Before any whistle blower in the PDAF investigations is accepted as a state or provisional witness, he or she should be willing “to come clean on personal benefits he or she enjoyed from involvement in the misuse of public money. Those funds belong to the people and must be properly accounted for and returned.” This presumes at the very least thorough analyses of all the SALNs filed by the potential witness by the authorities in order to determine the extent of his/her own share of plunder. Otherwise it would be the first hearsay evidence openly admitted in the entire investigation. If the authorities presently have this capability, then it is a tacit admission of the efficacy and expediency of using the SALN approach for determining the truthfulness or guilt of the candidate witness as they seem to have done this in such a short time with finality. If the SALN approach therefore works for determining the truthfulness of the financial declarations of witnesses, shouldn’t it also be applied with the same speed and finality to those principally accused?
The SALN is the most potent weapon of the people against graft and corruption. It is far more superior to the use of whistle blowers who can be killed, intimidated, bought or even contradict each other. The SALN is the best evidence of itself and does not lie. It is sworn to by the accused who cannot claim to being prejudged by anyone quoting his own SALN and using them against him. Its expeditiousness springs from the fact that it turns the table and the burden of proof to the filer(s) being accused.
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I am not a lawyer and quite content not being one. From the little that I know, a person who is charged is given time to answer the charges (initially more properly seen as allegations) through a counter affidavit. However when the charges against him emanate from his own sworn statements such as a SALN, the charges are no longer allegations but quoted statements of fact from the very horse’s mouth.
This is the superiority of filing charges using the SALNs filed by the accused himself. It binds him in a conundrum. How does he file a counter affidavit without looking ridiculous if not guilty? He is his own whistle blower as he has already prejudged himself. He cannot even resort to finger pointing. In fact, the Nation can now give him the dirty finger.
More lawyers should learn how to use this method of prosecution. It is the people’s champion – its lethal weapon against graft and corruption. Without a counter affidavit fully of fancy footwork, cases can be tried and finished expeditiously and at a fraction of the cost. There lies a new conundrum for my lawyer friends.
I know a thing or two about niche marketing and branding which I would like to share with our new bar hurdlers. At the rate scams are being divulged and cases are being filed, young lawyers singly or as a group should specialize in prosecuting and defending suits involving SALNs. Once they learn the ropes, they will find out its potency and expediency as an anti-corruption tool which can be used both to get rid of scalawags in government and to keep these undesirables out.
Now that there is a national awareness about SALNs coupled with the growing international concern for good governance where the SALN has a prominent role in more than 100 countries in the world, more funding will be available related to this specialization. Those who may be interested in this sunshine opportunity may contact us through www.saln.info where we would be willing to teach the “confessions of SALNs in plain language” pro bono.
I admire the advice of NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia when he said “Be the best lawyers that money cannot buy” but would like to add corollary to this: Make a reputation more through the cases you turn down rather than from the cases you accept.
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Those who are required to file SALNs are currently asked to report Assets classified as Real Properties and Personal Properties. The Real Properties’ columns distinguish figures for Acquisition Costs, Assessed Values and Current Fair Market Values while Personal Properties are normally divided between Cash and Others. Real Properties which may include buildings, contents and improvements are generally fixed in nature while other personal properties or so-called current assets are easier to liquidate like traded stocks or jewelries.
Liabilities are simply lumped regardless of whether they are personal debts or institutional loans and are recorded on cash rather than on an accrual basis both for payment of principal and interests. Networth is simply the remainder between Assets at acquisition costs minus Liabilities.
For purposes of analyzing SALNs using what has been described above, it would be very useful to compare two or more years (and the more the better) and to include aside from the totals for each of these three basic categories, the cash component of the personal properties. This latter detail allows the preparation of the Cash Flow without the need of resorting to conventional assumptions which even when made will and do not negate the validity of its general conclusions.
The financial analyst when reviewing multiple submissions from the same filer or when comparing the same year’s submission of multiple filers should ideally use baselines and red flags for exception reporting. The baselines must be evenly applied to the universe to preserve and guarantee fairness and to allow the analyst to rank the universe in terms of whom to prioritize. It should be clear that red flags are nothing but red flags that call and focus attention and beg for explanations.
Red flags should not in any way whatsoever be construed as guilt or even as a sign of guilt. They however narrow the search for possible inconsistencies which when properly explained should immediately erase the aberration and even exculpate the filer for the specific item of enquiry. Unresolved red flags however depending on the gravity, could lead to lifestyle audits, income tax assessments, AMLC investigations or even the filing of cases by the Ombudsman.
Based on our studies, they are as many as 10 red flags which can be raised when analyzing two or more SALNs from a single filer. These fall into three general categories:
BASED ON THE REPORTING STYLE:
1. Assets not at Acquisition Costs (Use of 2 or more types is adding apples and oranges.)
2. Reporting no Liabilities with Assets >50 Million (Unlikely possibility.)
BASED ON THE YEARLY ACCOUNTING NARRATIVE:
3. The accounting equation does not balance.
4. This year’s narrative is not standard (Not 1 of 11 possible stories.)
5. This year’s narrative is a spike in Liabilities (>50% increase*.)
6. The cumulative Liabilities are beyond belief (Debt/Equity Ratio >100% *.)
7. This year’s narrative is a spike in Networth (>20% increase*.)
8. The cumulative Networth increase is too good (PSE Index*.)
* Baseline examples only
C. PERIOD DEFICITS AND DEFICIENCIES
Cash Flow deficits (Cannot finance purchases and/or expenses internally.)
Tax Evidenced Transaction deficiencies (Cannot support earnings with tax payments or exemptions.)
On the other hand when comparing several filers’ SALNs for a single year, only number 1, 2, 3 and 6 above can be used for commenting and red flagging.
Representative Montemayor’s clarification of the facts surrounding his alleged involvement in the PDAF scam is straightforward and highly credible. It provides stark contrast to the alibis, finger pointing and blame seeking posture which the principally accused have taken. More importantly it shows that sometimes although rarely, the system works or can be made to work when enough honest men have the mind to will it. This and other clean transactions like it should serve as the nails on the coffin of those who wantonly pillaged the village.
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I am a firm believer that the SALN reporting requirement mandated on elective and appointed officials is truly God’s gift to the Filipino people as their lethal weapon for ridding the bureaucracy and GOCCs of scalawags. In addition I believe that an extended requirement mandating the filing of 5 years of SALNs and being cleared of all Cash Advances issued under his name or office before assuming any position would further make it difficult for this ilk to enter public service.
As a head chopper, pursuing plunder cases using SALNs should be cut and dry for the following reasons:
· These are filed as sworn statements under oath
· The best evidence is the document itself
· SALNs cannot be intimidated, silenced, bought, killed or change their minds.
Being an Accounting document borrowed by the legal profession, it is universally known as the Balance Sheet with its own set of rules, principles, conventions and best practices which the provision on transparency has wisely left undefined from a legal standpoint. The SALN therefore must be interpreted by experts in the accounting and auditing fields and not by lawyers.
The Corona Impeachment may go down in the history of the world that has more than 100 countries with SALN related practices, to have tried and convicted a case involving SALNs without ever using the testimony of a single accounting or auditing expert in defense or against the accused. To that extent, I felt and feared that the SALN itself was on trial.
Because it was relegated to the background in favor of irrelevant witnesses, title searches and opening of dollar deposits, the trial took a very long time and became a huge financial burden for the tax payers. From a technical point of view, his SALNs were completely indefensible such that not even former colleagues from the accounting and auditing professions dared to come to his aid and comfort.
Why the prosecution never took advantage of this weakness will always remain a mystery to me. I am therefore very concerned that this temerity may be repeated thus reinforcing the public’s perception that SALN-type trials are both tedious and costly although nothing should be further from the truth.
In my simple mind when an accused is charged with facts from his SALN he himself has sworn to and submitted, it must be the most straightforward case there is. He must now carry the burden of proving the veracity of its contents by volunteering documents in support of his numbers therein thus saving the prosecution the aggravation of getting documents accepted as evidences. This alone can save a lot of time and money.
For your information, the accounting and auditing professions have developed analysis using a series of SALN filings to determine the accuracy of purchases and cash balances through the Cash Flow Method. Corona could have been proved lying about his property transactions through this. Furthermore, these two professions can develop analysis again for a series of SALN filings to determine the accuracy of increases in Networth through a method using tax-evidenced transactions.
Frontend, the annual SALNs filed in conjunction with what has already been submitted can be run through an analytic accounting process which can raise as many as 10 red flags to alert the authorities to focus on individual filers who should be endorsed for lifestyle audit, AMLC scrutiny, BIR audit, COA special audit or outright filing of charges by the Ombudsman.
As an international financial expert who more recently has specialized on the SALN from the beginning of the Corona Impeachment and as the advocate and crusader of www.saln.info, I am prepared to dedicate the rest of my life to educating legislators, media, the public, lawyers, accountants, auditors and prosecutors about the efficacy and expeditiousness of getting rid of plunderers of the National Treasury through the proper and expert use of SALNs in prosecution cases.
Mabuhay ka at ang mamayang Filipino!
On Sunday, March 23, 2014 3:18 PM,
CJ Art Panganiban
In every legal proceeding, especially those involving crimes, the first question is really one of facts; especially on how to prove the legal existence of facts. You are right. The SALN is one document that should ease the discovery of legal facts, because it is an admission by the affiant of facts stated therein. True, when compared over a number of years, they would be damning. I suggest you write Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who I am sure will appreciate your thesis.
valuable man hours being financed by taxpayers.
Given that the SALN is a sworn statement filed under oath, it is the filer himself who admits to the validity of all its contents. As I have pointed out before, each filed SALN is a picture while the difference(s) between two or more SALNs is a story authored by the filer himself. This story or stories will be the same anywhere in the world from an accounting and auditing point of view. Any statement made by someone faithful to this story therefore will simply be an accounting narrative of what the filer himself had earlier related publicly.
A filer therefore cannot claim to being ‘prejudged’ as he had already unwittingly done the ‘prejudging’ on himself through the act of filing his SALNs. This principle is universal and will apply to everyone mandated by law to file a SALN.
This is the ‘unwitting’ import of the SALN which lawyers, accountants, filers and prosecutors still have to be awakened of and taught.
The genius of the framers of the Constitution in including this provision for the protection of the Filipino people is currently being undermined though by the total lack of appreciation for this simple fact: The act of filing a SALN has to be taken very seriously as it is meant as a process of establishing a prima facie case of guilt or innocence for the
filer himself. In effect each government employee is allowed to hang or unhang himself annually.
Given the potency of this process in the hands of those who are real experts in accounting and auditing, its full venomous powers can truly be extracted and unleashed. Soon all SALNs filed ideally should be processed thereby triggering red flags all over the place. These red flags will lead to lifestyle audits which will lead to impeachment cases which should then lead to convictions. When this happens, SALNs will verily be the champions of the Filipino people in their fight against graft and corruption.
Tough questionsare just that – tough questions. That they can be asked is not a sign of guilt much less prove guilt. They can however make one nervous, even panicky. Tough questions are red flags. Or are red flags tough questions?
The toughest questions Senator Bong will have to answer in the current charges against him will be based on evidence he himself submitted when he filed his SALNs. Based on his admitted Networths from 2006 to 2012, his Networth rose from Php 107 million in 2006 to Php 162 in 2012 for a 52% increase. In a single year (2011) alone, he managed to increase his Networth by Php 40 million for an increase of 17% from the previous year.
The following are samples of tough questions which should be asked:
1. What were the sources of Networth increases for the period covered?
2. What caused the windfall spike in earnings in 2011?
3. Have all the taxes arising from all these profitable transactions been paid?
That’s the beauty of SALNs. They are filed by the accused himself. They are sworn under oath as the truth. They can convict or exonerate. The numbers cannot change their minds. They cannot be intimidated. They cannot be bribed. The tough questions emanating from them can even be telegraphed without diminishing their values.
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As in the case of the Corona Trial, the most important key witness will once again be assassinated in the ongoing PDAF Investigations. Somehow it has been predetermined that in order to prevent any difficulties in understanding her testimony coaxed in technical language unintelligible on the part of most Senators, it would be better to completely ignore her. This is the consensus even if some have acknowledged that it would be the most expedient way of getting a conviction or exoneration on the part of all those being accused.
It is feared that the straightforwardness of her testimony will eliminate the opportunities for grandstanding that many have prepared for already. With this of course, the photo ops and the sound bites will also disappear. More importantly however, the billions of pesos that will be spent legitimately and the alleged largesse similar to the Corona expenditures will be sorely missed by all and sundry.
While it did not become conclusive in that trial how much the Chief Justice was responsible for in terms of unaccounted growth in his Networth, it is certain that the total cost of that exercise to the government and to taxpayers was over Php 5 billion simply because of the roundabout way the conviction was secured without the testimony of this most important witness.
If she had been called from inception there would have been no need for the array of property developers, assessors, bank employees and others to take the witness stand thus cutting down the process by 70 to 90% both in costs and duration. More importantly again, very early in the proceedings the burden of proof would have immediately shifted to the accused by virtue of his own sworn filings.
While we should rejoice that that trial led to impeachment, the sad part about it is that it did not become conclusive how the SALN contributed to the outcome. It is yet to be shown as the most efficacious manner of pursuing such cases without the wasted time and money the indirect routes take. Furthermore it is yet to be shown as the best way of getting convictions or exonerations from graft cases without the government being bankrupted chasing after all the big and small fishes in the land.
While lawyers are very fond of saying that the best evidence is the document itself, they are wary of any document which they do not understand especially when the exhibit is full of intimidating numbers with their own special meanings and interpretations. In the words of one of the defense counsels in the last trial, he admitted that they became lawyers precisely because they were not number savvy.
Lawyers as a rule therefore want to stick to their knittings and insist on trying to win the case from either side of the fence without presenting and counting on the best evidence available to them as in the cases at hand. I guess as a business model, what works best for them and their families is a long drawn and protracted case. Why kill the golden goose before extracting all the eggs she is capable of laying?
At the rate the PDAF investigations are going, we again have the makings of a blockbuster teleserye capable of becoming the national pastime. Those whose terms are about to expire and are not prohibited from running again will have this huge stage for subtly electioneering in the guise of public service. To add insult to injury, it may again be the opportunity for pre-raising much needed campaign funds from the powers that be.
Enough said! Who is this most important key witness that is about to be assassinated in the Senate PDAF Investigations? Her name is SALN. In Congress though, she is fondly known as: salNpusa.
The SOA/COA Report on the PDAF and other pork barrel funds can aptly be called The Mockumentary of Kleptocracy. Given that the entire paper trail for Livelihood priority projects is either falsified or nonexistent, the said report is more of a mockery than a documentary giving birth to the portmanteau ‘mockumentary’.
The very chambers where these shenanigans are initiated henceforth have to be known as the LieJestlature where prevaricators and clowns hold court. It should not be difficult to figure out what the word ‘kleptocracy’ means as it is rooted in that well known disease more popularly called kleptomania. By all indicators, this is surely our form of government now.
The pillage of the village is utterly complete leaving only crumbs for the beneficiaries turned sorry mendicants. The entire bureaucracy or as we say in the vernacular, barokcracy participated in this rape. The people’s guardians, the COA sentries at every post and at every level slept on the job trying to break Rip van Winkle’s legendary record. With eyes shut wide-open they were either incompetent or in-cahoots allowing all and sundry to part-take and take part.
As budding accountants we were once taught that old pedantic aphorism that “Figures don’t lie and liars don’t figure.” There must be several venerable professors turning in their graves right now for nothing can be further from the truth. Notice how even the E in ‘lie’ disguises as an A in ‘liar’.
The whole situation is deemed tricky and sneaky, steep in intrigue, and fraught with danger that may be only a Joker can untangle -- especially when convoluted by peanut paid employees who have recently learned how to blow their whistles. If you hear anything otherwise, please Ping me.
Because of the alarming quantity of cases involving the misuse of public funds by government officials both elected and appointed, a good way of filtering the good from the bad candidates in every election is to subject each aspirant to the “I am clean” test. It is a simple voluntary gesture on the part of the office seeker to attach 2 documents to his application for candidacy at the Comelec to be made available for public scrutiny.
First, I refer to his/her most recent 5 year history of SALNs filed and second, I refer to his/her Certificate of
Liquidation of all Advances under his/her name and/or Office issued by the resident COA officer. I have chosen these two documents as their absences are the surest telltale signs of misdeed and hidden wealth.
Because these two simple safeguards were not demanded by the suffering public in the past, it has just been too easy for scalawags with no other intention but to plunder and get a horrendous return on his investments (propaganda, vote buying, patronage, etc.) to get elected. As a Nation, we have to be the Gatekeeper of
the National Treasury.
Those who cannot or will not submit to this “I am clean” test should be suspect from the start and should be discriminated on by the voting public. This undue secrecy should also be exploited by their opponents and media to the full. Done consistently in the future, this system should discourage those unfit to serve in favor of those who truly love this country.
It is quite difficult extracting critical information from this Table as it is presented. It does not readily yield the number covered of Particulars (in SOA/COA terminology) which will be referred herein as General Categories for Funding (GCF), the total number of Program/Project (PPs) involved, nor the number of Implementing Agencies (IAs) and their respective roles in the different programs and projects.
To this extent, the SOA/COA Report was deliberately muddled in order to hide the entire universe of the SCAM regardless of who, what and how much were involved.
Aside from improving this one dimensional presentation, I developed a reusable format (something which SOA/COA could have easily done) which would allow analyses of various combinations of X and Y axes. The first such table having the Particulars and Program/Project on the X axis and the IAs on the Y axis shown in the accompanying Excel Spreadsheet yields the following additional information:
· There are actually 12 General Categories for Funding (GCF) or Particulars in SOA terms).
· There were a total of 22 PPs qualified to choose from.
· There were a total of 36 IAs (33 specific IAs and 3 generic IAs) deemed matched to these PPs.
· Of 22 PPs, 10 had solo IAs, 9 had 2 to 4 IAs, and 2 had 5, while SME/Livelihood had 10 IAs to choose from.
Retaining the X axis of Particulars and PPs, the following juxtapositions can be made by placing different Ys:
- NGOs to determine which ones were in what GCFs and respective PP.
- Legislators to determine what GCFs and PPs they considered priority areas.
On the other hand, retaining the original Y axis consisting of IAs further juxtapositions can be made by placing different Xs as follows:
· NGOs to determine which ones were working closely or perhaps TOO closely with IAs. (This could have easily justified the SOA/COA creation of Table 15 and 18 without appearing as mischievous as it is right now.)
· Legislators to determine which ones were working closely or perhaps TOO closely with IAs.
· Funding to determine what IAs were awash with HASF and which ones were getting a pittance.
(The first Excel sheet is provided. Those with the resources can easily develop the rest from this.) This is how the Inquirer came up with their list of 83 which could have been established from day 1.
These 5 new tables would additionally enable the most interesting comparison to be made between Legislators and NGOs in a more logical manner compared to the way Legislators’ data were presented in the SOA/COA report which may be seen as a witch hunt at the very least. Take Table 28 for instance, is this the complete list or not? Is this extracted from Table 15?
This would have been a more objective way of determining and justifying the choices of legislators who should be investigated first instead of the whistle blower way.
This witch hunt theory may not be farfetched given that some legislators were mentioned as part of the presentation of NGOs’ suppliers in Tables 23, 24 and 25 as if they had any connection much less control over them. It is amazing how the auditors avoided showing the link between the legislators and Table 40 which shows why 90 loan confirmation letters were unanswered.
Given the comments above, it can be the time to give an overall assessment of the entire audit report. There are portions of the report which are very thoroughly done notably in the areas of Variance Analyses in Chapter 3. This Herculean task of detailing 41 projects worth Php 1.393 billion turned up discrepancies of Php 46.262 million or 3.321%.
The thoroughness with which this was done paints the COA into a corner on the issues of not confirming the existence of projects, NGO details like the verification of principal and addresses, and progress or completion reports.
I do not know why I cannot now remove the adage ‘pennywise and pound foolish’ from my mind.
It seems that no one at all at the COA, from top to bottom, has ever heard of the 80 20 Principle or has ever used statistical methods in their work. This is a definite giveaway of incompetence on the part of those who pretend to know something about auditing or of cluelessness on the part of those who should not even be there in the first place.
- In a democracy, the people always get the kind of governance they deserve.
- The current graft and corruption is endemic, systematized and exist at all levels of elected and appointed positions.
- The COA is inutile. It takes pride in reporting fraud rather than preventing it.
- Elected and appointed positions are seen as business opportunities and outright return on investments.
- The voters vote on the basis of relationships, patronage or just sell their votes.
- The candidates are not necessarily qualified for the positions they seek. This is true even for
The three areas which have to be fixed therefore are namely:
- The system
- The voters
- The elected and who they appoint.
It is quite fortuitous that we have the SALN requirement and the Ombudsman in place.
Properly used and appreciated, there is hope in cleaning up these three areas through the following means:
- Strict enforcement of the filing of SALNs
- Annual processing and red flagging of all SALNs
- Investigation of top 10 filers in each category.
In addition, all persons seeking elective or appointed positions in government or GOCCs must file under oath their most recent 5 year SALNs as a condition precedent to assuming any office. While not directly a SALN component, re-electionists or re-appointees must show proof of having liquidated all advances issued during his tenure under his name and/or to his office before he can be allowed to assume any other position.
The SALN is a double-edged sword which is being poorly used now and as if it was a one edge sword. It is currently viewed as an anti-corruption tool for getting scalawags out of office. The prosecutors and most especially the Office of the Ombudsman must be taught how to use the accounting forms and narratives as the strongest evidences against the accused filer.
The other edge of the sword must be used to dull the propensity of pillagers from even attempting to get into office. Keeping them out with their shady tactics of breaking-in will encourage more of the true public servants to seek office. Hopefully, the COA would have woken up from it stupor, play a vital role in all of these and truly become the vanguard of the people.
I was at the Million Man March at the Luneta to get a personal feel for the different sentiments about the pork barrel scam. In the process I also got my fill of the various solutions proposed by some advocacy groups present there. Based on the remedies suggested it would seem that the problem had been predefined as a systemic and endemic case of corruption in need of a wide range of actions and changes which include the following:
· Investigation and prosecution of all congressmen and senators who were involved with Napoles in looting the national treasury.
· Investigation and prosecution of other Napoles type persons involved with the pork barrel.
· Abolition of the pork barrel and the grant of the respective allocations directly to the agencies concerned.
· The resignation of the President if he cannot bring those accountable to justice.
Apart from the Catholic Church which sees this as a moral issue it must be involved in by definition and is asking for the conversion of everyone, none of the solutions above will cure the real problem of corruption in this country. This is our current sorry state because as a nation we are not properly protected against graft and corruption by the accounting and auditing professions. They have failed to defend the people and the nation against this onslaught.
We do not have a first line of defense against corruption like every economic entity should have. Much less do we enjoy a second line of defense but instead simply rely on the providential and immutable law that sin especially greed always carries the seeds of its own destruction.
This first line of defense I referred to is universally provided by the accounting profession whose sworn duty is to provide accurate, transparent and timely reports on statistically representative transactions and on the financial health of the institution involved in these transactions. Realistically though even accountants themselves have to be policed and it is always more prudent to hire internal auditors to catch lapses made intentionally or otherwise. Lapses which are intentional are either initiated by crooked accountants for their own gains or to cover up the misdeeds of those they are in cahoots with, which in most cases are crooks in management itself.
The second line of defense alluded to is also universally provided by external auditors properly headed by certified public accountants (CPAs) whose sworn duty is to verify and certify to the accuracy, transparency and timeliness of whatever is produced by the accountants. As was mentioned earlier, internal auditors are themselves employees like the accountants and may also be adversely influenced or even pressured by a crooked management. This is the reason why in the private sector external auditors are directly hired by the stockholders for the protection of all stakeholders. Government offices and agencies however are generally mandated to be audited by the Commission on Audit (COA) instead of independent external auditors.
When you speak of accountants and auditors and the related disciplines of bookkeeping and controllership, these are the most difficult positions to fill with competent personnel all over the world. There is such a great demand for them that they have become among the highest paid professionals everywhere. More often than not, even the interviewers themselves are incompetent to make any correct judgment about the candidate right in front of him primarily because it takes one to know one.
You see, the problem starts with the vast majority of people’s natural phobia with numbers. This starts from learning how to count by rote and while never learning the logic behind the counting. Yet everything in life has to do with numbers and numbers have everything to do with life. People grow and mature with this handicap which eventually is taken for granted as part of being normal. And because it has become the norm to be numerically illiterate, everyone gets by or at least think that they do.
The few who find both comfort and pleasure working with numbers quickly excel and work for the best salaries available. Those who are able to fake it slip through the cracks but end up in ruts as they find themselves doing the same jobs for decades on end. This is how the cycle of financial incompetence spreads from the individual to an economic unit and further to a nation.
Because virtually every economic unit needs to account for its activities and results in numerical terms, the demand for numerical competency far exceeds the supply by a factor of more than 100 to one at the very least. Life however must go on since the activities and results of operations have to be prepared or nothing moves. Positions and functions are consequently filled with more and more inferior personnel from the start of each vacancy.
Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing become relegated functions not just because they become very difficult to fill properly but also because the very people at the top have the same phobia about numbers. Even at this level it is often seen as a dreaded aspect of management which is better avoided as much as possible. How many of our leaders would know how to balance budgets, analyze financial statements, or do variance analyses?
I am almost tempted to say that you either have it in you or you don’t. But I remember being drilled in class as grade schoolers to mentally solve serial computations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Or racing to the blackboard to solve orally given problems as one of the school’s representatives in friendly intercollegiate math competitions.
In situations where the employee and the accounting/auditing position are force fitted on each other, it will not take long before either Murphy’s Law or Peter’s Principle kicks in. Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong while Peter’s Principle states that eventually everyone ascends to a level beyond his competence. Either of these obviously will spell trouble for both the employee and the employer in the private sector and much more so in government institutions.
These aberrations can allow anomalies to exist even for a very long time – until the operative principles of greed rears its ugly heads. Somebody starts buying expensive things she recently could barely afford. Having these new things is not fun without flaunting it. She starts flashing cash, lots of it and treats everyone to expensive lunches and dinners, or even trips and junkets. She starts talking big, really big time with big shots and about bigger shots. Accused by her own actions, can self indictment and conviction be far behind?
The supply of good and knowledgeable accountants and auditors is extremely finite in the Philippines. Accounting, the basic course which leads to these professions is not the most popular subject in any university. This situation directly affects salary limits and indirectly affects the caliber of the teaching staff that can be hired. The astronomic mortality rate in all the board certification exams for CPAs is a testimony to this and is always an ominous sign of the degraded quality of the potential hirees in the coming season.
Not too long ago, an ex-chief justice could not for years find any person to confide with nor competent enough to prepare his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). All he could find was an incompetent (may be himself) which lead to his final ruin. His case involved the impossible task of untangling the convoluted job performed by an accounting moron but even his ill gotten wealth could not entice any decent accountant or accounting firm to come to his legal aid. He was abandoned even by his own former auditing associates.
That trial may go down in the history of the world as the only SALN case where the defense composed of the most expensive lawyers money could buy did not even bother going into the bookkeeping or accounting details of what he officially submitted. They were all numbers illiterate as can be concluded from one of their colleague’s statement that if any of them were good with numbers, that person would probably not have become a lawyer.
Such is the present pathetic situation of corruption aided and abetted by accounting and auditing incompetencies. Accountants and auditors in the public sector are remnants from the private sector who in themselves may be hold-outs from the exportable elites of the respective professions who are already filling international positions. The few good men who stayed for their own noble reasons will never therefore be found in the public sector that sorely needs their high caliber of talent just as badly as the rest of the world.
Unless this glaring gap is seen as the real cause of the problem, second only to the personal and collective moral issues involved, all the proposed solutions would be mere palliatives akin to band-aids for a bullet wound in the head. The entire congress can be jailed and the president may be forced to resign but the same malignancy will recur as the blind continues to audit the blind.
It must be a given in our ‘palusot’ culture that:
- The pork barrel’s release is the presidential sword of Damocles.
- The presidential pork barrel is one source of pay back for financial support in the past.
- The pork barrel is the congressional return on investments (ROI) for election expenses.
And that therefore:
- Biddings will not be fair.
- Bidders will always try to cheat the process.
- Winning bidders will cheat rather than lose money in order to recover the high cost of winning.
With these as the backdrop, accountants and auditors should instinctively be wary of each and every transaction related to the pork barrel. Based on the universal 80/20 principle, 80% of corruption in national government will occur right here. In accounting terms, the transactions may have to be presumed anomalous using the premises stated above until proven otherwise. Every detail and circumstance must be investigated and verified. Remember that in analogous election terms, we are all presumed flying voters who have to be marked and deterred from voting again fraudulently.
Accountants of economic units who can easily be pressured by their employers may have to use all the cunning available to them in recording, summarizing and filing their transactions with the COA since auditors must be accountants of a higher breed who are experts in their assigned institutions. Let me cite three technical skills auditors are expected to practice routinely:
- Strict enforcement of all the generally accepted accounting and auditing principles on all transactions under their personal review.
- A thorough knowledge of the accounting system of the institution(s) assigned to him so that he can focus on the areas most vulnerable to fraud.
- Random sampling and other statistical methods applicable to each specific project circumstance.
When agency accountants can file defective documents for audit by the COA with impunity year after year, the auditors are either:
- On the take
or all of the above. I make no accusations here – just providing a multiple choice.
Given that I have zeroed in on the accounting and the auditing professions now existing in the public sector as the key to curtailing corruption in government, I strongly suggest that professionalizing and upgrading these services in government would give the people its highest return on investment. During the same Million Man March, I saw many suggestions on how Php 10 billion could possibly be better spent as in the following:
- Construction of 25,000 school buildings
- Purchase of 8 million sacks of rice
- Purchase of 25 high speed patrol boats with missile capability
- Supply of Php 5 million worth of medicine for 2,000 hospitals
- Construction of 57,142 houses for police and army personnel
Objectively while good in itself, each of these must be seen as a myopic expression of the self interest of specific advocacy groups. A solution for one does not solve the problem for the others. What is forgotten in these examples is that if these project expenditures were accounted and audited by the very same people who accounted and audited the Php 10 billion Napoles transactions, the scams on these transactions will just continue with no one the wiser.
What I am proposing is that Php 10 billion is better spent to professionalize and upgrade government accountants and auditors which will ensure that in the future the entire pork barrel will be spent on the right project for the rightful beneficiaries. At first glance, it might appear counterintuitive that the very professions which were culpably negligent of all these anomalies in government should be the beneficiary of such support. However, this is the only practical long term solutions short of every Filipino miraculously becoming a saint tomorrow.
Again using the 80/20 principle, this is the 20% effort which will produce 80% of all the benefits derived from arresting the current rage of corruption in government. Indeed a very small price to pay to ensure that trillions of pesos will finally make their way to the rightful beneficiaries.