in the public service, including COA. It is important that whoever succeeds her has the same integrity and the same commitment to clean up the bureaucracy.

Corruption thrived because of captive COA auditors. Under Pulido-Tan’s leadership, they found out that resident auditors in agencies involved in the pork barrel scams and even in the City of Makati itself, had been less than reliable in safeguarding the public purse.

Then there are also auditors who impede the fast implementation of public projects by insisting on often misguided or narrow minded interpretation of arcane bureaucratic rules. Former Sec. Ping de Jesus, in his short stint at DOTC, encountered that problem which contributed to the delay in implementing the much needed modernization of NAIA’s navigation system. Yet, they allowed Sec. Ping’s successor, Sec. Jun Abaya to award the maintenance contract of MRT 3 to unqualified entities with strong political backing.

It is frustrating for taxpayers to be told that government rules have become so tough and cumbersome making it difficult for honest executives to implement programs. It gives people like Mar Roxas an excuse for non performance.

Yet, these same rules are not tough enough to stop those with larceny in their hearts from raiding the national treasury. COA has done little to help speed up implementation of needed projects, but has apparently cooperated with those who overprice, underdeliver or claim payment for ghost projects.

We often hear stories of how COA has insisted on an unreasonable application of rules. There are times when auditors are accused of being unable to appreciate the nature of an agency’s work, specially in highly technical operations. There is the need for the honest and intelligent auditor who is not the myopic bean counter that many auditors, even in the private sector, often are.

COA also needs to computerize in a more aggressive manner. COA has to adapt to the digital world and require its people to understand how to use technology and Big Data to better perform its constitutional mandates.

Who will be Pulido-Tan’s successor? There are rumors that BIR’s Kim Henares was offered the job, and because it comes with a guaranteed seven-year tenure, she might be interested. She is a good choice given her technical competence and integrity.

But who will replace her at the BIR which also requires someone of her caliber? And will politicians in Congress confirm her appointment knowing she will make it difficult if not impossible for them to raid the treasury?

Whoever the new COA chief will be, he or she must have a reputation for competence and integrity. The public must be reassured that fighting corruption will outlive P-Noy’s term. The appointment of a new COA chair must also go hand in hand with the passage of a good Freedom for Information Law so that transparency in the conduct of government will have that much needed boost.

The next move is definitely P-Noy’s.

Oh Dinky!!!

Up until now, I have given Dinky Soliman the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, I thought, the Yolanda work was just too big and sudden and the failures of the bureaucracy under her should be expected under the circumstances.

Same thing with CCT. Maybe some of the problems with implementation are start-up problems that in time will be remedied. The good intentions are there and I thought she is still basically trustworthy.

But this time… taking away Manila’s bayside dwellers for a week’s stay in a Batangas resort while the Pope was here… it is a bit too much. It is a weird project funded by the taxpayers at P4.3 million, whose purpose I find hard to see or justify… assuming it was not Dinky’s idea, it certainly got her approval.

Modified CCT daw? Parang it is a stretch, Tita Dinky. No one every heard of this “family camping” program until now. Assuming this was not the first time they did it, the question is why?

I can see the purpose of CCT, which is to make poor families send their kids to school and get medical check-up. In a way, that is investing on our poor human resources with the possibility that they could be productive in the future.

But what will six days of frolicking in a resort do for a few families? After the six days, it is back to the seawall where they live. They didn’t even learn a skill that could help them earn a living.

And Tita Dinky asks: don’t they deserve to be in a luxurious resort? If they are asked that question, they will likely say, perahin na lang. Give them the equivalent of P6000 that was spent on each of them and they probably would have spent it with better long term effects.

The basic thing we often hear in helping the poor is not to give them a fish because they will just eat for a day. Teach them to fish and give them implements to fish and they would have learned something that would feed them indefinitely. Now Tita Dinky says, ang sagot sa kahirapan… dalhin sa resort yan?

I honestly don’t get it and I am sure most taxpayers don’t get it also.

Shocker

The death of Rolando Gosiengfiao last week was a shocker for many of his contemporaries and friends. Rollie was chairman of BCDA and very active in the business and social scene. He seemed to be in the pink of health.

Rollie and I were in the same batch at UP. He was in many of my freshman subjects like Spanish and English. He was a campus personality, active in the UP Mobile Theater and AIESEC.

I lost track of him after graduation and found out later that he became a very successful finance professional in Hong Kong. Lately, I reconnected with him on Facebook. We exchanged ideas on things like what to do with the city’s public transport system. After Yolanda, he was active in raising funds to buy fishing boats for fishermen who lost their means of livelihood.

I gather he liked riding his big bike, spending time in his newly constructed private resort in Palawan and rumors have it he even started having a meaningful relationship with an attractive and well regarded widow. Rollie himself lost his wife some years ago to cancer, I think.

Rollie had everything to live for. I hate to admit this, but he looked younger and healthier than I am and we are just the same age. This sad news that he had a massive heart attack once again drove the message – we really do not know the day nor the hour when we will called back home by our Creator.

Rollie had so much more to contribute to this country’s development. When I heard about Rollie’s death, I realized we really don’t have all the time in the world anymore.

So excuse me if I sound even more urgent when I nag people to move faster in delivering progress. I do want to see my country better off when I go than when I was born into it.

Rollie failed to see that happen and I know he would have wanted to. That’s why he agreed to chair BCDA. He must be protesting his early demise all the way to Heaven’s Gate because there is so much more he could have done. But such is life and death… pencils up, ready or not.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

AFTER YOLANDA AUDITORS BIG DATA BOO CHANCO COA P-NOY PUBLIC PULIDO-TAN ROLLIE TITA DINKY
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