COA flags DOH for 'deficiencies' in management of over ₱67-B pandemic funds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 11)— State auditors have flagged "deficiencies" in the Department of Health's management of pandemic funds worth over ₱67 billion, noting that these contributed to the challenges faced by the agency in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

"Various deficiencies involving some ₱67,323,186,570.57 worth of public funds and intended for national efforts of combating the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 crisis were noted," the Commission on Audit (COA) said in its 2020 audit report made public on Wednesday.

Of this number, COA said deficiencies worth around ₱66.28 billion can be attributed to non-compliance with pertinent laws and regulations.

Among the issues highlighted by state auditors were irregularities in the procurement process and lack of documentation in various contracts entered into by the DOH.

COA also pointed out that some medical equipment and supplies purchased for the pandemic response were either unused or not immediately used due to lack of planning.

The fresh findings "casted doubt" on the regularity of related transactions, according to COA.

"Most importantly, the billions of pesos in the coffers of the DOH that have remained not obligated and disbursed at year-end is counter-beneficial to the department's continuing efforts towards controlling the spread of COVID-19 through provision of quality health services," the commission said.

"It can, thus, be said that these funds that remained idle as at year-end 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," it added.

COA recommendations

COA said it has submitted a list of recommendations for the agency, particularly Health Secretary Francisco Duque, to help address the matter.

These include the following:

- Reminding the chiefs of operating units to "act with urgency and efficiency" in the utilization of COVID-19 funds;

- Directing concerned officials to address the challenges and roadblocks impending the efficient use of the funds, and for them to come up with proper courses of action;

- Instructing administration and financial management teams and program directors to closely coordinate, and to conduct regular assessment on the utilization of funds to prevent delays in project implementation; and

- Ordering program directors to extend guidance and assistance to operating units with regards to the proper implementation of programs and utilization of funds

Duque was also urged to conduct a thorough probe on the irregularities on the fund utilization.

The DOH was likewise requested to submit a status report on COA's recommendations.

'Funds accounted for'

Meanwhile, the DOH claimed the funds flagged by COA are "accounted for," and the amounts were all spent for the purchase of necessary medical supplies and payment for healthcare workers, among others.

"The DOH acknowledges the findings concerning these funds, and is currently addressing the said compliance issues and deficiencies," the DOH said in a statement.

The department added that it has remained transparent with its spending.

"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," the DOH said.

The agency at the forefront of the pandemic earlier faced investigations from Congress and the Ombudsman amid issues and alleged anomalies on the COVID-19 response.