CoA questions validity of 135 ‘paid’ beneficiaries of pandemic cash aid

STATE AUDITORS are questioning the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) over 135 beneficiaries of the pandemic emergency cash aid program last year who were recorded as paid but did not actually receive the money.  

In its 2020 audit report, the Commission on Audit (CoA) said this 135 comes from a random sampling of 6,761.  

The cash aid under the social amelioration program (SAP) had an estimated 18 million household beneficiaries.  

“Due to limitations imposed on our audit, we can only rely on samples; however, it is worth mentioning that the two percent, if taken as a whole in the implementation of the social amelioration program, can have a huge impact on the validity of the payments made to various identified recipients,” CoA said.  

The SAP provided P5,000 to P8,000 per month, depending on the area of residence, to low-income families for two months. 

The SAP distribution was undertaken through local governments and financial service providers contracted by DSWD. 

CoA said among the sample of unpaid benefits, 35 beneficiaries changed their mobile numbers from what they submitted for inclusion in the SAP program while 100 did not receive any text notification on their payments.   

All these cases were tagged as “paid” in the SAP database. 

For the 35 who changed numbers, CoA said the “paid” validation raises doubts as to whom and where the supposed payments went.   

DSWD, in its audit comment included in the CoA report, said it would review the complaints of the other 100 beneficiaries if there were any attempts to cash out their SAP payments. 

HOUSE INQUIRY 

The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives has filed a resolution seeking an inquiry on the SAP rollout through the committees on Good Government and Public Accounts. 

“Alleged questionable transactions and corrupt practices in the government should be investigated and punish the unscrupulous individuals that waste the people’s money for their selfish interests,” the progressive group said. 

It also seeks to investigate the contract entered by the DSWD with StarPay Corp., one of its financial service providers, after Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao claimed on July 3 that P1.3 million beneficiaries were unable to get cash aid through Starpay’s system. 

StarPay, in a statement on July 5, said it already returned to DSWD the amount that were not distributed or claimed and the rest were fully accounted for. “We have already liquidated the funds given to us and have refunded the amount for the unserved beneficiaries,” it said. 

PRE-AUDIT 

Meanwhile, the author of a bill filed last year seeking to mandate pre-audits prior to the release of public funds is now pushing for the passage of the measure in light of questions over the Department of Health’s (DoH) use of COVID-19 funds based on CoA’s report.   

“With the controversy hounding the Department of Health and other government agencies and instrumentalities, this affects the credibility of our officials, our institutions and the delivery of goods and services. It is the Filipino people who suffer,” San Jose Del Monte City Rep. Florida P. Robes said in a statement on Thursday. 

House Bill 7124 or the Government Pre-audit Act of 2020 would require CoA to conduct a “thorough and complete” pre-audit examination of public funds used for infrastructure projects and procurement of goods. 

It also requires an issuance of a Certificate of Pre-audit within 15 days of receipt of relevant documents before any public funds are released to government agencies.   

The measure is pending at the Committee on Appropriations.   

“This system is for the protection of our officials, our people and our institutions because it ensures that the government agency has the capacity to implement the program within the allotted period,” Ms. Robes said.   

A probe by the House Committee on Public Accounts on the DoH audit report will resume Friday.   

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