P2.07 billion allotted for COVID-19 supplies procurement left unused in 2020

THE Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM) failed to spend over P2 billion meant for the procurement of medical supplies for pandemic response on behalf of health authorities.   

This was revealed after Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate questioned officials from the PS-DBM and the Department of Health (DoH) on fund transfers worth P42.41 billion which were done without any memorandum of agreement and other relevant documents.   

These funds were questioned by the Commission on Audit in its 2020 audit report as it found “deficiencies” by the DoH worth over P67 billion in its handling of pandemic funds.   

DOH’s procurement service director Paul L. Guimbarda said that the health department transferred P41.46 billion to PS-DBM of which P39.39 billion was used to pay suppliers, generating savings worth P2.07 billion.   

However, PS-DBM Director Jasonmer L. Uayan said that the funds were left unused and are set to revert back to the Bureau of Treasury as “the validity of these funds lapsed.” 

Mr. Uayan added during the hearing that the generated savings were credited to the DoH and could have been used to procure additional items when requested. 

In response, Mr. Zarate said that the unused funds could have been easily used to augment other programs and activities by the health department, such as the disbursement of allowances for healthcare workers. 

Health workers have protested over the delayed and unequal distribution of allowances such as a special risk allowance, and meals, accommodation, and transportation allowance, prompting House lawmakers to file resolutions to investigate the matter.  

In a mix of English and Filipino, Mr. Zarate said, “P2 billion is P2 billion. This could have gone a long way to save the lives of our people, to save the lives of our frontline health workers.”  

He also said that the lapsed funds justify the findings of CoA’s audit report as deficiencies cited by auditors have “not been resolved yet.”  

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque defended the lapsed funds, saying that the DoH thought that “whatever savings the PS-DBM had generated was going to be used for continuing procurement of supplies.”   

“Our good director, who is relatively new, might have to look into the possibility that they actually could be using those funds on a continuing procurement basis because the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic has not yet stopped,” Mr. Duque said. 

VACCINE PROCUREMENT 

Mr. Zarate also asked whether funds were transferred by the DoH to the PS-DBM to procure COVID-19 vaccines, citing a letter asking the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) to consider adding COVID-19 to the list of commonly used supplies and equipment.  

GPPB Resolution No. 03-2020 requires the DoH to submit a list of items to the board to “expedite their emergency purchase by the concerned government entities for their prompt mobilization and delivery.” 

The items listed by the DoH in the resolution for inclusion are items such as alcohol, sanitizers, gloves, masks, and testing kits.    

DoH Financial Management Team Director Rowena C. Lora confirmed that the DoH requested that the PS-DBM purchase COVID-19 vaccines on their behalf. 

However, Mr. Uayan declined the health department’s request as they don’t have the capability to handle the country’s vaccine rollout.    

“We have limitations in terms of manpower, storage requirement, plus the technical know-how. With that, no funds were transferred to PS-DBM with any respect to vaccine procurement,” he said.    

Mr. Zarate wants to probe into the main function of PS-DBM at another time, citing a “conflict of interest” in the mandate of budget officials.   

“An agency that sets the budget, who can decide to deduct from the submitted budgets of different departments, then eventually a big chunk of the budget that they approve will go back to them in the form of equipment,” he said.  

QUESTIONABLE 

Meanwhile, House Committee on Public Accounts chair Jose C. Singson, Jr. said in an ANC interview that the transfer of funds by health officials to PS-DBM was questionable.  

“I think there might be basis to call it illegal since it’s juggling funds. Congress approves these appropriations directly to the agencies… If we allow every agency to transfer allocated budgets to even a government agency… then they have discretionary powers? They don’t,” he said.    

Mr. Singson added that the DBM and DoH did not request for a budget that can be transferrable to other agencies in the 2020 National Expenditure Program, therefore such transfers should not be allowed since the approved budgets are allotted specifically to each department.    

Senator Richard Gordon said in a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Wednesday that the the DoH transferred P42 billion worth of pandemic funds to mask its failure and inefficiency to spend its budget allocated for pandemic response.  — Russell Louis C. Ku 

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