"If the irregularities are as plenty and as big as this, would thinking of corruption necessarily be a leap in logic?"
The Commission on Audit (COA) felt compelled to clarify its 2020 annual audit report that found that the Department of Health (DOH) failed to manage P67.323 billion in COVID-19 response funds.
Expressions of outrage, including calls for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, flooded social media after the report was made public Wednesday last week.
The report was especially galling taken in the light of a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases and the worsening situation of health care workers, many of whom are considering resigning because of the government’s failure to provide them their much-deserved hazard pay.
In a statement issued Friday, the COA said: “Accompanying the observations and findings are the recommendations made by the auditors for the management of DOH to address the observation and findings… which allows the audited agency to…rectify any deficiencies.”
“The Report itself does not mention any findings by the auditors of funds lost to corruption,” the commission added.
In short, COA emphasized that it was merely pointing out deficiencies by the DOH — deficiencies that can still be corrected, and that it was not saying there was corruption at the department.
In the audit report available to the public on the COA’s website, findings include the DOH’s non-submission of supporting papers on the use of COVID funds, violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act, purchases found disadvantageous to the government, non-posting of procurement information, non-publication of technical specifications, non-use of already-procured medical equipment and supplies, absence of legal basis for cash allowances, gift certificates, and grocery items, and absence of documentation for in-kind donations, improper charging of transactions, utilization of funds not for intended purposes, and doubtful liquidations of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) claims.
“This condition affects the utilization of COVID-19 funds vis-a-vis the agency’s implementation capabilities and its response to the urgent health care needs during the time of state of calamity or national emergency,” the report said.
For his part, Duque insists that his agency takes COA findings seriously and that they are currently addressing the compliance issues and deficiencies raised in the report
“Rest assured, that the funds allotted to the DOH are all spent for the procurement of test kits, PPEs, payment of HCWs benefits, salaries of HRH among others,” he said, adding that their offices are open to scrutiny of how they spent taxpayers’ money.
Of course the report does not point to corruption or fraud, as the clarification says. Former COA commissioner Heidi Mendoza said in a social media post that the report is an annual audit report and not a fraud audit report. But she also said that the process of issuing an audit report takes input from the office being audited after an initial round of questions by the auditors. Thus, the report in its final form takes into consideration the response of management—and corrective measures could have been done at this point.
What likely spurred the backlash from the public are persistent, recurring proofs of the Health secretary’s inability to manage the government response to the pandemic and his apparent staying power despite the glaring evidence of incompetence during the past year and a half.
Other issues have simply been overtaken by other problems without being resolved.
People who expressed outrage over the COA report and over Duque are not exaggerating or acting irrationally. They are driven by previous controversies and are enraged by questions that have remained unanswered. If the irregularities are as plenty and as big as this, would thinking of corruption necessarily be a leap in logic?
Failure to account for taxpayer’s funds is unacceptable in ordinary times. During a health crisis, when people are getting sick, dying, and are losing their livelihood, it is simply reprehensible.