IBA, Zambales—Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. clarified over the weekend that the reported “lapses and deficiencies” in the use by the provincial government of some P531 million for COVID-19 related programs and projects had already been resolved with the Commission on Audit (COA).
“Those were justified procurements,” Ebdane said, referring to welfare goods, drugs, and medical and laboratory supplies purchased by the province last year for residents affected by the pandemic.
He added that the reported lapses were just observations by the COA that had since been resolved with the government auditing body in a March exit conference conducted “precisely to discuss the findings and recommendations to correct the issues.”
Reports claimed that COA spotted lapses and deficiencies in COVID-19 fund disbursements by the provincial government, including the purchase of rice from “considerably distant” suppliers, instead of the National Food Authority (NFA) or local farmers.
The purchases were supposedly unsupported with a list of affected families or beneficiaries, saw delayed processing of emergency purchases, and items that were “beyond the reasonable price” set by the Department of Health (DOH).
Ebdane, however, explained that the purchases of rice, medicine, and medical supplies were made under the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” which provided for COVID-19 response and recovery interventions, and not under normal procurement laws.
“Early on, we actually decided to buy rice from private sources in Zambales, but there was not enough stock. So, the provincial government bought rice from suppliers as far as Isabela to ensure both quality and quantity,” Ebdane said.
“This is also because we did not want to repeat the sad experience of some municipal governments that bought NFA rice only to find out that the stocks have physically deteriorated. Our people deserved better; we cannot give them something unfit for human consumption,” he added.
The governor also gave the assurance that they have a complete listing—and even cellphone numbers—of beneficiaries who received welfare goods or “ayuda.”
As to the reported lapse in procurement and utilization of goods and medicine, Ebdane said that in an abnormal situation like the pandemic, the fluctuations and increases in prices of goods were not controlled by the government.
“Remember that we in Zambales treated all our Covid-19 patients for free, and there was a need to stockpile medicine and laboratory supplies due to their scarcity,” Ebdane said.
“We have even allotted funds for vaccines but were not allowed to purchase so. And the sad part is that we ended up at the bottom of priorities for vaccine allocation because we have somehow managed to control the spread of Covid in the province,” he added.
Meanwhile, Provincial Accountant Rosalinda Ecdao said the provincial management team that met with COA auditors during the exit conference had agreed to comply with the audit recommendations.
These included seeking a waiver from the NFA in future transactions should the latter not accommodate big orders, Ecdao said.
It was also agreed upon that requests for medicines and medical supplies be made on time to avoid either advance or delayed deliveries, and that written guidelines be established for a systematic distribution of welfare goods to beneficiaries, she added.