BY PETER TABINGO
WHAT is the Senate hiding?
Government auditors said the Transparency Seal of the legislative chamber has failed to comply with the requirement of full disclosure of its budget, expenses, contracts, major projects, and performance indicators.
“The Senate’s Transparency Seal website is not compliant with the government’s advocacy of enhancing transparency and enforcing accountability. Information posted is incomplete/not updated since 2015,” the Commission on Audit (COA) said in its 2019 report released yesterday.
Ironically, the Senate itself approved the 2019 General Appropriations Act which contained Section 106 of the General Provisions stating that it is mandatory for all agencies of the government to maintain the Transparency Seal to enhance transparency in government transactions as well as enforce accountability in case of lapses in performance or misdeeds in office.
The same provision made it the responsibility of heads of agencies and their web administrator to comply.
Aside from the 2019 GAA’s provision, the COA cited Memorandum Circular No. 2019-1 issued on Sept. 3, 2019 by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Harmonization of National Government Performance Monitoring, Information, and Reporting Systems which set several “good governance conditions” that included maintenance and updating of the Transparency Seal.
The audit team said the Senate’s Transparency Seal only contained the bare minimum on information about its mandate and functions, name and designation of officials, and a five-year old breakdown of its 2014 budget.
It withheld information on the current approved budget and corresponding targets, the Annual Procurement Plan and contracts awarded with the names of winning suppliers, contractors or consultants; major activities and projects as well as their target beneficiaries; status of implementation of the said projects or programs, its Freedom of Information Manual signed by the Senate President, and the annual report of any fund retained or to be remitted to the National Treasury.
The COA recommended that the Senate leadership require the Electronic Data Processing and Management Information System (EDP-MIS) Bureau to post updated information to be provided by relevant department officials or offices and to ensure that the Transparency Seal is fully compliant.
The Senate leadership did not deny the audit observation. It claimed, however, that it should be exempted from the rules that its own members approved and imposed on other government agencies.
It said the information withheld was intended to protect itself from negative publicity, claiming the media did not understand financial information and caused trouble to the chamber.
“Management commented that the Senate is a highly political entity and has peculiar and unique aspects in its functions that render its compliance with the transparency requirement complicated and vulnerable to misinterpretation. In the past, the media has misinterpreted published financial information and propagated issues,” the audit team said paraphrasing the Senate reaction.