MANILA - The Department of Health on Friday confirmed that it tried to transfer the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to the budget department office tagged in the alleged procurement of overpriced face masks and face shields.
While the DOH wrote to the Government Procurement Policy Board in January 2021 to include COVID-19 vaccines in the list of common use items, no fund was transferred to the Department of Budget and Management's Procurement Service (PS-DBM), agency officials said in a House of Representatives inquiry.
"Wala po kaming trinansfer na pondo with regards to the procurement of vaccines," DOH Dir. Rowena Laura said when Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate asked how much was given to the PS-DBM for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
(We did not transfer funds with regards to the procurement of vaccines.)
But the PS-DBM noted that funds were not transferred because they declined the request of the DOH.
"We declined because we do not have the capacity to handle the roll out of the vaccines," said PS-DBM officer-in-charge Jasonmer Uayan.
"With that no funds were transferred to PS-DBM with regard to vaccine procurement," he said.
The Commission on Audit and lawmakers have been flagging the DOH's transfer of billions of pesos to the PS-DBM as the agency has been doing so without a memorandum of agreement and other documentation.
The DOH noted that a MOA between 2 agencies is not needed for the purchase of items marked as common use, or those used in the daily operations of agencies.
The DOH earlier transferred P42 billion to the PS-DBM for the procurement of several personal protective equipment, including face masks worth P27 each, and face shields amounting to P122 a piece.
"Kaya napunta ang procurement na ito sa PS-DBM ay dahil DOH ang may request," Zarate said.
(This procurement was only given to the PS-DBM because the DOH requested it.)
"Ang issue dito ay propriety. Tama ba na maglipat ka ng malaking pondo sa isang ahensya kung kaya mo namang gawin?" he said.
(The issue here is propriety. Is it right that you transfer large funds to another agency when you can execute the purchase?)
'CONFLICT OF INTEREST'
The Bayan Muna lawmaker said Congress should review executive agencies' practice of asking the PS-DBM to procure on their behalf as there may be conflict of interest.
"There may arise a conflict of interest here... A big chunk of the budget they approve will go back to them for procurement," he said.
Allowing government agencies to rely on the PS-DBM for large procurements also leads to the waste of billions in taxpayers' money, Zarate said, noting that the DOH's P2-billion savings lodged in the PS-DBM expired instead of being reallocated to other pandemic-related expenses.
"Kung hindi dinownload ng DOH sa PS-DBM at sila ang personally nag-procure ng supplies na ito, at naka generate sila ng savings, that savings can be easily used," he said.
(If the DOH personally procured the supplies instead of downloading the funds to the PS-DBM, they could have generated savings that can easily be used.)
"Kaya nakakapanggalit. Hindi nabayaran 'yung health care workers. Maraming nagamit pa dapat ang savings na 'yan," he said.
(This is upsetting. A lot of health care workers are still unpaid. That savings could have been used for many other things.)
The Senate and the House earlier said they would summon former Budget official Lloyd Cristopher Lao, who supervised the spending of the DOH's funds through the DBM's procurement office.
Lao said he was ready to face the investigation.