It is not the lack of laws, but the lack of enforcement. It is not the absence of denial, but the absence of rebuttal evidence.
These are criminal acts, but since no one goes to jail for large-scale theft, crime pays.
Face shields can be purchased online for P10 per piece through Lazada or Shopee. The government, however, purchased them at P120 per piece from selected private suppliers.
The Audit Commission (COA) reported that 95 million pesos had been spent on allegedly overpriced masks and face shields – a fraction of the 42 billion pesos (as big as a budget for an infrastructure project decent size) reserved for COVID-19 equipment that the Department of Health (DOH) transferred to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), without the required Memorandum of Understanding (MOA). What about the rest of the acquisition of the budget of 42 billion pesos?
Why worry about the COA’s findings? On the one hand, government officials and staff involved simply need to prove that they are complying with Republic Law 9184 or the Public Procurement Reform Law, which prescribes the following process:
1. Post an invitation to apply for eligibility and to bid for potential bidders. Show that they have met all the eligibility conditions set out by the contracting entity.
2. It’s supposed to be a competitive offer. To avoid a situation where only one entity is bidding, the government agency should ensure the widest possible circulation, including publication in a newspaper with a large circulation.
3. The contract will be awarded to the tenderer with the lowest calculated responsive offer because the most advantageous offer for the population must be chosen.
An investigation into whether taxes were paid by certain suppliers in question seems ludicrous. If public procurement laws were not followed, coupled with outrageous and overpriced purchases, it is res ipsa loquitur. Whether done willfully or through gross negligence, criminal liability attaches.
In a similar vein, it may be fair to scream at the heavens for a government official to say his life and reputation has been ruined by the COA, such as when an audit report was released on DOH funds. that have not been counted. Still, everyone should know that the COA goes through detailed audit steps, with several chances given to people from government agencies to present their point of view. These opportunities are available:
1. During the audit process when the transaction investigation is done.
2. When the findings are first revealed to them through an audit observation memorandum, where they have time and opportunity to respond and explain their point of view.
3. During the exit conference, which takes place before the publication of the audit report, during which they are informed of any deficiencies and unresolved issues.
4. Even when issuing the formal audit report where the government agency is not precluded from presenting rebuttal evidence in its defense.
So many chances, yet no credible accounts of the funds have been presented.
This is a fundamental accounting requirement: financial information presented by government agencies must be reliable and verifiable. Each financial report they produce must faithfully represent the transactions entered into by their agency in a complete and accurate manner. Why? Because they handle money that belongs to the Filipino people, and they should be fully accountable, down to the last peso.
All of these principles seem to have been thrown out the window and replaced with mere denials and dramatic attacks on the listener.
In the private sector, the chairman 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 tightens controls so that exceptions are not repeated. The only time the president of a company will not be cooperative or be fully transparent with the external auditor is if the president himself is complicit in a potential fraud. But it is the private sector.
The ombudsman can serve the country well by acting, even alone, to fulfill his legal obligation to investigate and prosecute any official or public employee, especially when very credible evidence or leads are presented, such as COA reports. .
The anomalies and corruption-laden leads uncovered by the COA are numerous. Name a government agency and not finding a potential corruption case in that agency will be the exception rather than the rule. Invariably billions will be involved, even a few hundred millions.
The most infuriating part of it all is that government officials and staff are taking advantage of the Filipino people and their hard-earned contributions in taxes and social remittances during this most difficult time – during the pandemic.
There are decent people in government, but thieves are attracted to government because it is a very good deal. A regular collection flow because people are required to donate. No cash trail issues as there are funds budgeted. No problem on the performance evaluation because there is no impact on the remuneration. And when someone gets in trouble because their actions come to light, just quit and you don’t go to jail unless you’re a political opponent.
You really can’t scold the hordes of Filipino millennials who plan to make their fortunes 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 anyone who has decided that this is the only country we have, the minimum to achieving some self-respect is not being nice and never quitting trying.
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Atty. Alexander B. Cabrera is President Emeritus of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He is the President of the Integrity Initiative, Inc. (II, Inc.), a nonprofit organization that promotes common ethical and acceptable standards of integrity. Email your comments and questions to [email protected]