Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unfinished business

published December 8, 2015
Commissioner Heidi Mendoza had it all planned out. She was supposed to stay put until 2018 to complete her term at the commission, where she serves with Chairman Michael Aguinaldo and Commissioner Jose Fabia. She knew exactly how many days she would remain in her office, and how many Christmases she would spend there. 
Everything changed when she was informed she had been appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as Undersecretary-General of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services. On Oct. 13, the UN General Assembly unanimously approved her appointment. 
She will be the first Filipino to occupy the post which she will occupy for the next five years.
According to the UN website, the OIOS assists the secretary general in fulfilling his oversight responsibilities in respect of the resources and staff of the UN through internal audit, monitoring, evaluation, inspection, evaluation and investigation services. 
The office issues more than 200 reports, and more than 800 recommendations to improve internal controls and correct underlying obstacles to organizational efficiency and effectiveness.
A certified public accountant with masters degrees in national security and public administration with emphasis on fiscal administration, Mendoza has also served in the Philippine government and other organizations in the field of audit, investigation, fraud examination, anti-corruption and integrity and advocacy. She has served as US senior external auditor in the past.  
Thus there appears to be no question in her qualifications for the job —but is she ready to pack her bags and leave the commission and her life in the Philippines just yet? 
Mendoza was supposed to have assumed her post last Nov. 15, but she had to stay a few more weeks to take care of some personal loose ends. Now that she is about to uproot herself to begin her five years of international work, she said she wants to strike a balance between accountability and flexibility. Auditors are trained to be rigid and to follow the rules by the book, but flexibility would allow them to look at the context and appreciate facts by looking at the bigger picture. 
Mendoza’s work at the commission, specifically her advocacy for citizen participation, has allowed her to observe that state auditors need to change their mindset about opening up. They have to  challenge their decades-old notions about audit. 
In the community of nations, the Philippines fares relatively well in opening itself up and being flexible.  According to Mendoza, this is due partly to the current administration’s efforts towards transparency, but also because of the series of reforms begun in the previous administration. An example is the public procurement law of 2003 (Republic Act 9184) where citizens are required to observe bidding.
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Then again, because of the suddenness of her departure, Mendoza admitted to being sad. “I will not be around to see some of the major reforms we had wanted,” she said. Among these reforms are the outsourcing of financial/compliance audits, and the shift in focus of the commission from financial/compliance audits to performance audits. 
In a financial/compliance audit, auditors render their opinion on the fairness of the presentation of an agency’s financial statements. Performance audits, on the other hand, evaluate whether the objectives of government projects that had been laid out in the beginning were achieved. 
To be sure, this idea may be met with resistance by some auditors themselves, given the way they take pride in how they have always done their jobs. Mendoza, however, said she believes that there is only resistance because they are not yet able to appreciate the bigger picture. 
Another area Mendoza wants to see changed is the way audit reports are written. Currently, audit reports following guidelines that are often an excuse to simply copy and paste content under each heading. 
What she envisions is a report written in clear, simple language that looks at the entire picture. “In this way, we can come up with more meaningful conclusions and more effective recommendations.”
A big question remains: Is the workforce ready for such changes? It can be done, of course, there just has to be somebody within the commission to lead them into making this shift.
Mendoza served the commission for four years and six months this time around. In one of her last flag-raising ceremonies with her colleagues, she thanked them for their support and assistance, “especially for those who have toed the line when it was most difficult.”
Mendoza leaves her job at a crucial junction. But just as the CoA loses a commissioner to a bigger stage abroad, it acquires a bigger audience now that more Filipinos have become aware of its role in the nation’s life. 
So keep in mind that the commission, despite its dwindling (and aging) workforce, still tries to perform its mandate in the way it has known for many years. Auditors sometimes risk their safety, even their lives, in doing their job especially in far-flung areas in the country ruled by local lords who resist being audited. 
There is a lot of unfinished business at the CoA. Mendoza’s examples are but a few of them.   
adellechua@gmail.com

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