An audit report is at times not welcomed by those who run the government. It’s something some dread because they may have to do a lot of explaining, pay back the government or face charges.
In some cases, officials try to hide from the media and the public the results of a Commission on Audit (COA) examination of records, especially if the report finds questionable expenses. Such was not the case, however, for the Cebu City Government.
The COA recently released its report that said it did not find any issue with the spending and it gave City Hall an “unmodified opinion.” I guess in this case no change or no need for a change is a good thing. No modification is needed as the City Government’s 2020 financial statements are “free from any material misstatements.” That was how a City Hall press release defined it.
Mayor Edgardo Labella has reason to be happy as the press release said it was the first time since Cebu City became a chartered city in 1937 that it earned an “unmodified opinion” from COA. The press release said such an auditing mark was the best that the COA grants to offices whose books they examined. “I am very happy that we were able to receive this unmodified opinion from COA in our first term of office as mayor. And this happened while we were in the thick of the Covid pandemic last year,” Labella said in the press release.
The finding on Cebu City was a bright spot in the sea of corruption allegations and counter-allegations that have been coming out recently. With Sen. Manny Pacquiao and ex-senator Antonio Trillanes IV raising charges against government officials and President Rodrigo Duterte claiming there were abuses by the two, the clearance given to the Cebu City Government was refreshing to those getting tired of government abuses and squabbles.
Compare Cebu City’s “unmodified opinion” from COA to the Presidential Communications Operations Office’s (PCOO) audit report that questioned its hiring of 375 contractual personnel for public relations work in 2020. “We don’t have trolls in PCOO” was the reply of PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan to comments that those hired were probably behind the trolls against people critical of government.
The COA said in its annual report that the PCOO headed by Secretary Martin Andanar spent over P70.6 million for the salaries of these contractual hires who represent 70 percent of the office’s workforce. State auditors also said the PCOO does not have policy guidelines on hiring of contractual employees.
The COA also asked why the PCOO had to hire a private lawyer when it has a legal office. The PCOO was ordered to explain this and the hiring of contractuals that used up P71 million “which could have been used for other programs and projects of the government.”
The PCOO has a massive headache to treat. The Cebu City Government, meanwhile, could use the time to strengthen financial controls, attend to the matter of contractuals and ensure expenses are justified.