Not just DepEd: Agencies flagged by COA
THE PUBLIC should now be well aware that the Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged various agencies for failing to observe the procedures for spending and accounting for their expenses. But the media have focused more prominently on the questionable procurement of over-priced and “outdated” laptops amounting to PHP 2.4 billion. CMFR cheered Inquirer.net’s comprehensive report on the issue.
The Commission on Audit (COA) is the independent watchdog over state spending. It subjects government agencies to annual audits and releases these findings to the media. According to its website, the audit body’s mission is “to ensure accountability for public resources… for the benefit of the Filipino people.”
Media followed the Commission’s efforts to fulfill its mandate by reporting which government agencies had mis-spent resources in 2021. However, COA’s many audit reports are agency-specific and may be difficult to read and understand. Media’s fragmented coverage reflects the difficulties in clarifying the deficiencies precisely. Journalists’ follow-up reports, while less technical, merely cited the responses of public officials to COA’s reports, proffered primarily to defend their actions.
CMFR reviewed media’s coverage of COA’s reports from July 15 to August 15. Aside from DepEd, media recorded COA’s audit of eleven other national agencies. Although the scale of the DepEd’s issue with laptops certainly deserves to be set apart, taxpayers should scrutinize all of COA’s revelations because it is the misuse of their money that is involved.
A summary of the deficiencies flagged by COA per agency are shown in the following matrix. More details are found in the succeeding sections and graphs.
Security and law enforcement agencies
Philippine National Police (PNP)
A July 21 report by ABS-CBN News revealed that the COA chided the PNP for failing to complete the construction of four police stations in Regions 11 and 12, costing a total of PHP 27.7 million. The audit report cited issues with contractors, inability to establish technical viability, and land use violations as the cause of delays. The projects were for the construction of police station facilities in Bansalan, Davao del Sur; Midsayap, North Cotabato; Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and Arakan in Cotabato.
Malaya Business Insight reported on August 15 that the COA also took the PNP to task for failing to record the donation of over 200 vehicles to the police force. Aside from the vehicles, other in-kind donations such as scuba gear sets, underwater evidence collection tools and training equipment worth PHP 270.6 million also went unrecorded.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
COA reprimanded the AFP for underutilizing funds meant for COVID-19 response. According to Philstar.com’s August 5 report, only 28 percent of the PHP 26.2 million allotted to the AFP for that purpose was used.
The AFP’s Presidential Security Group (PSG) was also called out by COA for PHP 3.28 million worth of COVID-19 related procurements without the support of necessary contracts and purchase orders.
National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)
The NTF-ELCAC failed to liquidate over PHP 33.4 million in funding, according to a July 20 report by CNN Philippines which cited COA’s 2021 audit report findings. This is out of the total PHP 52.9 million fund given to the controversial task force in 2021.
Infrastructure and transport agencies
Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)
The Manila Standard called attention to COA’s admonishing DPWH over delayed and defective infrastructure projects worth PHP 245 billion. In a July 16 report, the Standard cited COA data showing that the billion-peso amount was to fund 3,440 infrastructure projects. The DPWH’s “failure to establish the viability” of the thousands of projects resulted in completion delays or even non-implementation; 437 of those projects, costing P10.9 billion, have not even been started at all.
A July 19 column in The Manila Times added that COA also called attention to 369 completed or nearly-completed projects worth PHP 11.8 billion for “technical defects.” Among those projects, two were “significant failures:” a bridge in Marilog district, Davao City which collapsed in February, and a retaining wall for a bridge in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur which collapsed ten days prior to its scheduled opening in April.
National Irrigation Administration (NIA)
NIA failed to record the Casecnan Multipurpose Irrigation and Power Project (CMIPP) costing PHP 33.7 billion in their books of accounts. Philstar.com’s August 8 report added NIA’s defense for the lapse, citing the non-receipt of records from California Energy, the US-based firm that turned over the project to NIA in 2021.
Department of Transportation (DOTr)
GMA News Online pointed to the DOTr’s delayed projects worth PHP 1.6 trillion in a report posted on July 18. According to COA, the 14 foreign-assisted projects (FAPs) covered by the funding were beset by issues in “budget and fund flow”, design and scope, procurement, and site availability. Most of the projects covered extensions, improvements, and rehabilitation of the country’s roads, railways, and air and seaports.
Land Transportation Office (LTO)
Inquirer.net reported on August 10 that the LTO was chided by COA for “undue payment” to foreign contractor Dermalog. The contractor received the PHP 3.19 billion payment for the “Road IT Infrastructure Project” despite turning over incomplete deliverables. The project entailed the development of “customized core applications” for use by the LTO in its licensing, inspection, and registration systems. The LTO accepted the applications from Dermalog despite unresolved issues, causing further delays in the agency’s already-backlogged services.
Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)
The DICT was flagged by COA for insufficient implementation of its “Free WiFi for All” program. Malaya Business Insight cited COA’s findings in a July 21 report that under the PHP 10 billion peso program, only 2,890 sites out of the planned 15,169 became operational. The low accomplishment rate was attributed to “delays in procurement, difficulty in securing authorizations and permits as well as network architecture of the project.”
On August 13, Rappler reported that COA identified another issue in its 2021 audit of the Department. DICT was sitting on PHP 93 million worth of undistributed laptops and tablets intended to support the implementation of distance learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state auditor, the devices remained undistributed from four to 17 months after they were procured.
Education and social services
Commission on Higher Education (CHED)
An August 2 report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer highlighted CHED’s failure to implement a project worth PHP 1.96 billion. The “Smart Campus Development Program,” meant to upgrade the equipment of state universities and colleges (SUCs), was unable to reach the implementation stage due to an overly-long proposal vetting period of six months.
A later report issued on August 11 by GMA News Online revealed that the Commission was also rebuked by state auditors for irregularities in the release of nearly PHP 7 billion in financial assistance for students. Under CHED’s Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) program, qualified underprivileged students are to receive allowances to aid education-related expenses. In GMA’s report, Senator Risa Hontiveros emphasized that COA’s recent findings “may just be the tip of the iceberg as to questionable practices and implementation of programs by the UniFAST.” Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution 128, seeking an investigation into the “questionable releases” of the Commission.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)
A July 19 report from CNN Philippines called attention to DSWD’s failure to distribute P1.9 billion worth of financial aid. The report cited COA findings indicating that the funds intended for beneficiaries of the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) remained unliquidated due to “poor planning and monitoring”, scheduling conflicts, and “difficulties in coordination” between the agency and local government units.
Bureau of Customs (BOC)
ABS-CBN News’ August 11 report showed that COA admonished Customs for allowing 974 importers with violations to continue operating in the country. The audit agency wrote in its report that rather than face suspension, the importers were “allowed to import 77,049 consumption entries with assessed duties and taxes amounting to PHP 28.954 billion.”
Media should aim for more coordination and coherence in their coverage. Reports should emphasize the general pattern of failure to observe COA’s audit requirements. Reportage that strikes a balance between detailing the indicators and raising the larger picture of how government ignores these measures is needed; its deficiencies show up inefficiency, incompetence and worse, corruption.
The people themselves should develop vigilance and interest in how public funds are spent and accounted for. Otherwise, they bear the consequences and get the government they deserve.