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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Auditors flag DOH anew for slow fund use

The Commission on Audit has again flagged the Department of Health (DOH), this time for failure to use its disaster risk reduction and management funds amounting to P306.73 million in 2020.

In a 2020 report, state auditors said the DOH was able to use only 84.71 percent of its health emergency preparedness and response fund, 86.98 percent of its quick response fund, and 76.39 percent of its calamity fund.

The low utilization of DOH’s calamity funds was traced to lapses in the procurement activities, absence of face-to-face training, travel restrictions, and lack of takers.

The unused funds of P306.73 million “are considered very material, enough to affect the level of efficiency put into managing the DRRM funds,” it noted.

“The condition demonstrates that not enough programs and projects were implemented during the year to mitigate related risks and alleviate the people’s condition faster to recovery,” the report read.

“It likewise manifests that there was no efficient use of fiscal resources despite hefty fund appropriations or allocations and that program implementation was not maximized during the state of calamity or national emergency, a time when an effective health delivery system is most needed by the people,” it added.

COA earlier called the attention of DOH for failure to comply with the existing laws and regulations in the use of its P67.323 billion budget for COVID-19 response.

Meanwhile, a congressional leader on Friday dismissed as “illegal” the DOH transfer of at least P42 billion to the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (DBM-PS).

“The transfer alone I think is questionable. Definitely, it’s improper… inappropriate,” said

Ang Probinsyano Rep. Bonito Singson, chairman of the House committee on public accounts, said.

Singson’s committee last Tuesday conducted a motu proprio investigation into the Commission on Audit’s findings on the DOH’s “deficiencies” in the utilization of COVID-19 funds worth P67.32 billion.

Singson said the respective budget allocation for both the agencies rendered the budget transfer illegal.

“There might be some basis for illegality because DBM has its own budget, DOH has its own budget.”

“It’s juggling funds… Congress approves funds directly to agencies who made the presentation… In this case, there were these funds that were approved specifically to the Department of Health… [Do] they have discretionary powers? they don’t…” he added.

He added that the move to transfer the “roles and responsibility” from one government agency to another “is not allowed”; and that the Commission on Audit would go “crazy” on how the funds were utilized if they have been transferred from one agency to another.

Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos pressed the DOH for an explanation of its procurement of overpriced face masks and face shield.

Marcos cited a COA report showing that the DBM-Procurement Services (DBM-PS) had bought face masks at P27.22 each and face shields priced at P120 each.

“Even if we say that the supply was tight at that point, these items were still overpriced,” Marcos said.

Senator Richard Gordon, head of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigating the alleged mismanagement of P67 billion in COVID-19 funds by the DOH, said he was “astounded” by the reported prices of face shields and face masks.

Gordon, also chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said they buy their masks at below P5 and face shields at P15 each.

From the very beginning of their procurement, he related they bought face masks and face shields for PRC at very low price.

He rejected the rationale given by DBM-PS that the prices were high due to limited supply.

Marcos also said she was baffled by the DOH’s sudden transfer of P42.4 billion to the DBM-PS and asked if the DOH was incapable of holding procurement biddings.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said it’s “obvious” that there was an “overpricing” in the procurement of these COVID-19 supplies.

Drilon said the DBM-PS purchased around P1.66 billion worth of face masks at a unit price much higher than the P5 suggested retail price for face masks.

Former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao on Friday surfaced to defend the procurement of face masks and face shields amounting to P1.82 billion.

In a Laging Handa briefing, Lao, also the former head of the agency’s Procurement Service (PS), said his office had bought the “cheapest” face masks and face shields during the start of the pandemic.

Lao issued the statement after several senators questioned the purchase of allegedly “overpriced” face masks and face shields in 2020.

Based on the Commission on Audit’s 2020 audit report cited by some senators, the DBM-PS purchased around 113.905 million face masks sold at P27.72 each and 1,317,711 face shields at P120 each.

Lao said the prices of face shields and face masks could have been considered “very expensive” had the DBM-PS bought them this year.

The DBM-PS is tasked to handle large-scale procurements for the COVID-19 pandemic response efforts, including the purchase of supplies.

Lao, who resigned as DBM-PS head in June this year, resurfaced after several senators questioned the allegedly overpriced face masks and face shields purchased by DOH.

Lao said he was willing to attend the Senate inquiry, in case the senators summon him.

“It is my responsibility and I am willing to attend to shed light on the matter,” Lao said.

In May last year, Lao briefed President Rodrigo Duterte about the purchase of several COVID-19 equipment, including the face masks and face shields.

Lao told Duterte that the procured face masks and face shields meet the standards set by DOH and the Food and Drug Administration.

In other developments:

* Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said President Rodrigo Duterte was not trying to restrain the Commission on Audit from doing its constitutional mandate to scrutinize how government agencies disburse public funds. “The President as a lawyer fully understands the mandate of the COA as a constitutional body. I think his chief concern is on the way the COA’s preliminary findings are presented to the public and the impression that it leaves in the mind of the people prior to full compliance by the agency concerned,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

* Vice President Leni Robredo on Friday said the Commission on Audit is an ally toward good governance. In a video message posted on her official Facebook page, Robredi said government officials must not be offended by COA’s findings of irregularities. “Do not take offense. (In fact), We are being given the chance to explain,” she said. “So when these reports and audits come, we must respond since we owe it not only to COA but most importantly, to the public.” Her remarks came after President Duterte attacked the COA and told his Cabinet secretaries to ignore the audit agency. 

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