SC not spared by COA; auditors hit slow spending on programs with P10.6-B budget

The Supreme Court did not escape eagle-eyed auditors of the Commission on Audit as they flagged slow utilization of available funds made available by government for the HIgh Court's operations last year.

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COA released Monday, Sept. 27 the 2020 Annual Audit Report of the HIgh Tribunal probably one of the last AAR’s to be published in the audit agency’s website.

Auditors took note of the SC’s low absorptive capacity in the implementation of various programs with an estimated total funding of some P10.6 billion. This observation was raised in at least three programs audited by COA.

“Funds totaling P3.48 billion for the agency’s 36 projects under the EISP (Enterprise Information Systems Plan) from CYs 2010 to 2019 remain idle or unutilized as at year-end due to slow procurement activities, resulting in non-implementation of the projects, thus indicating a low absorptive capacity of the agency in the efficient and effective utilziation of its budgets for such project programmed and funded under the GAAs (General Appropriation Acts),” COA stated in its audit report.

The EISP comprises the judiciary’s information and communications master plan that was approved in 2009. It was updated in 2014 and was targeted for implementation from 2015 to 2019.

COA said the project’s goal is to acquire 20 software application systems to “speed up the adjudication of cases, increase personnel productivity and improve court and case management.”

A budget of P3.965 billion was approved for the project but the Department of Budget and Management instead released more.

“Out of the total allocated funds of P4,482,593,798.35 for the 41 projects, only P1,036,352,149.44 or 23.12 percent was disbursed/utilized, P139,237,434.83 or 3.11 percent was considered as savings and P3,429,974,214.08 or 76.52 percent of the funds remain unutilized or idle as of year-end,” auditors reported.

COA reiterated its recommendation for the HIgh Court to use its funds for the EISP projects “effectively and efficiently.” The Chief Judicial Staff Officer of the Management Information System Office said it is already facilitating the implementation of the EISP projects.

Audit examiners also revealed that out of the 61 infrastructure projects involving the construction and repair of Halls of Justices from 2016 to 2020, 48 project or 78.69 percent with an allocation of P5.079 billion were not constructed or repaired.

Eight such Halls of Justice have not been comleted despite the allocation of P44.06 million.

“The causes were due to inadequate planning, slow procurement activities; lack of coordination with LGUs concerned/Department of Public Works and HIghways, and/or lack of technical personnel, causing an accumulation of idle/unutilized funds of P5.123 billion from CYs 2016 to 2020,” COA stated.

Again state auditors blamed the SC’s “low absorptive capacity” for the slow expenditure.

In the same audit report, COA disclosed that out of the P2.647 billion approved budget for maintenance, operating and other expenses (MOEE) for Lower Courts, “only P109.779 million or four percent was granted as cash advances indicating a low absorptive capacity of the agency”.

Government auditors called out the HIgh Tribunal for failing to post on the agency’s website the utilization of cash advances.

“Further, P81.954 million or 74 percent of the cash advances remain unliquidated at year end,” COA lamented.

The audit body asked SC officials to ensure that the budget for MOOE of Lower Courts are not’ excessive” and that the funds are “fairly allocated and utilized.” In response, the HIgh Tribunal that it has started the direct release of MOOE budget and that at least 1,151 of the 2,929 lower courts nationwide have already adopted the new system.