COA flags Tuguegarao City COVID-19 expenditures; hits quarantine hotels for overcharging

Published May 11, 2021, 1:29 PM

by Ben Rosario

As the Commission on Audit started releasing audit findings on the disbursement by government response funds to address the devastating effecs of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, state auditors flagged official expenditures of Tuguegarao City using funds released under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1.

COA noted that aside from the procurement of “relief goods and meals and snacks under emergency cases,” the claims of hotels used as quarantine venues for individuals found positive for COVID-19 and as temporary dormitory for medical personnel and nurses of the Cagayan Valley Medical Center “appeared to be excessive.” The recently-released 2020 Annual Audit Report for Tuguegarao City may have recorded one of the earliest adverse audit findings on the use of government funds in the fight against the adverse effects of the 2019 corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The report was presented last month to city Mayor Jefferson P. Soriano by COA Regional Director Susan C. Ramirez.

Included in the report are COA’s findings on the COVID-19 Fund expenditures.

“In the procurement of relief goods, meals and snacks under emergency cases, the necessary requirements and procedures set under GPPB (Government Procurement Policy Board) Circular No. 01-2020 were not strictly observed, thus, it cast doubts on the regularity of the procurement,” said Ramirez.

Using both local and Bayanihan I funds, the city government spent P14.67 million for meals and snacks as part of the COVID-19 response. A total P67,427,432.30 was spent for food supplies, rice and other basic items distributed to adversely affected families.

The audit findings also indicated that “some disbursement vouchers for the payment of hotel accommodations were not supported with the list of names of individuals, accommodated in the hotels.” “Absence of the list cast doubts on the accuracy of the amount claimed and paid to the hotels,” COA said.

State auditors added: “On the other hand, the claims of Sunflower Drive Inn, Balai Carmela and Zurcs Hotel for hotel accommodation were excessive.” The three hotels were among the establishments contracted by the city government as quarantine facilities.

Audit of the hotel transactions indicated that there were days when the number of supposedly accommodated individuals was “lower than the number of rooms claimed to be occupied.” “It appears that the Sunflower Drive Inn, Balai Carmela, Zurcs HOtel have overcharged the amount of P185,000.00; P56,000.00 and P36,000.00, respectively,” auditors disclosed.

COA directed the Tuguegarao City government to require the management of the three hotels to submit an explanation and present proof that correct hotel charges were collected.

“If determined that there is indeed overcharging, the concerned hotels/inn shall refund to the city the amount of overcharged cost of hotel accommodation,” the state audit agency said.

In the same report, state auditors asked the city government to strictly observe the GPPB directive “in all of the emergency procurement” under the Bayanihan I.

Several documentary requirements for the purchases have not been presented in audit, among which were the Notice of Award; Certificate of Registration; Mayor’s Permit.

“The absence of documentary requirements and the deficiencies noted are indications that the procedures on the Emergency Proucrement set under GPPB Circular No. 01-2020 were not strictly observed,” COA said.