The Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (DBM-PS) has accredited “strange” suppliers for the procurement of medical equipment during the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Senator Imee Marcos disclosed Thursday.
She said four suppliers that were allegedly tapped by the DBM-PS for the medical equipment supply are Bowman Technologies, Inc., Nikka Trading, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation and Sunwest Construction.
“Of course, Sunwest Construction stood over the others,” Marcos added, while questioning how a building and construction firm suddenly became a medical equipment supplier.
“That is really suspicious. A really strange list,” she stressed.
The DBM-PS awarded more than P9 billion worth of contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation alone.
She said these were all sorts of strange suppliers. “Clearly, the DBM-PS accredited people that we’ve never heard of before,” said Marcos, adding she was questioning the compliance of the company to the procurement rules set by the law.
The DBM, which saw Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado resign last week over health reasons, has yet to react to the senator’s statements at presstime.
In a related development, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Thursday voiced concern over what he called as the “mystery” shrouding the prices of the various vaccines procured by the government.
Lagman was referring to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez’s admission that suppliers insisted on a “non-disclosure clause” or else “they will not sell to the government.”
Dominguez made this admission upon the inquiry of Lagman during the budget briefing by the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC).
The Finance chief further claimed that the government was constrained to agree to the condition imposed by the suppliers.
Lagman said the oversight function of the Congress on how funds appropriated for the purchase of vaccines are utilized includes the government’s submission on how much the purchase of vaccines amounted to.
“If private companies and the private sector disclose the total amounts they have allocated for the purchase of the subject vaccines, why can’t the government do the same for purposes of accountability and transparency,” Lagman added.
The Budget department was also asked to explain why it wait-listed P45 billion earmarked for COVID-19 booster shots.
At a congressional hearing, Rep. Stella Quimbo of Marikina inquired from the DBM why the proposed budget for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots was placed under unprogrammed appropriations when the government could have “less than expected revenue collections.”
Under the proposed P5.024-trillion budget for 2022, P45.47 billion is placed under unprogrammed appropriations for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
“We are saying that for us to recover economically, we need vaccines. But why did we put COVID-19 vaccines under the unprogrammed fund? Can you explain this kind of planning decision?” asked Quimbo.
In response, DBM Officer-in-Charge Tina Canda said: “In the absence of any definitive ruling from the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) and the DOH (Department of Health) that it is a requirement at this point, we did not place it under a line item because it is not sure and there are no assurances that we need it.”
In related developments, overpriced personal protective equipment procured by the budget department are being sold to local governments instead of being distributed for free, Marcos also said.
The Department of Health had transferred some P42 billion to the DBM-PS for the purchase of overpriced PPEs, Senator Franklin Drilon earlier said.
The funds transferred to DBM should be returned to DOH upon the award of contract, Marcos said.
“What I find so strange is that this equipment bidded out by DBM-PS turned over to DOH is being sold and LGUs who are not receiving the PPEs for free are being compelled to buy, which is the reason why there are so much of it still in the bodega because no one wants to take it. It’s just too expensive,” she told ANC’s Headstart.
“If you ask governors, and they testified, as well as city mayors, they said they had to pay…I’m praying I’m completely wrong and I misunderstood.”
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee summoned Wednesday the former head of PS-DBM Undersecretary Christopher Lao to its second hearing into DOH’s alleged mismanagement of funds.
It was under Lao’s leadership that the PS-DBM procured “substandard” PPEs from China instead of high-quality ones from local manufacturers, Marcos said.
Lao and other officials were axed by Avisado upon taking office, Marcos said.
“We’re very fully aware that Secretary Avisado was unhappy with these people and axed them upon sitting,” she said.
Meanwhile, the DBM on Thursday told the House of Representatives there were no funds available yet for the P45 billion allotted for COVID-19 booster shots under the government’s proposed 2022 budget.
This, as lawmakers started examining the government’s spending priorities in 2022 with the House Committee on Appropriations starting deliberations on next year’s National Expenditure Program.
During her interpellation, Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo pointed out that the budget for the booster shots is lodged in the unprogrammed funds of the spending plan, which means these can only be released once there would be available funds.
“I am worried that the budget for COVID-19 vaccines would be affected once the revenue collection is not hit, and it makes me wonder, it’s like a chicken or egg situation.”
As of early August, the DOH has said COVID-19 booster shots are still prohibited due to the country’s limited virus jabs. The country is prioritizing the elderly, health workers, economic frontliners, and the poor in its inoculation rollout.
In other developments, the Commission on Audit on Thursday said it had no intention to malign the Department of Health in publishing its 2020 annual audit report regarding the “deficiencies” in the department’s management of P67 billion worth COVID-19 funds.
During the virtual hearing of the House Committee on Public Accounts, COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo reiterated that the report did not mention any finding that funds were lost due to corruption.
“The auditors did not say that there were any lost funds and that any such lost funds would have been lost to corruption. There’s no such finding; so that’s why we issued that, and I think that’s proof that there was really no intent to malign the DOH,” Aguinaldo said.
Aguinaldo said the COA issued the clarificatory statement after DOH faced massive backlash over the findings, noting that “some wrong impressions” were being created about the report.
He said the report was an annual audit by auditors designated in various government agencies.
“This is something we do for all agencies. It’s the normal procedure. Nothing has changed. If there’s any difference, there was also a focus on COVID funds since the allocation is big for that. There was a management letter focused only on the COVID. But the annual report, it’s the same–year in, year out, same procedure followed,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has advised COA to “reconfigure” its audit reports to avoid public perception that flagged government agencies have committed irregularities.
Duterte gave the advice after the commission, in its 2020 audit report, flagged deficiencies that need an explanation from government agencies.
“I know there is no malice. You are just doing your duty. But in making the report, kindly reconfigure everything,” he said in his pre-recorded Talk to the People delivered Friday night and aired Saturday morning.
Duterte also urged the state audit body to clarify in its report that the deficiencies found did not mean a state department was involved in corrupt activities.
“Just underline, ‘The report itself does not mention any findings by the auditors of funds lost to corruption.’ That could be your opening sentence,” he said.
Article 9-D, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution states that the COA “shall have the power, authority, and duty to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the Government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities, including government-owned or-controlled corporations with original charters, and on a post-audit basis.”
COA is one of the three independent constitutional bodies in the country, aside from the Commission on Elections and the Civil Service Commission.