Baguio officials answer COA on flagged COVID-19 expenses

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“Walang nawala.  Walang overpriced.  Walang corruption.  We were very transparent.”

Mayor Benjamin Magalong, City Accountant Antonio Tabin and City General Services Officer Eugene Buyucan assured this as they explained the observations put forward by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the disbursement of the P61 million cash advances relative to the city’s Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response in 2020.

“All expenses made were for COVID-19 response and done in accordance to the provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act 11469).  All expenditures were properly accounted for.  The government was not shortchanged at all,” the city officials stressed.

In Observation Memorandum (AOM) No. 2021-008-2020 dated March 19, 2021, the COA observed that the cash advances were granted to two accountable officers without any specific purpose and supporting document.  It also took note of the use of cash instead of check payment, among other observations.

The city officials explained that the procurement procedures were tweaked as was necessary at that time because the situation called for it.

“Given the extraordinary circumstance brought by COVID-19, certain accounting and auditing rules and regulations could not be strictly implemented considering the limitations in mobility and manpower,” they said.

They said the procurement procedures were tweaked as was necessary at that time because the situation called for it.

“That was an extraordinary time when everyone was at a loss on to how to properly respond to the crisis that all available remedies had to be explored. It was also a time when everybody was grappling for available supplies — food, PPEs and other logistics.  We were practically on a grab-whatever-is-available-and fast” situation at that time,” they related.

“We had to adjust procedures simply because we had to act with dispatch.  Faced with that kind of situation, if we still followed regular procedures then we would have ended up empty-handed – no supplies at all.”

They assured that processes are now being complied with and the entire amount had practically been fully liquidated.

Here is the city’s answer to the issues put forward by the COA as submitted by Buyucan addressed to COA Audit Team leader Alicia Estibar and Supervising Auditor lawyer Nover Bate:

On the lack of specific purpose for the cash advances: “All cash advances for COVID-19 operations.  All procurement made were covered by purchase requests by the various departments based on their assessment of the actual situation on the ground.”

On the technical specifications and quantity to be procured: “Due to the scarcity of commodities during the Enhanced Community Quarantine, it was imperative to immediately purchase what is available from suppliers operating at that time.  Hence, the technical specifications and quantity could not be specified as various suppliers offer different brand and items.

“At the end of the procurement, the needs of the end users were satisfied and complied.  Every item delivered was accepted and inspection by the end-users and the GSO. “

On settlement of cash advance: “Supporting documents required from both supplier and end-users were not immediately complied with due to the situation where mobility and availability of accountable person is affected i.e. work-from-home schedule of employees, end-users busy attending to COVID-19 response (relief goods, triage, isolation, checkpoints, SAP etc.)

On the transfer of cash advance to GSO accountable officers: GSO was authorized to directly negotiate or conduct procurement activities.  Section 4 (k) of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act 11469) mandates the government to undertake procurement in the most expeditious manner.

On the payment of cash instead of check: During the ECQ, banks operated at limited hours and working capacity.  Cashiers of the City Treasury Office also were on a work-from-home schedule prompting the GSO to adjust its process.  Check payment was not the most expeditious way to procure items as most suppliers preferred cash payment including the NFA.  Payment occurred right after deliveries were made.

By Aileen P. Refuerzo
Photo by Armando M. Bolislis

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