SALN as effective anti-corruption tool


THE current national infotainment featuring the chairman of the powerful constitutional office called the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Andres Bautista, and his wife, Patricia, is unnecessarily diverting public attention from other national political and economic issues.

Featuring this in my column is still within the context of the Asean perspective because corruption is a common concern among the 10 Asean member governments. In fact, this is a universal issue as all governments are suffering from this malady—in different features and degrees, according to the nation’s culture.

We cannot fairly compare the corruption practiced in all the members of the United Nations precisely because of cultural differences. What may be interpreted as “conflicts of interest” or overlapping investments of a person or corporation in one country may not be so in another.

But there is one common tool against corruption in most of the world’s democracies or where command societies are completely rejected by the people: the official statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials.

The SALN, in Filipino culture, is supposed to measure the honesty of public officials, and therefore their fitness to serve in government. The SALNs that the elected or appointed public officers file are legally public records and should be available to the public if properly requested or required by circumstances.

In very recent memory, who is remembered to have been convicted of dishonesty and impeached from office, and almost daily featured in mass media, except the late Chief Justice Renato Corona?

I have sought the expertise of one Filipino who is a certified public accountant, and a UN Fellow, with decades of experience as a public accountant and management consultant here and in the US, Mr. Bienvenido Gonzalez.

I am quoting him for the rest of this column, as he sees how the SALN should be an effective instrument to determine whether a public official serves honestly or does not steal in office or use his influence or public position to enrich himself, his family or his relatives—therefore not corrupt.

His analysis is simple and self-explanatory:
Thank you for asking for my take on the Bautista versus Bautista case. I want to limit the scope of my discussion to the SALN aspects of the issue where I think I can contribute the most. Good SALN analysis demands three paradigm shifts:

Good SALN analysis should at the end of the day either exonerate or convict the filer under scrutiny.

Good SALN analysis is focused on how the net worth was accumulated rather than what it is at the end of every year.

Good SALN analysis defines and limits as legitimate and legal entries only taxed evidence evidenced transactions.

De-politicizing this case:
The Comelec chairman is not a first time SALN filer with only his December 2016 SALN to show but has filed several others in his current capacity and from other past government appointments. As such, his declared assets, liabilities and net worth as of December 2016 should not be a given (assumed to be the truth) nor should it be the only figures against which the wife/whistleblower’s allegations should be compared with. This is where most people, especially the media, will miss out on.

Rather than being a given, his 2016 SALN should be X, what SALN analysis must solve for that either gives him a clean bill of health as an honest and transparent public servant or condemn him as someone who may have gotten away with ill-gotten wealth in his previous or current appointments.

If red flags have already been raised at this stage, he should be asked to explain in accounting terms how the specific transactions causing these alarm bells are actually legitimate and legal movements of his net worth.

When the explanations are questionable themselves, then appropriate impeachment charges should be filed against him. Again, this is where most people, especially the media, will miss out on. Please note that this impeachment case can and will stand alone even without the use of the whistleblower’s allegations.

If red flags are detected during his earlier tenure or tenures, then it would be a strong case (in aid of legislation) for appointees to be asked to bare their past SALNs to public scrutiny before they can be eligible for reappointment in another capacity. In fact, I have a no SALN, no COC/appointment advocacy.

If he gets a clean bill of health after the analyses of all his past SALN filings, it will also be time to compare his December 2016 SALN with the whistleblower’s allegations.

When his explanations are found unreasonable or unbelievable (because he consistently beats George Soros in currency trading, for example), AMLAC should be asked to assist in the case build-up. A case for seizure and garnishment should then be filed with the Ombudsman.

Some observations:
Knowing their husbands, no wife should agree on any settlement with her husband based on his SALN. SALNs are based on historical costs while settlements should always be based on current fair market values.

Forex gains, especially from offshore accounts, are normally untaxed, thus exposing the family involved to further BIR audits and assessments.

The commingling of family funds in a filer’s SALN must be traceable to a prior distinguishable investment fund carried as an asset with a contra-liability set up for that purpose. It is highly questionable if it had never been set up before the accusations. In fact, from an accounting standpoint, this is what every SALN filer should do if he or she is in a similar situation. Ab initio, the ownership of the capital and fruits are transparent and identifiable.

The absence of these entries and accounts in a filer’s SALN would reveal at the very least the lack of good accounting and financial advice which may turn out to be very costly for him.