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M. Aguinaldo: Address to World Summit 2017

Address to World Summit 2017, Seoul, Korea, February 1 to 5, 2017


When we speak of human development, we talk about improving the quality of people’s lives rather than assuming that economic growth will automatically result in greater opportunities for all. We talk about giving people the freedom to develop their abilities and the chance to use them. We talk of creating an environment for people to reach their full potential and to have a reasonable chance of leading productive and creative lives.

Government is expected to be a driving force behind human development, both a catalyst and an incubator to enable and empower the people by providing the opportunities to live the lives they value.

Yet, time and again we see governments unable (or, in some cases, unwilling perhaps) to provide this environment. People continue to experience poverty, hunger, poor health, illiteracy, inequality, discrimination and other forms of human deprivation. This is despite the sizable budgets they have, and loans and grants they continue to receive.

Part of the blame falls on the government and the officials who lead government. The main reason is corruption. But part of the blame also lies with the people themselves. I cannot help but recall those words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” People need to act, to be involved, to take government to task for how it performs on its obligations and the basic services it is supposed to render.

In Washington, D.C., last November, I shared with you an initiative the Commission of Audit, the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of the Philippines, has been working on over the past few years. This initiative is the Citizen Participatory Audit (or, the CPA). For the benefit of those who were not there, allow me to explain.

What is the Citizen Participatory Audit?

It is a mechanism for partnership and an audit technique that brings together citizens and government auditors to conduct performance assessments of government projects and programs. In concept, citizens are included in an audit team for a particular project or program, or as part of a project or program, in order to enhance transparency and promote accountability. The citizens undergo training and then are sent to the field under the direct supervision of government auditors.

The citizens do not substitute the auditors; they assist the auditors in the conduct of a performance audit.

Working with ordinary citizens, we measured farm-to-market roads constructed in 12 provinces to determine compliance with specifications as to length, width and depth of the road; we assessed Disaster Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in one region and the utilization of the Disaster Relief Fund in two provinces; we determined how aware citizens were of Solid Waste Management in two cities and the extent they practiced it; we observed how the Department of Education implemented a Water Sanitation and Hygiene Program in three cities/provinces, a simple program that requires public school children to wash their hands before and after meals, but which necessitates the existence of clean water facilities.

The CPA was also utilized to check on compliance with the conditions of a conditional cash transfer program, where the beneficiaries are required to send their kids to school and the mothers are required to utilize the local health center as conditions to continue to receive funds. We gathered the mothers and gave them a clipboard, a pencil and a survey form, and they visited the local health center to complete the survey. Some of the questions on the survey were: Is the doctor or nurse in? Do they have basic medicines in stock? Are the toilets clean?  The responses were then collated and presented to the local government for them to explain the findings. It is a very simple, very grassroots method. We are pleased to announce that the audit of the local health center involving the participation of mothers in an area is now part of the annual audit. Currently, the CPA, together with the organization of certified public accountants, is involved in the audit of the revenue assessment systems of the Bureau of Customs.

Today, over 80 citizens have been trained, and over 20 civil society organizations have been engaged. Capacity building activities have been rolled out all over the country as part of the institutionalization process.

For the most part, we have dealt with civil society organizations through the CPA.

However, technology has allowed us to go further and engage individual citizens directly. One such technology is geotagging, or the use of the global positioning system (GPS). Geotagging enables users of mobile phones or gadgets to take real time photographs with metadata capturing the date, time and location (latitude and longitude) of the photo. With the help of the World Bank, we have stored data on road networks in the Philippines into a database of more than 10,000 roads that are mapped out and verified. 

Even more, the use of geotagging allows us to monitor infrastructure projects as they are being built. In one experiment, we created a Facebook page for the construction of a provincial office of the Commission. On the page, we included all the details of the project, such as the cost, name of the contractor, the specifications, and timeline. The public was then invited to post pictures taken of the site as it was being constructed. Anyone could visit the page and see the status of the construction.

We hope to take this a step further by requiring agencies implementing infrastructure projects to create a similar page, not necessarily on Facebook, but in some form of social media that can easily be navigated and accessed, and where the integrity of the data provided by the GPS on photographs can be maintained (in order to eliminate noise). A student on the way to school or a mother on the way home from the market can take a picture of a road, building, bridge or other infrastructure being built and post it, as a means of showing the status of the construction. This way, anyone can see and monitor the status of the public work. The auditor himself is aided by this. At the same time, while we  talk of transparency, there is also the idea of community ownership of a public work. Surely, if I live in an area where a road or bridge or hospital is scheduled to be built, I would not only want that road, bridge, or hospital to be built, but that it be built properly, and according to specifications.

We at the Commission want to bring the audit process closer to the public by making technical information more understandable and, with the help of our institutional partners (academic, media, civil society, etc.), make it more relevant to citizens. We are working on focusing the CPA on government programs and projects that are integral to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We have been working with our fellow Supreme Audit Institutions in Nepal and Bhutan to introduce the CPA in their respective countries. We have likewise shared our experience with India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and several other countries. Next month, we will be in Kenya to help their SAI set up a similar program. We have been working with the Netherlands in the use of geotagging beyond data analytics.

Transparency breeds accountability. With transparency, there is a better chance for corruption to be curbed, the delivery of public services to be improved, and business and the economic environment to be enhanced. It is our hope that the CPA will create greater transparency and community involvement.


Hon. Michael G. Aguinaldo, Chairman, Commission on Audit, Philippines 

Hon. Michael G. Aguinaldo is Chairman of the Commission on Audit (COA), Philippines. Hon. Aguinaldo was appointed to head the Supreme Audit Institution in 2015. As head of the COA, he is currently the external auditor of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and the International Labor Organization. Prior to his appointment to COA, he was the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs of the Office of the President (2011-2015).

To go to the 2017 World Summit Conference Schedule, click here.