Corruption Red Flags series

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Philippines

Organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 14/07/2019

Credit: Lian Buan

Project description:

The 2-part series analyzed audit reports of 323 National Government Agencies (NGAs) and found that half of them had doubtful accounts. The Philippines is emerging from the pork barrel scam – the worst corruption scandal since Martial Law – involving fake receipts, yet 5 agencies were still found with fake receipts. President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-corruption messaging often centered on his pet peeves – excessive travels, yet 32 agencies were flagged for excessive and unliquidated travels, including the broadcast office that tails the president and airs his events and speeches.

Impact reached:

Some agencies found with audit red flags have overhauled their structure, especially the Department of Tourism, which had to change leadership due to anomalous transactions. Officials of the Philippine Coast Guard are facing charges.

Techniques/technologies used:

Audit reports were culled from open sources. The author identified red flag keywords, based on knowledge from covering the Commission on Audit and with insight from experts. After identifying keywords, the author and a team of researchers used the Find Key, and later on, a special file processing tool, to locate the red flags in the audit reports. After months of putting together this database, the author created another spreadsheet to track the red flags of the agencies, which helped her narrow down patterns.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part was finding the time to sift through 323 audit reports to find the keywords. As it was not a dedicated investigating team, and the author had to carry on with her daily reporting duties, finishing the database took 6 months, and putting together the report took 2 weeks.

What can others learn from this project?

Audit reports are rich materials for tracking the finances – and compliance with rules – of government agencies. Currently, audit reports make the daily stories if the agency is already controversial, or during the beginning of the audit season, when only one report is released a day, therefore reporters are not inundated and can focus on the report. As weeks pass by in the audit season, reporters lose track of the releases and the news cycle has already moved on. The project shows that with a dedicated unit, corruption can be tracked using public data.

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