Today, I reinvent myself as a columnist. I have always enjoyed writing, so why not? After all, I am retired and have lived an engaging life in my many personas as wife, mother, and grandmother; practicing lawyer and CPA; and yes, an involved citizen and occasional public servant. These should give me perspective, right? I have an opinion on practically everything, to the consternation or delight of my husband and children, depending on whether they agree with my opinion or not.
Why Qualified Opinion? Because it evokes my most recent past as chairperson of the Commission on Audit by which I will probably be most identified. A qualified opinion is one of four audit opinions that auditors both in the public and private sectors may express on the financial statements of auditees. It simply states that such financial statements - the Balance Sheet and Income Statement, generally - are presented in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) consistently applied except for some deviations considered material under professional standards. It may also refer to a limitation in scope, as when not all requested information was provided to the auditor.
A qualified opinion is therefore very much a "Yes, but ..." statement, which is practically what we say for most part of any day. It speaks of the many complexities of daily life and countless points of view. It can also spawn endless argumentation and debate as well as learning and growth - again, depending on where you sit.
In the audit reports of COA, a qualified opinion is common. It generally calls for adherence to proper accounting rules and standards. What is more interesting, however, and which the citizenry should focus on and care about are the Audit Observations. These report deviations from laws, rules, and regulations that govern public spending, including those promulgated by the COA "for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures, or uses of government funds and properties" as mandated by the Constituion.
Deviations from or breaches of policy and legal requirements are also reported even in cases of unqualified or "clean" opinions, i.e., there are no material deviations from GAAP found in audit. An unqualified opinion, then, is not a guarantee that an agency's spending has been above board or fully compliant with law. Compliant with GAAP, yes, but could be "irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable."
Again, another "yes, but..."
Indeed, there are many "yes, but..." in our lives. Yes, let us obey traffic rules, but not when we are in a rush. Yes, we want to be of help, but strictly on our own terms. Yes, we must take a stand, but it can be inconvenient. Yes, we go for the win, but will not ante up. Yes, we deserve a responsible, responsive and honest government, but it is too effortful to give what it takes. Yes, but ... who else is going to do it for us?