By Ben Rosario
The Commission on Audit has questioned the Presidential Communications Operations Office over unliquidated fund transfers and expenditures in its handling of at least P1.41 billion in funds for media operations in the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit last year.
The COA, in its 2017 annual audit report for the PCOO, also found deficiencies in the grant and liquidation of cash advances to special disbursing officers and other officers and employees.
Among other audit observations, the state audit agency noted that additional cash advances amounting to P26,926,310.86 have been granted notwithstanding the failure of officers to liquidate previous advances and the failure of SDOs and other officers to justify expenditures during the prescribed period.
State auditors said the presidential communications group was only able to present for post audit some P219,244,139.27 or 15.48 percent of the total P1,415,958,661.40 ASEAN fund it received from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Budget Management last year.
Of the audit amount, audit examiners found deficiencies in the disbursement of P38,807,125.40 in expenditures.
Notable among the deficiencies is the payment of rental fees for the lease of IT equipment such as laptops, desktops, cameras and camera lenses that were leased for P4,039,140 for a duration of two to five months during the preparations and holding of the ASEAN 2017.
“The government could have saved a total P964,872.00 if the IT Equipment used during the ASEAN 2017 event were purchased at a total cost of P3,074,268.00 instead of rent/lease of P4,039,140.00,” the audit report stated.
Auditors added: “Moreover, additional savings would have been secured, considering that no further acquisition by the agency of similar equipment is necessary if same had already been procured.”
As a result of the rental of the IT equipment, the PCOO, headed by Secretary Martin Andanar, spent more and “ownership of the items were not retained”.
The COA said the management decision was contrary to the declared policy stressed in Presidential Decree No. 1445 that government resources be safeguarded against “loss or wastage through illegal or improper disposition, with the view to ensuring efficiency, economy and effectiveness in the operations of government.”
Asked to explain, the PCOO stated that the agency lacked capital outlay allocation, thus, was compelled to resort to rentals.
Officials pointed out that benefits to government: cannot be simply quantified into cost and savings.”
Auditors said the PCOO also violated COA Circular No. 76-141 and PD 1445 in the purchase of P27,503,535.40 goods and services and the rental of passengers vants at P7,264,450.00..
Purchase orders (PO) and payments for such expenditures were split “wherein similar items were purchased/leased on the same date or at about the same time from the same and/or different suppliers”.
Among these questioned expenditures is the WIFI/Internet access that saw the splitting into seven of POs for P4.4 million. Splitting of payments for similar object of expenditure is illegal under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Act.
COA demanded an explanation as it called for an investigation of the splitting incidents.
Auditing examiners have also noted that certain POSs to suppliers were not awarded to suppliers who offered lowest bids.
“Moreover, four of these winning suppliers had submitted quotations higher than the ABC, thus, the agency expended a total P2,488,620.00 more than necessary,” auditors said as they called for the filing of charges against “any erring official” in connection with the irregularities.
Meanwhile, among the PCOO special disbursing officers who were directed to liquidate cash advances were the Asst. Secretary for Policy and Special Concern; officer-in-charge of the Cash Section; Asst. Secretary for Information Technology and the chief information officer who handled P30,84 million in cash advances.