Former COA chief notes DOH role in overpriced supply purchases

Published September 19, 2021, 5:27 PM

by Ben Rosario

The Department of Health (DOH) played a major role in the procurement by government of allegedly overpriced face masks and face shields at the height of the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

DOH logo virus background

Former Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan pointed questionable DOH actions that she believes merit audit ‘red flags” in the procurement transactions.

During the webinar entitled “Confronting Corruption”, Pulido-Tan described as questionable the decision of Health Secretary Francisco Duque to transfer to the Procurement Service -Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) of P42 billion in DOH funds for the purchase of vital COVID-19 supplies such as the face masks, face shields and personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Held on Saturday, Sept. 18, the webinar was organized by the Public Policy Research Group and civil society group Soul Ph, both headed by former Senator and Manila Bulletin columnist Joey Lina and the Rotary Club of Makati Central.

“Why would DOH decide na DBM ang bumili para sa kanya (to procure for itself). DOH has its own procurement service,” she pointed out.

The former COA chief said the DOH procurement agency has enough personnel to do the purchases, adding that, unlike nurses and doctors, they are not medical frontliners.

“Ang trabaho lamang nila ay mag-procure (Their only job is to procure),” she pointed out.

Pulido-Tan also raised issue over the fact that PS-DBM, under the law, is only authorized to transact for the government if the procurement involves common-use supplies and equipment (CSEs) among government agencies.

Among CSE items are paper clips, ballpens, bond papers, pencils and other office supplies.

“Masks are not commonly-used supplies, face shields are not common supplies. Nonetheless, they were later declared common supplies,” she pointed out.

In an apparent bid to justify its receipt of the fund transfer, DBM issued a memorandum to declare health supplies as CSE.

On the issue of overpricing, Pulido-Tan said it was also the DOH that authorized the procurement of face masks and face shields that raised the prices to over 300 percent of their usual cost.

The DOH, according to her, issued a memorandum pegging the price of the said items near the cost they were paid for by government.

Under the DOH memorandum, for example, face masks price was pegged at P28. Supplies such as the Pharmally Phamaceuticals sold per unit of the item at an average of P27.80, or a few centavos below the DOH authorized price.

Pulido Tan said the 2020 Annual Audit Report for DOH and PS-DBM did not cite overpricing of the said items because of lack of comparison.

“When you have a finding of overpricing, there should be comparison. IN this case, walang (there is no) comparator because there was only one price,” she disclosed.

Pulido Tan added: “It was the DOH also that set the price. How can you make a finding of overpricing in a situation like that?”