MANILA, October 24, 2004 (STAR) By Des Ferriols - The World Bank (WB) has signed a grant assistance package to support the anti-corruption program of the Office of the Ombudsman, including the creation of a data-banking system to analyze the finances of public officials and employees.

The grant, amounting to a total of $716,600 equivalent to over P40 million, was signed by WB country director Joachim von Amsberg and Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong early this week.

The grant was funded from the WBís Asian Financial Crisis Response Fund of the ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Trust Fund, intended to increase the capacity of the OMB in its anti-corruption activities.

Tagged as the 11th most corrupt nation in a field of 146 countries, the Philippines has been struggling to contain graft and corruption in government but lack of funding support from the national budget has seriously hampered its efforts.

The WB said its grant would finance selected technical assistance and capacity-building activities such as training and skills development of field investigation and case preparation for the prosecution of corruption cases.

The grant was also intended to provide technical assistance for the design and development of an electronic case monitoring and tracking system for use by the over-burdened OMB.

The most significant portion of the grant fund, however, would go to the establishment of a database that would facilitate the analysis of statements of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials and employees.

"The grant will help address issues including the fact that the IMB only has 57 full-time litigators, almost half of whom are newly-hired young lawyers," the WB said.

These 57 litigators handle more than 2000 cases and the WB said the job was made even more difficult by the absence of a proper monitoring and tracking system on all cases it handles.

"By strengthening the capacity of the Ombudsmanís office, this grant eventually helps public institutions to be more accountable," said von Amsberg.

"It will help these institutions deliver quality services and better services trigger more trust in public institutions."

The ASEM Trust Fund was first put up by the European Commission and 11 other countries to help countries recover from the 1997 financial crisis.

The WB said the fund had been actively supporting grants to improve transparency and accountability in the Philippines through funding for the activities of the Government Policy and Procurement Board as well as the Procurement Watch Inc.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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