Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday, Oct. 13, urged the Department of Health (DOH) to expedite the creation of a body that would oversee the acquisition of COVID-19 test kits and personal protective equipment (PPEs) to ensure there would be no corruption involved in the process of procurement.
Hontiveros said establishing an “anti-overpricing board” would stop corruption in the procurement of essential equipment needed for the country’s COVID-19 response.
“An anti-overpricing body will ensure that all our needs would be procured for the best price and in a standardized way. We need full enforcement of our laws to prevent corruption and to make sure we are spending right,” she said during a Senate hearing on the budget of the DOH.
Hontiveros said the Universal Health Care (UHC) law is sufficient enough to compel concerned agencies to immediately convene the Independent Price Negotiation Board, an oversight body created through the said law that is mandated to negotiate with suppliers over the cost of medical supplies and new technology that healthcare workers need.
There are also mechanisms under the country’s existing laws that are supposed to prevent overpriced procurement from happening, the senator pointed out.
“It is not yet clear if these procurement decisions were motivated by corruption or the result of negligence, but clearly we need to implement safeguards to avoid wasting taxpayers’ money at a time we desperately need every peso,” she said.
The senator further challenged Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to verbalize his commitment to protecting the funds the department would receive.
“I am all in for a higher health budget and giving the department what it needs to optimize its operations in light of this health emergency, but we need to address the elephant in the room,” she said.
“There has been so much controversy surrounding the DOH and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Secretary must commit to fully enforce anti-corruption measures. We will watch closely that the DOH ensures every peso goes to the right place,” the lawmaker stressed.
During a Senate hearing on the proposed budget of the DOH for 2021, senators found out that the agency lost P1-billion to overpriced PPEs purchased from foreign suppliers during a domestic price freeze.
Senators also found it question for the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (DBM-PS) had also bought test kits and nuclear acid extractors that cost the country approximately P500-million.
“We shouldn’t ignore a P1.5-billion loss. That can greatly contribute to the country’s COVID-19 response, especially since we are included in the Top 18 of countries with the most cases of the coronavirus in the whole world,” she stressed.
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