PASIG CITY, August 15, 2019 – Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones on Wednesday raised concern over the “little regard” given to the agency even as DepEd has already submitted its responses to the Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) issued by the Department’s resident Commission on Audit (COA) and has started working with COA to address the observations as early as March.
“DepEd has great respect for the role of COA in promoting the efficiency and integrity of the operations of government agencies, and in safeguarding public funds against irregular or unconscionable expenditures. We full recognize its power and duty to examine all expenditures or uses of funds and property for this purpose. I myself have served at the Commission in my earlier professional life. . . [but] this [2018 Annual Audit Report] triggered statements from a number of senators expressing frustration over DepEd’s performance; media reported on it, often with use of superlative descriptions, [but] lost in the statements and headlines are DepEd’s comments to the audit observations, partly integrated in the audit report itself,” the Education chief told members of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts, and Culture during an organizational meeting on August 14.
An AOM, as described in COA Circular 2009-006 (Prescribing the Use of Rules and Regulations on Settlement of Accounts), is a set of “deficiencies noted in the audit of accounts, operations or transactions requiring comments thereto and/or submission of documentary and other information requirements within a reasonable period.” An AOM may be regarded as preliminary and non-conclusive since it still allows the audited agency to submit comments and documents. Only after an evaluation of the submissions would an audit decision be made to whether allow or suspend a transaction.
Meanwhile, the Annual Audit Report is the final output of the regularly yearly audit of the accounts and operations of a government agency by its assigned auditor. The report consolidates the resident auditor’s main observations and recommended actions.
Audit observations: Compliance, not corruption
The Secretary likewise noted that many of the observations pertained to compliance with accounting standards in the keeping of accounts and documentation, and that none of the observations found significant by the resident auditor was about corruption.
She further highlighted that the comments and committed actions of DepEd about the observations recorded in the 2018 Annual Audit Report itself. Notable of these are the undistributed buffer stock of learning materials, the reported errors in textbooks, and the expenses for out-of-office trainings, which have caught the attention of legislators, the media, and the public.
Limits of audit, considerations in policy
While the Education chief acknowledged the extent of COA’s power, she pointed out that its observations were taken by media, and even seasoned and well-meaning legislators, “hook, line, and sinker with little regard for the side of the audited agencies.” In DepEd’s case, the audit observations were immediately concluded in some news to be “anomalies.”
To help address this, the Secretary suggested that the scope of COA’s audit should be properly defined because “the findings can have very serious implications on audit policy” and “can become administratively debilitating for agencies instead of being truly facilitative for fostering government efficiency.”
An example is the injection of “editorial preferences” in the audit observations, specifically COA’s “corrections” in the choice and capitalization of words and phrases in textbooks.
“I will not argue with the grammatical errors, but how about style? How about usage? How about the difference between a common noun and a proper noun? An observation in a Grade 3 textbook, ‘pandaigdigang daungan,’ which is a common noun therefore these are in lower case, the audit observation is it should be capital ‘P’ and capital ‘D’ and perhaps I will argue and stake my reputation on the difference between a common noun and a proper noun. So we ask, to what extent should audits be conducted?” Briones remarked.
A former COA secretary, the Education chief also emphasized the need to revisit the state audit code and adapt it to the realities of modern governance. She expressed confidence that COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo will look into these policy considerations with openness to search for reforms.