Anomalies in the utilization of pandemic funds

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Rodrigo Duterte faced a backlash after he criticized and intimidated the Commission on Audit (COA) on August 16 to stop it from publicizing reports revealing anomalous use of pandemic funds by various agencies of the reactionary government. On the next day, Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Francisco Duque III ranted that his agency was “destroyed” by COA after exposing its anomalous utilization of health funds during the critical times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This neglect and the squandering of public funds is criminal especially amid the pandemic. This is while more than a hundred thousand lives have been lost, and while millions have lost their jobs and plunged into poverty.

The COA flagged the DOH for deficiencies in the mangement of pandemic funds, as well as irregularies and delays in the procurement of medical equipment and supplies.

In particular, the COA flagged deficiencies in the agency’s management of pandemic funds worth over ₱67.32 billion in 2020. According to the commission, approximately ₱11.89 billion allocated to improve the health system were unobligated due to the DOH’s shortcomings. The COA also questioned over the ₱95.15-million worth of expired or near-expiry medicines and other medical supply in its inventory. It also flagged the DOH for overpricing up to ₱1 billion worth of face masks and face shields procured by the Department of Budget Management (DBM) using pandemic funds. The DOH reportedly tranfered back ₱42 billion in pandemic funds to the DBM for the procurement of medical supplies without appropriate documentation.

Additionally, the DOH had no proper documentation for ₱539.29 million used to compensate medical workers; ₱275.9 million for “meal allowances” and ₱11.66 million for the death and sickness pay of health workers. It also failed to document about ₱1.4 billion in donations received in the same year.

Department of Social Welfare and Development. The department was flagged over ₱780.71 million of unused funds for its Social Amelioration Program (SAP) that could have benefited 139,300 individuals. It was also questioned for distributing ₱4.36 billion in SAP funds in six regions without proper documentation. In sum, the department recorded a deficiency of ₱5.46 billion.

Department of Labor and Employment. Auditors flagged the agency for poor insufficient internal control measures in granting aid to workers and migrants who were displaced by the pandemic. They noticed several irregularities such as execessive payments of aid to 213 beneficiaries amounting to ₱1 million. They also found out that some beneficiaries were not able to receive any aid or complained to have received less than the reported amount of aid. Around ₱22.34 million in unclaimed financial assistance also remain deposited in money remittance centers. The department was also called out for ₱1.57 billion worth of unliquidated cash advances to workers.

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. Only 1% of the ₱59 million budget for Service Contracting Program which supposedly aims to temporarily employ drivers displaced by quarantine restrictions was utilized by the agency. Not even half of the 60,000 target driver-beneficiaries were registered in the said program.

Department of Agriculture. Around ₱2.2 billion in Bayanihan 2 funds allocated to aid small farmers who were affected by the pandemic was not utilized by the department. Contrarily, it was flagged for excessive payment of aid to farmers amounting to ₱250.53 million under its four programs. This includes aid given to “unqualified farmers” and double or triple payment of aid to 14,058 beneficiaries. The department was also called out for overpricing farm inputs which it distributes to farmers.

Department of Education. The department was flagged over delayed release of ₱1.39 billion to school divisions amid the need for funds due to the implementation of distance learning. Only ₱916 million (41%) of the ₱2.23-billion fund allocated for its six regional offices have been obligated, while only ₱29 million for seven other regional offices remain unobligated. COA also called out the department over the flawed, incomplete and slow production and delivery of learning modules for distance learning.

Anomalies in the utilization of pandemic funds