In the Philippines, government officials are elected under a free electoral system. But there is a growing culture that once public officials are elected, the task of governance is to be solely their turf; and civil society simply waits for government services to be brought to their doorsteps.
What happened to the government by the people? Abraham Lincoln once famously said that a democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Apathy has engendered complacency, inefficiency, ineffectiveness; and worse, corruption among the ranks of those tasked with governance.
This concern has reached unprecedented proportions, involving billions of pesos lost from the coffers of the government which should have been spent for vital government services – especially in the light of chronic poverty.
Now the public, even in the international scene, has realised that they need to share visions, goals, resources, and ideas; and, hold hands with those tasked with governance in order to put forward the realisation of the dream of clean government and the prudent use of public resources. Prosperity can be realised only with a vigilant and involved citizenry.
“Prosperity can be realised only with a vigilant and involved citizenry.”
Thus, on September 20, 2011, eight members of the United Nations, including the Philippines, constituted the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP is a “multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”.
My organisation, the Commission on Audit, Supreme Audit Institution of the Philippines, responded to the call for OGP through its broad program called the Citizen Participatory Audit.
The audit has four key strengths. First, it is a strategy for reform to uphold the people’s right to a clean government and the prudent set of public resources, founded on the premise that public accountability can prosper only with a vigilant and involved citizenry, for the promotion of transparency and effectiveness.
Second, it is about conducting audits with citizens as members of the audit teams, to make government more effective, transparent, and accountable.
Third, there is a mechanism for strategic partnership and sharing of aspirations, goals and objectives between the COA and civil society.
And fourth, it is a technique for citizen and civil society involvement in other areas of the COA’s work, as partners.
What happens when two solid opposing objects collide with each other head-on? That was the scene during the pilot engagements. Even with shared goals and objectives, community service organisations have their own way of doing things, which is the exact opposite of how we do our work.
Civil society bodies immediately announce their findings from monitoring activities, while the COA is prohibited by law from divulging anything pertaining to its audit engagement, until such time that its audit report has been officially transmitted and received by the auditee.
They want things done speedily without need for the level of detail of audit planning, evidence gathering, documentation, and analysis to support audit findings and conclusions, which the COA needs to do in order to comply with international auditing standards, laws, rules and regulations.
Workshops and engagement sessions were needed for the partners to know each other better. Then we plan and implement the first pilot engagement with the KAMANAVA Flood Control Project of the Department of Public Works and Highways as the audit topic.
People have been taking their concerns to the streets and the media, in the hope that somebody in government will listen and take action. We have deputised some of these concerned citizens as auditors to include them in the process. They have seen and evaluated public documents and data that were before only seen by state auditors. As members of the CPA team, they have experienced presenting audit findings, conclusions and recommendations in the audit exit conference and interacting with officials of the auditee. They have also been involved in the writing of the official report.
At the end of the first pilot audit experience, official auditors and citizen volunteers have truly become a team. We have now expanded the process to cover other audit topics like the Solid Waste Management Program of Quezon City; the Village Health Centers of Marikina City; Water Sanitation and Hygiene of elementary schools in three cities; Tourism Road Infrastructure Projects; and Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund of one city and one province.
This process has now received the first Bright Spots Prize from the OGP. But more importantly thank awards, the CPA bears witness to the truth of public service: government and civil society are stronger and wiser when they work together.