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September 25, 2015

Innovations in the Fight Against Corruption: The Experience of the Commission On Audit of the Philippines

The Philippines Commission On Audit (COA) Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo and COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza discussed current practices, recent results, and lessons learned in the Philippine government’s efforts against corruption and fraud during an event at Georgetown on September 25, 2015 co-sponsored by the M.S. in Foreign Service program, U.S. Philippines Society, and Global Futures Initiative.

After introductions by Ben Feit, adjunct professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, Commissioner Mendoza discussed the challenges she faced as she transitioned into the role of COA commissioner, due to the threat that an empowered anti-corruption office posed to many in the Philippine government. She said she has overcome these obstacles through the motto “big challenges, bigger thinking."

One example of a “big challenge” that required “bigger thinking” was the inaccessibility of crucial records in the Philippines. According to Mendoza, many records are in paper form, stored on remote islands, and only accessible by boat. In an effort to increase access to information necessary for audits, the COA implemented Citizen Participatory Audits in November 2012 through a new website (roughly “I count”). This novel, technology-embracing approach, described in detail by Chairperson Aguinaldo, allows citizens to contribute to audits on government projects using their smartphones and the automatic “geo-tagging” built into digital pictures taken with GPS-enabled devices. Citizens can take pictures of, for example, a new bridge being constructed and upload those pictures to the COA website. Auditors—and professionals such as engineers—then look at the pictures, ensure the geotag verifies the correct site location, and use the image to help decide if a site visit or surprise audit is warranted, or if the project appears to be progressing as specified and scheduled.

Both Mendoza and Aguinaldo are optimistic that, despite corruption being a difficult, widespread issue and mindset to address, the COA’s recent progress and the lessons learned would continue to develop the commission’s effectiveness and fulfill the COA’s ultimate goal of serving the people of the Philippines.