WITH the staggering amounts pouring in from foreign and local donors for the survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda last month, private citizens have formed groups that would audit and closely monitor the cash-and-kind donations actually go to the intended beneficiaries.
This, despite the assurance given by newly anointed rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson of his “zero waste fund” objective to ensure that all donations head for their rightful recipients. He also vowed to be “politically blind” with his task in rebuilding battered communities.
Interaksyon online mentioned for instance that Blog Watch founders Jane Uymatiao and Noemi Lardizabal-Dado put up an online spreadsheet and a Twitter hashtag, #AidMonitorPH, with the help of other netizens.
Blog Watch joined Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines, Yolanda Citizen Watch, under the Citizen Action Network for Accountability (CANA) and other like-minded organizations, which held the first public roundtable at a restaurant in Quezon City on Thursday to discuss how best to keep an eye on where the aid goes.
CANA program manager Rorie Fajardo said, the objectives are to: a) ensure that the response matches the need of the people in areas devastated by the storm, b) prevent aid from going missing, getting stolen, or getting wasted and c) to show the donors here and abroad that their generosity will not be abused through people power in action.
To accomplish these, the group is putting up a website that will contain updated information about the flow of goods and money from source to delivery information on procurement and contracts awarded; information on budget, spending, and audit; government plans and budgets as published by the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (Faith) and social media sites; links to media reports on relief and recovery and citizens reports on the monitoring by stakeholders including the recipients of the aid.
These online databases will contain reports from the media, ordinary citizens and the people from the areas devastated by the storm, the online report stated.
During the same meeting, the participants reiterated Fajardo’s call for officials in charge of rehabilitation and recovery: “We are watching you. We are monitoring you. We are getting organized and active. And we will hold you to account.”
CANA is a program supported by the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines to increase local government transparency and accountability. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, the MindaNews, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines are also involved in the initiative.
The Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines has given financial support to CANA to improve transparency, accountability, and performance of local government units by increasing citizens’ capacity to engage and monitor their services, Galvin said.
The same level of scrutiny need not be strictly applied to projects and funds under international or foreign government agencies as they have their own tried and tested audit and control systems, said Fajardo. However, she said, access to their information must be sought.
Yolanda Citizen Watch is one of CANA’s projects, a response to the clamor of the government and the people for the efficient delivery of assistance to the disaster survivors.
It is the vigilance of ordinary people that can help guarantee that funds are used properly and for the benefit of the survivors of the storm, said Galvin. They must make sure that the local government units receiving these are able to accomplish projects that correspond to what is planned and reported, he added.
Citizens’ monitoring can also help prevent efforts of government agencies, local authorities, and non-governmental organizations from being duplicated, and see to it that their work is aligned with the National Reconstruction Plan, Galvin said.
For them to succeed, civil society must be united, professional, and ethical. Media- citizen cooperation is needed as well, he said.
Redmond Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development cited his experience showing how media and ordinary citizens could cooperate to monitor government projects.
The Integrity Watch for Water Anti-Corruption Group in Agusan del Norte, for example, looks at how water is managed by local water utilities and how people can participate in governing this.
Samar also has the Multi-Sectoral Action for Accountability, while North Cotabalto has the Watchful Advocates for Transparent and Accountable Governance, Batario noted.
Residents and journalists were trained on how to monitor and document, how to present reports to the media, and how to provide feedback to government agencies.
Social Watch Philippines lead convenor Dr. Leonor Briones warned, however, that unless the initiative is taken to the grassroots, it would be irrelevant. The groups are fine-tuning the process by which they can share the information gathered online in a way that is understood by all.