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COA to DICT: Explain purchase of P170 million worth of gadgets from construction firm

The Commission on Audit (COA) has asked the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) to respond to the questionable purchase of more than P170-million worth of gadgets, which were donated to schools amid the pandemic.

In its 2020 Audit Report of the agency, state auditors cited the P170,273,000 worth of gadgets which included thousands of laptops, pocket wi-fi and tablets, that were bought by DICT from a construction firm.

Of the total amount, P50,773,000 worth of laptops, tablets, and pocket wi-fi were given to teachers and learners in Pinaglabanan Elementary School in San Juan City.

Meanwhile, P29,875,000 tablets were procured for city governments of Makati and San Juan and P89,625,000 worth of other tablets were also  donated to the said local government units.

All these procurement, COA said, were purchased from Lex-Mar General Merchandise and Contractor, which has insufficient funding to finance the P170 million projects.

Lex-Mar has current assets of P44,578,450 and P25,539,417 in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

With this, the COA said the supplier has "doubtful financial capacity to implement the projects."

On top of this, Lex-Mar is also not involved in supply and delivery of gadgets and devices because its purpose is for general construction.

"Hence, it is doubtful whether herein supplier has legal capacity to engage in this kind of business," state auditors also said.

Illegal expenditure

The purchase of various gadgets is also not under DICT's mandate and implementing policies, which means it could be an illegal expenditure.

"Hence, while we sympathize with the plight of learners and teachers in this time of distance learning or online classes, a donation of government property may be considered as illegal expenditure," said COA, which recently received the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte in a public briefing.

Based on its findings, COA directed the DICT officials to submit  "bid evaluation and post qualification report showing evaluations conducted in order to determine the technical, legal, and financial capacity of the supplier."

DICT officials were also asked to explain why the contract was awarded to Lex-Mar, which has  "doubtful technical, legal, and financial capacity.

Also, DICT must explain whether it is within its mandate to provide devices for beneficiaries.

Motu propio investigation

Fact tank InfraWatch, meanwhile, recommended to the Ombudsman to undergo motu proprio investigation to determine if there was graft in the DICT's purchase of gadgets.

“This transaction is not merely a whiff of corruption, but a god awful stench of corruption, clearly contradicting the commitment of President Rodrigo Duterte to stamp out corruption in his government," the group's convenor Terry Ridon said in a statement.

"The Commission on Audit (CoA) report has damning evidence enough to warrant the preventive suspension of all involved DICT officials,”  he added.

He also said pandemic is not an excuse to violate rules in procurement, adding that the DICT must be able to prove that the Lex-Mar was able to deliver the procured items.

"The DICT should show whether its contractor had already been able to deliver an IT supply project costing at least fifty percent of the P170 million project cost. If not, naku, may kulong yan, mga kaibigan. (If not, there will be jail time for that, my friends.),” Ridon said.—LDF, GMA News