EDITORIAL - Outsourcing procurement

The Philippine Star

Under the law, corruption involving public funds worth at least P50 million warrants an indictment for plunder – an offense that can earn the perpetrator life in prison plus perpetual absolute disqualification from public office.

So the nation deserves to know the whole truth in the procurement of personal protective equipment amounting to P1.387 billion at the height of the COVID pandemic. The PPE, covered by seven contracts with various suppliers, did not have the mandatory Certificate of Medical Device Notification, according to state auditors.

The Department of Health reassured the public yesterday that the PPE was not distributed to health care workers. DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the department and the Food and Drug Administration rejected the PPE precisely because the items were not covered by the requisite certificates and did not meet DOH standards for quality and safety of protective equipment. The certificate is among the first requirements for meeting those standards, she said.

Like the 39,583 laptops distributed to public school teachers for blended learning during the pandemic – gadgets that the COA described as apparently “pricey” and outdated – the PPE was obtained by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management. The new team in the PS-DBM announced yesterday that its initial internal examination of the laptop deal indicated findings similar to those of the COA, so the new team has asked the National Bureau of Investigation to step in.

Senators, for their part, said yesterday they would invite the same former officials of the PS-DBM, who were responsible for the P10-billion PPE procurement from the controversial Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., to shed light on the laptop deal worth P2.4 billion.

DOH officials had previously explained that they outsourced the procurement of healthcare equipment to the PS-DBM because the office was perceived to have the expertise for the task, and to facilitate the disbursement of payments.

Several apparently questionable supply purchases by the PS-DBM in the previous administration, which state auditors unearthed, gave the impression that outsourcing procurement did not promote efficiency and even opened opportunities for graft. The Pharmally scandal prompted calls from lawmakers in the previous Congress to abolish the PS-DBM.

Beyond the abolition of the office, however, those responsible for any anomaly must be identified and brought to justice. Even if certain unscrupulous persons resorted to “splitting” procurement contracts so that each would not breach the P50-million threshold for a plunder indictment, accountability is required. Ordinary offenders rot in prison for far less. Letting off the hook those responsible for multibillion-peso anomalies involving public funds will breed impunity.


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