DSWD-Central Visayas official suggests SAP refund; Cebu City got COA ‘unmodified opinion’

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HOUSEHOLDS in Cebu City and Minglanilla town that had availed themselves of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) but were later found by state auditors to be ineligible must refund the cash subsidy as suggested by an official of the welfare department.

Shalaine Marie Lucero, assistant director for operations of the Department of Social Welfare and Development 7, said DSWD 7 cannot directly compel local government units (LGUs) to return the amount paid to unqualified beneficiaries, but it can encourage the LGUs to address the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) on the use of the SAP.

The DSWD distributed the SAP aid, which was between P5,000 and P8,000 per household, based on the list of recipients provided by the LGUs.

SAP is a program instituted through the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act or the Republic Act 11469 to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That, as the Cebu City Government will heed all the recommendations of the Commission on Audit in the 2020 audit report despite the unmodified opinion it got from COA, City Accountant Jerome Ornopia said on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Unmodified opinion

The Cebu City Public Information Office, through Facebook, issued a statement on July 15 that the unmodified opinion rendered by COA on Cebu City’s financial statements for 2020 is “proof that the audit observations were, in fact, already satisfactorily remedied and answered by the City Government.”

“This is the first time, since its charter in 1937, that Cebu City received an unmodified opinion from COA, which proves that the City’s financial statements present fairly its financial position, free from any material misstatements,” the PIO said.

“This means transactions involving public funds were above board despite the very difficult situation the City Government faced in responding to emergencies in the early stages of the pandemic,” the PIO said.

Cebu City Administrator Floro Casas Jr., in an interview on July 15, 2021, said the City will use the COA recommendations as guide for its future transactions. He said the City aims to get an unmodified opinion for 2021 again.

An unmodified opinion, according to former COA commissioner Haide Mendoza in response to a query by digital journalist Max Limpag, is a fair presentation of the financial statements of the LGU such as whether the accounting treatment is correct and international standards are met.

In a Facebook post on July 15, 2021, Mendoza said, “To obtain a clean opinion is not proof that there are no irregularities.”

COA’s giving an LGU a clean or unmodified opinion does not mean that the irregularities found in the audit have been corrected, she said.

DSWD’s suggestions

Meanwhile, LGUs can request COA for a reassessment on the use of SAP, or write demand letters to the beneficiaries to return the cash aid.

Lucero of DSWD 7 gave these suggestions as actions to be taken on the COA reports. Not responding to the COA report can be a cause of action by the state auditors.

She said COA’s findings on the misuse of SAP tend to support her own when she found ineligible beneficiaries in the SAP lists endorsed by the LGUs to the DSWD. (WBS, JJL, JKV)

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