LAWYER Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan has been chairperson of the Commission on Audit since 2011. As the government’s chief auditor appointed by President Aquino, she is assisted by two commissioners and a team of auditors, who are probably among the country’s brightest certified public accountants, if not the best.
But it is unfortunate that COA auditors, led Ms. Pulido-Tan, are not oriented on transparency. They go by tradition that allows COA to engage in “double standard of web posting.” It is overprotective of its people but not of the “outsiders” who belong to other government agencies that they audit.
Yes, COA has been transparent but only in naming the culprits who misspent government money. When such transparency applies only to officials of other state agencies and never to its own people, COA is involved in selective application of the rule.
Consider this: When administratively charged, COA auditors and other officials and personnel are never identified. Instead, the spaces reserved for their names are shaded in the charge sheets and decisions. (See illustration taken from COA’s ruling in the administrative case, which omits the names of respondent COA-MWSS auditors throughout the 30-page decision.)
To COA officials, depriving the public of so crucial information on the anomalous deals of their auditors is much better than embarrassing them. That’s observing brotherly and sisterly love among CPAs. Because they flock together, apparently, they do not want to embarrass their fellow CPAs.
(In contrast, judges facing an administrative charge based on COA’s audit, are identified in the charge sheet and in the ruling of the Supreme Court. That’s transparency at its best, which is what other government agencies also observe. Never true at COA.)
To illustrate: Jose Allado, former administrator of Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (WMSS), reported a few years ago to then COA Chairman Reynaldo A. Villar “unrecorded checks relating to the cash advances of Ms. Iris C. Mendoza, MWSS supervising cashier, which were allegedly used to pay claims for bonuses and other benefits of COA-MWSS personnel.”
The amount involved is contained in an administrative case COA filed against 15 auditors such as: “in 2005 and 2006, COA-MWSS personnel received cash amounting to P9,182,038.00 and in 2007, P38,551,133.40 from the CAs drawn by Ms. Mendoza in payments of allowances and bonuses.” That’s a total of P47.733 million additional expense of a government agency, which it should not have spent at all.
In his report to Villar, Allado referred to these payments as “virtual bribery” but which to COA, which, of course, does not stand for Cojuangco Aquino, is only a venial sin.
There is no need deal with the details of the case. What is more important is for the public to know the penalties imposed on them by Ms. Pulido-Tan and commissioners Juanito G. Espino Jr. and Heidi L. Mendoza.
In their ruling, the three-man commission found every one of the 15 respondents guilty with one of them, who was nearing retirement age, meted out “forfeiture of his retirement benefits, cancellation of eligibility and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.” He was also ordered to “refund the amounts” he received from MWSS.
The others, 14 of them, were suspended “for one year without pay.” They were also ordered to return their share of bonuses and perks to MWSS.
That’s all they got for accepting bribes? Well, that’s justice the COA way. With this light penalty, you could conclude that at COA accepting bribes may be a crime but it pays.
Post-notes. Still on transparency, the question is why are the years 2003 to 2008 on compensation of officials of government departments and government-owned and controlled corporations missing from COA’s website? Will COA officials explain the omissions and what appears to be an incomplete report for 2002?
Incidentally, COA began on June 15, 2010 and completed on September 3, 2012 the audit of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and various infrastructures including local projects. It covered the last 15 days of the previous Arroyo administration and three years under President Aquino but limited to the former’s last complete three years. That’s what COA would justify as a coincidence.
From the look of it, COA intended the audit as its welcome “gift” to the incoming Aquino administration. Now that’s what the agency boasts in its website as “a credible, trustworthy and independent Supreme Audit Institution.”
If there are questionable entries in PDAF audit, COA’s special audit office identified the team of auditors responsible for the errors as follows: Gloria D. Silverio, overall team leader; Joan Agnes N. Alfafaras, Angelita A. Aquino, Cheryll J. Palisoc and Leonora A. Andriano, co-team leaders. Their reports were reviewed for possible errors by Elsielin C. Masangkay, director 3; and approved by Susan P. Garcia, director 4.
Sad to say, COA’s audits may be full of wrong entries but may not be subject to “reinstatement.” In their audits of private companies, external auditors corrected prior year’s entries under heading “as reinstated.”