Government transparency urged in COVID-19 related spending

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Anti-corruption experts have called on the government to become transparent in the use of public funds to address the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with the approaching 2022 national elections.

In a statement, Legal International Foundation for Electoral Systems senior global adviser Katherine Ellena said the pandemic has required a large amount of government spending amounting to around $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.

She said the abuse of state resources for electoral advantage, with governments handling large sums of relief and economic funds in countries that have upcoming elections may be difficult for people who are voting to be able to tell the difference between necessary spending or if it is meant to influence their vote.

“The judiciary has been constrained itself with emergency measures. It created backlogs, opportunities for them to be influenced, or engage in corruption themselves,” Ellena said.

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

Meanwhile, the Commission on Audit (COA) said it is set to improve its systems to regulate coronavirus-related expenses.

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

Aguinaldo said civil society organizations members, authorized by the COA to be citizen-auditors, would perform auditing and related works in the comfort of their homes using digital technology.

He cited the existence and legitimacy of funding recipients as very difficult to monitor because there are millions of them and the government will have difficulty in doing the liquidation process.

“They always rely on the liquidation done by the distributing government agencies,” he said, adding that private citizen engagement would be valuable in auditing the actual receipts as prescribed by the rules of law.

“Such system will also  evaluate the efficiency of the concerned government agency’s mechanism in the distribution of COVID- related assistance,” said Aguinaldo.

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