COA calls out DOH anew over lapses in COVID-19 response

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 17)— The Commission on Audit (COA) has called out the Department of Health (DOH) over lapses in its COVID-19 response in 2021.

In a report, state auditors said the DOH failed to legally spend over ₱6.6 billion COVID-19 funds for 2021.

There was also more than ₱23.6 billion in COVID-19 funds left undisbursed.

The DOH management said causes for low utilization include incomplete supporting documents, delay in processing of payments, failed bidding for medical equipment, delayed bidding due to revisions of specifications, and other challenges encountered in the procurement process.

"The low utilization thereof can be counter-beneficial to the continuing efforts of the DOH towards ensuring access to basic public health services to all Filipinos and controlling the spread of COVID-19," COA said.

Auditors noted that the appropriations given to the DOH were based on the agency's proposal which it defended during budget hearings.

The failure to fully utilize the funds could mean the DOH set ambitious targets without considering its own capacity, they added.

There were also deficiencies found in the distribution of 180 mobile X-ray machines for COVID-19 response worth ₱55.2 million due to inadequate needs assessment.

Some hospitals identified as beneficiaries refused to receive the X-ray machine. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, for one, said it had no available space for the machine. Another hospital said they already had existing units of the same equipment.

One unit was delivered to a private hospital, which later informed auditors that it did not request for an X-ray machine.

"The deficiencies manifest weakness on the part of the DOH in assessing actual needs for said equipment as well as the readiness of the intended recipient hospitals and in safeguarding government assets against risks of wastage and/or improper disposition," COA said.

Auditors also questioned lapses in the distribution of COVID-19 related items worth at least ₱185.6-million purchased through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

Among the deficiencies noted is the non-receipt of items by intended beneficiaries, and delivery of items to agencies that were not identified as beneficiaries.

These deficiencies, according to COA, may have resulted in loss, misuse, and wastage of said items.

DOH OIC Maria Rosario Vergeire said the agency is now in the process of straightening out the findings with COA.