COA: AARs publication good for transparency, but Congress has final say
MANILA, Philippines — While annual audit reports (AAR) are important in ensuring transparency and accountability in government transactions, the Commission on Audit (COA) said on Monday that they would leave it to Congress to decide if these should be published.
Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, who sponsored COA’s proposed 2024 budget, said this in response to questions from Abang Lingkod Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano regarding her views of Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ proposal to stop the publication of AARs.
Martires during the budget deliberations at the committee level asked Congress to consider stopping the publication of the AARs, as it might affect government officials who were called out by COA but are still allowed to address certain issues.
“The COA agrees that it is important for transparency purposes that AARs need to be published. However they also understand certain consequences for example, there are instances where AARs are used and weaponized against agencies, there are such unavoidable consequences,” Quimbo said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“And so they submit to the will of Congress as to what reforms we can think of, where we could balance these two needs. So on one hand the need to make all government transactions transparent but on the other hand how to balance or how to protect our audited agencies,” she added.
According to Quimbo, COA Chairperson Gamaliel Cordoba is also looking at practices in other government agencies now, where reports are not uploaded but are made available through freedom of information (FOI) reports.
“Of course the chair would also want to know that in other jurisdictions, the practice now or the trend is that they do not upload the reports but rather they subject the reports to FOI. In other words, whoever has the need for these reports will just submit an FOI request and then they will be given these reports upon request,” she explained.
“And as we know FOI requests would need to be justified. So that’s being done in other jurisdictions, anyway whatever the decision of Congress, the COA will observe that. What’s important for COA is just to ensure that government transactions remain transparent,” she added.
Last September 11, when the budget of the Office of the Ombudsman was being discussed, Martires made the suggestion to remove from the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) a provision that mandates the publication of the audit observation memorandum (AOM).
Martires later clarified that he was referring to the AAR and not the AOM — which drew further jeers from lawmakers, particularly those from the Makabayan bloc. According to ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, stopping the publication of AARs is even worse, as it is one of the public’s few methods to countercheck government transactions.
Other lawmakers like Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman however agreed with Martires, noting that AARs sometimes put government officials on a bad light when COA was only asking for additional documents to back up transactions.
Ultimately, the House committee on appropriations assured the public that they will study Martires’ proposals.