The Department of Health is in hot water over its alleged misuse of Covid19 funds, a claim that the Commission on Audit had lobbed.
According to the regulatory agency, the health department had caused “challenges” and “missed opportunities” due to their inefficient utilization of the allotted funds for Covid response last year, which amounted to P67.32 billion.
According to the agency’s officials, P11.89 billion of the total amount set aside to procure medical equipment, supplies and hiring more workers was left unobligated or undisbursed as of December 31 last year.
In a report, they said: “These funds that remained idle were not translated to much-needed health supplies, equipment and services that could have benefited both the health workers and the general public during the critical times of the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the remaining money was spent on procurements, cash advancements, payments and fund transfers that the COA called into question over the lack of supporting documents, such as valid contracts, memoranda of agreement, distribution lists and project implementation reports. They also said that the funds were moved without the necessary MOA.
They added that accomplishment targets for various Covid-related foreign-assisted projects with an allocation of P3.42 billion were not met by the end of the year.
Health secretary Francisco Duque III however, said that the Covid funds were all “accounted for” and that his department was in the process of addressing compliance issues and deficiencies.
“The P67.32 billion is accounted for,” he said. “Nothing went to corruption and these funds are for our countrymen. The flagged issues are being addressed by the DOH.” He also said that they have “always been transparent and cooperative to yearly auditing efforts within the government.”
“We take our COA findings very seriously and have been working to further improve our processes and controls so that we can serve the public most effectively, especially during this pandemic,” said Duque.
The auditing body also flagged P98.41 million in cash advances by DOH operating units, as these did not have the proper liquidation reports and supporting documents. P4.89 million worth of financial aid to qualified health workers were not given to them as of yearend due to delayed downloading of funds and claims processing, they said.
Among other anomalies flagged, P214 million in allowances were found to be given to “unqualified recipients”, while P54.45 million in hazard pay were made during periods outside of enhanced community quarantine.
COA said that the deficiencies detected in the management of interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) funds–totaling P734.5 million–did not help the government provide speedy relief to medical centers amid the Covid crisis.
Lawmakers said that the underspending of DOH confirmed their view that corruption in pandemic response contributed to the Philippines becoming the worst performer in the region.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said that if the COA audit was an MRI scan in use of funds, it “clearly showed the blockages are in the DOH.” He added: “Of all the deficiencies enumerated by COA, the most disheartening is the delay in the procurement of mechanical ventilators. This should have fallen under expedited acquisition. When procurement is choked by inefficiencies, a Covid patient struggling to breathe dies down the line. We’re hoping that there is a catch-up plan in 2021.”
Activist group Bayan meanwhile said that this report bared Duque to be unfit to lead the pandemic response.
“The COA report is a damning assessment of the mismanagement of the DOH under Duque,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes. “Our nation’s pandemic response has suffered too long under his watch. His chief protector Duterte is also to blame. We said it before and we will say it again. Duque should resign.”