Fighting for public transparency and accountability

Article | 24 April 2015

Intensified and committed internal reforms, as well as active citizen engagement are two of the most important aspects of building transparency and ensuring accountability, according to former Philippines Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan in her speech during the iACT and Office of the Auditor General (OAG) Learning Event on Fighting for Public Transparency and Accountability held at ADB on 13 March 2015. iACT is ADB's internal anticorruption campaign.

Tan, whose term at COA ended in February 2015, stressed that in order to deliver good public service, the people within a discordant government agency such as COA should be able to understand and uphold their mandate as keepers of the public trust.

"By the very nature of the job and expected output from us, there was no way we can deliver without integrity at work and at home simply because we cannot give what we do not have. For me, to effectively call others to account, we must exercise what we speak of and apply," Tan said.

A lawyer and accountant, Tan claimed to have institutionalized sweeping changes within COA aimed at improving its internal reporting and workflow processes. These include, among others, professionalizing its manpower through continuing education programs and merit-based promotions, building partnerships with other government institutions, and engaging citizen participation.

She further noted the four pillars that served as COA’s guiding principles: integrity and independence, organizational efficiency and effectiveness, technical competence and professionalism, and strategic partnership and linkages.

These major amendments, she said, have removed barriers and allowed COA to exercise its mandate of upholding the public trust, encouraging transparency across all government agencies, and ensuring accountability among public officials.

One other very important element, she said, that held as much significance as the commitment of the people within COA is the direct involvement of the citizenry.

In 2012, COA, along with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, launched the Citizen Participatory Audit, which involved the engagement of local communities during auditing activities of COA auditors in their respective local government units. This enabled ordinary people to become enforcers of transparency, making sure their taxes were being used to benefit the public in general.

"This program gives citizens the captain’s seat in the anatomy process of public audit where they see what happens, learn rudiments in accounting, and realize that citizen vigilance is at the cornerstone of accountability."

Tan said she hopes more citizens will participate and apply their learning in their respective neighborhoods.

"Imagine what this would achieve nationwide? I believe government officials will learn to be more careful and prudent in spending the people’s money knowing that in every corner, citizens are looking out."