Numbers speak louder than words

3 | Wed, Mar 30, 2022 12:16 PM

This post originally appeared at The Philippine Star. Click here to read the original post.

Numbers speak louder than words
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera

It’s not the lack of laws, but the lack of enforcement. It’s not the lack of denial, but the lack of counterevidence.

They are criminal acts, but since no one goes to jail for big time theft, crime does pay.

Face shields can be bought online for P10 per piece through Lazada or Shopee. The government, however, bought them at P120 per piece from selected private suppliers.

The Commission on Audit (COA) reported that P95 million was spent on allegedly overpriced face masks and face shields – a fraction of the P42 billion (as big as a budget for a decent-sized infrastructure project) earmarked for COVID-19 equipment that the Department of Health (DOH) transferred to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), without the required memorandum of agreement (MOA). What of the rest of the acquisition from the P42 billion budget?

Why worry about COA findings? For one, government officials and personnel involved simply need to show compliance with Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act which mandates the following process:

1. Advertise an invitation to apply for eligibility and to bid for prospective bidders. Show that they have complied with all the eligibility requirements laid out by the procuring entity.

2. It’s supposed to be a competitive bid. To avoid a situation where only one entity bids, the government agency must ensure the widest possible dissemination, including publication in a newspaper of general circulation.

3. The contract shall be awarded to the bidder with the lowest calculated responsive bid because the bid that’s most advantageous to the people must be chosen.

An investigation on whether taxes were paid by certain suppliers in question seems farcical. If procurement laws were not followed, coupled with outrageous overpriced purchases, it’s res ipsa loquitur. Whether done deliberately or through gross negligence, criminal liability attaches.

In the same vein, it may be fair to cry out to the heavens for a government official to say that his life and reputation were ruined by COA such as when an audit report was issued on DOH funds that are unaccounted for. Yet everyone should know that COA goes through detailed audit steps, with several chances given to the government agency people to present their side. These opportunities are available:

1. During the audit process when inquiry is made on the transactions.

2. When the findings are first revealed to them through an audit observation memorandum, where they are given time and opportunity to answer and explain their side.

3. During the exit conference, which is conducted before issuing the audit report where they are made aware of unsettled deficiencies and issues.

4. Even upon issuing the formal audit report where the government agency is not precluded from coming out with counterevidence in their defense.

So many chances, yet no credible accounting of funds was presented.

It is a fundamental accounting requirement: financial information presented by government agencies should be reliable and verifiable. Every financial report that they produce should faithfully represent the transactions entered into by their agency in a way that is complete and accurate. Why? Because they are handling money that belongs to the Filipino people, and they should completely account for all of it, down to the last peso.

All these principles seem to have been thrown out the window and substituted by mere dramatic denials and attacks on the auditor.

In the private sector, the president of the audited company pursues the audit findings and treats the external auditors as their allies to improve internal controls and uncover exceptions in governance and financial reporting. The president strengthens the controls so the exceptions will not be repeated. The only time that the president of a company will not be cooperative or will not be fully transparent to the external auditor is if the president himself/herself is complicit in a potential fraud. But that is the private sector.

The Ombudsman can serve the country well by acting, even on its own, to fulfill its legal duty to investigate and prosecute any public officer or employee, especially when evidence or very credible leads are presented, such as COA reports.

Anomalies and corruption-laden trails uncovered by COA are plentiful. Name a government agency and not finding a potential corruption case in that agency will be an exception rather than the rule. Invariably, billions will be involved, if not a few hundreds of millions.

The most maddening part of all these is that government officers and personnel are taking advantage of the Filipino people and their hard-earned contributions in taxes and social remittances at this most difficult time – during the pandemic.

There are honest people in government, but thieves are attracted to serve in government because it is such a good business. A steady collection stream because people are required to remit. No cash runway problems because there’s budgeted funds. No issues on performance appraisal because there is no impact on pay. And when one gets into trouble because their acts are uncovered, just resign and you don’t go to jail, unless you are a political opponent.

You really can’t scold the hordes of Filipino millennials who plan to find their fortune outside the country because they say this country is hopeless – our government will always be hopelessly corrupt, and we can never change it. But for us non-millennials and all who resolved that this is the only country we’ve got, the minimum to achieve some self-respect is not to be agreeable, and to never stop trying.

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