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Red flags

Nobody likes auditors. We see most of them as inflexible bean counters who thrive on finding mistakes, making them instantly unlikeable in a world where nobody’s perfect. When everyone who has been put in a position of responsibility and accountability wants to be seen as at the very least competent, it is definitely not an enjoyable experience when someone comes it to review your work to dig up and expose possible deficiencies.

When they roll into town to do their sworn duty, auditors strike fear into the hearts of those who have been taking shortcuts or cutting corners. In the olden days, everyone, including the corrupt and the incompetent would scramble to correct flaws or hide evidence of their acts but these days those people have become so empowered and brazen that they must’ve forgotten the awesome power of the audit report.

Even if you have nothing to hide, nobody likes an audit. However, it is a necessary inconvenience that ensures that the finite resources of a business department or government agency are used properly and by the book. 100 percent of the time auditors will always find something. It may be as minor as a missing receipt for a taxi fare to a work-related meeting or as big as a Health Department failing to spend P67 billion pesos while millions of Filipinos and the economy suffer from the effects of a crippling pandemic.

The beauty of an audit is that if you did nothing wrong, all the findings and deficiencies listed should be easily resolved. If missing receipts or supporting documents cannot be found, affidavits can be executed. If the excuses are unacceptable then fines and penalties can be meted out to ensure that those mistakes never happen again. If crimes are discovered, those involved can be investigated and either arrested or exonerated. If an audit reveals gross and continuing incompetence, then heads must roll.

Its leaders can pose and preen all they want, but any enterprise or government that either avoids audits or belittles audit reports is not interested in ensuring that its funds and resources are properly used. A CEO or President who gives more weight to the tantrum of a department head than a damning audit report is nothing more than a coddler of the corrupt and the incompetent.  In that case, the enterprise or country they have been entrusted with is most likely bleeding precious funds and resources and/or losing valuable opportunities to save or improve lives.

Come to think of it, even crime syndicates probably conduct selective audits on their units or gangs from time to time. In their case the trouble only comes when auditors are given free rein to perform their duties independently. In this country where almost every branch of government and every constitutionally independent body has been co-opted or intimidated by the ruling party, it is a surprise to discover that the Commission on Audit was somehow forgotten and managed to remain independent.

Nobody likes auditors but in the past few days the brave men and women of the Commission of Audit have been hailed as heroes for exposing and quantifying the amount of incompetence and/or corruption in this poor country. Government agencies may have gotten away with poor stewardship of funds in the past but the country’s generally poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the gross inefficiency and incompetence.

Imagine being told by our rambling dear leader time and again that we are where we are because there weren’t enough funds but it turns out the DOH simply failed to spend 67 billion pesos that could’ve gone to testing, contact tracing, vaccine down payments, salaries and hazard pay of health care workers, ventilators and hospital equipment among many other things that could’ve saved us from the brunt of the pandemic.

When the war on drugs went on the offensive, suspected drug personalities were told that if they had done nothing wrong, they shouldn’t be afraid. When the Anti-Terror Law was passed, Filipinos were told that they shouldn’t be worried if did nothing wrong. Now that the COA has submitted its reports, why are our government officials so defensive and afraid if they say they did nothing wrong? They may be “warak” but as we have already seen, none of the chosen ones will be fired or punished and they can be sure they don’t have to worry about death by tokhang or warrantless arrests anyway.

It is still difficult to like auditors but our appreciation for the important work they do has grown in the past few days. It says a lot about a country when its state auditors are being regarded as heroes. Hopefully, we can return the favor and be as brave as they are when faced with the incompetence, corruption and mediocrity that should be exposed and challenged before it destroys the country.*

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