Poe seeks probe on DOH’s flawed use of P67-B COVID-19 fund

Sen. Grace Poe is seeking an inquiry on the utilization of the Department of Health’s (DOH) P67.32 billion COVID-19 fund, which the Commission on Audit (COA) earlier found to have deficiencies.

“These funds were provided to strengthen the agency’s health resources in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the implementation deficiencies denied our countrymen their right to health at a time when it is most needed,” Poe said in her resolution.

“Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds either remained idle or were not properly and immediately used for their purpose,” she stressed.

The COA audit report mainly attributed the deficiencies to the DOH’s non-compliance with pertinent laws and regulations, including use of funds not for intended purpose, low or zero utilization, improper charging of transactions, doubtful liquidations, procurement without legal basis, and procedural flaws, among others.

The government’s chief audit agency said the deficiencies contributed to the challenges and missed opportunities encountered by the DOH at the present state of national emergency, and cast doubt on the regularity of related transactions.

“These deficiencies prove to be counter-beneficial to the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the disease at a crucial time. Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds remained idle or were not properly and immediately used where they should go,” Poe said.

“Inefficiencies in the midst of a health crisis make our people bear the brunt,” she stressed.

In its report, COA noted among others, procedural deficiencies in the procurement process, lack of documentation as well as lapses in implementation by the DOH of several projects involving at least P3.967 billion.

It also said that at least P95.675 million worth of medicines and inventories were expired or nearly expired due to deficient procurement planning, poor distribution and weakness in internal controls of the department.

COA also noted at least P1.225 billion worth of equipment procured under the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) that were undelivered, unutilized, and/or without calibration and preventive maintenance, as well as several HFEP infrastructure projects amounting to P2.832 billion that were either idle, unutilized or with substantial delay in implementation, which subsequently exposed these properties to the risks of deterioration, loss, and wastage, and thus depriving the public of their benefits.

Ahead of the upcoming 2022 budget deliberation, Poe pointed out that there are moves to increase the DOH fund for COVID-19 response and recovery.

“The DOH has a lot of explaining to do. We expect the Senate investigation will help correct these deficiencies, seek accountability and ensure future funds are better managed,” Poe said.