Ensuring transparency and accountability without creating a bottleneck in the government’s response to the current pandemic is one of the challenges discussed in the webinar on the “Role of the COA in the Philippine Government’s Response to COVID-19: Emergency and Post-Emergency Phases” conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA) Regional Office No. IX on 9 July 2020. The webinar was also broadcasted on Facebook Live.

COA Commissioner Roland C. Pondoc was the resource person at the webinar which was attended by 344 participants from COA Regional Office No. IX led by Director Visitacion Q. Mendoza.

“There will be adjustments in our normal audit practices and I hope we will be able to identify the important points that we need to consider to continue our functions and roles as employees of COA,” Commissioner Pondoc said. “We need to transition through unique challenges to ensure continued transparency and accountability without becoming a bottleneck,” he added.

Commissioner Pondoc noted some key principles during the emergency stage including prioritizing safety of people, frontliners, audit and auditee staff; taking advantage of digital audit technology to continue audit operations remotely; securing audit trails on COVID-19 through monitoring, documenting and analyzing government responses; and maintaining effective communication with key stakeholders, among others.

For the post-emergency stage, Commissioner Pondoc suggested using professional judgment to contextualize conclusions to the COVID-19 emergency and developing approaches for expenditures from blended funding sources, among other principles. Considerations in the post-emergency stage also include government high-priority programs in terms of materiality and risks such as social ameliorations, stimulus package and distribution of medical and food supplies and challenges such as missing audit trails, limited access to data and onsite physical verification and alternate procedures or solutions.

The Commissioner also observed audit of procurement should align with actions taken during the COVID 19 emergency, noting that the risk of fraud is always present but is elevated during emergency cases. He also emphasized the need for coordination with accountability agencies.

Commissioner Pondoc said the Commission needs to give a strong message that people’s money will be watched closely and that the agency stands ready to make sure that as a nation, we heal and recover as one.

The Commissioner’s presentation was sourced from a World Bank study of Supreme Audit Institutions’ experiences when their countries have handled past epidemics and disasters and tailor fit by the Commissioner for COA.

Meanwhile, Regional Director Mendoza also emphasized the need for auditors to step up to the demands of the “new normal.” She noted that the webinar conducted by COA Regional Office No. IX was the first in a planned series to serve as a platform to discuss issues and solutions to the challenges in audit posed by the pandemic. OIC-Assistant Regional Director Ma. Gudelia Q. Patangan, for her part, expressed gratitude to COA officials for their support and guidance during the crisis, and encouraged COAns to be alert, pro-active and observe protocols.

Atty. Faith Suzette Delos-Reyes Kong served as the moderator during the open forum that followed the Commissioner’s presentation while Supervising Auditor Jeanette A. Calamohoy led the opening prayer to start the program.

The webinar shall be the first of a series of webinars to be hosted by different COA Regional Offices.