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ADB, WB demand special audit on COVID-19 vaccine purchase — COA chair Cordoba

The World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are already demanding a special audit on the loans they have granted to the Philippine government for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, Commission on Audit chairman Gamaliel Cordoba disclosed Tuesday.

The COA chairman made the statement as he committed to ensure a complete audit of the public funds used for the vaccine procurements.

"Your honors, you have our commitment po na hindi po kami papayag na hindi po ma-audit itong government expenditure na ito lalong-lalo na po na 'yung mga nagpautang sa atin which is the World Bank and the ADB ay nagpapa-special audit na po para dito," he said.

(You have our commitment that this government expenditure will be audited especially now that our lenders, World Bank and ADB, seek an special audit.)

During the hearing on his ad interim appointment, Senator Risa Hontiveros asked Cordoba how he will enforce the constitutional duty of COA to audit the actual expenditures on the vaccine procurement.

She noted that COA has yet to audit billions in public funds used to procure COVID-19 vaccines because of the non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) entered into by the Philippine government and the vaccine suppliers.

Cordoba said the DOH has sent a letter to the state audit agency asking for a complete audit of the vaccine deals as they were mandated by the ADB and the WB to liquidate the loans that were granted to the Philippine government.

He said former Health secretary Francisco Duque III previously wrote COA that they cannot provide the documents as they have signed an NDA with the suppliers.

However, Cordoba said the COA legal office made a position that they are not bound by the NDAs.

He said COA resident auditors are already coordinating with the DOH to secure copies of contracts and other documents related to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

"Ang amin pong gagawin magde-demand po kami, demand letter po ang ating resident auditor and then kapag hindi po nila binigay ay sa COA proper level susulat din po kami but after that po, we have to issue a notice of suspension and go through the process of notice of disallowance and tuloy tuloy po 'yon kasama na rin po 'yung other legal processes which may include issuance of a subpoena, your honors," Cordoba said.

(Our resident auditor will issue a demand letter for the documents and if they will not heed it, we have to issue a notice of suspension and go through the process of notice of disallowance. We will seek other legal processes which may include issuance of a subpoena, your honors.)

Under COA's 2009 Revised Rules of Procedure, the auditor may issue Notices of Suspension (NS) for transactions of doubtful legality/validity/propriety to obtain further explanation or documentation.

The same defines disallowance as "the disapproval in audit of a transaction, either in whole or in part."

It provides that "whenever there are differences arising from the settlement of accounts by reason of disallowances or charges, the auditor shall issue Notices of Disallowance/Charge (ND/NC) which shall be considered as audit decisions. Such ND/NC shall be adequately established by evidence and the conclusions, recommendations or dispositions shall be supported by applicable laws, regulations, jurisprudence and the generally accepted accounting and auditing principles. "

While Hontiveros expressed delight at Cordoba's commitment, she asked why COA needs to undertake several steps before issuing a subpoena to DOH.

"Pero bakit po 'may' pa at andami pang hakbang na dadaanan samantalang may iba't ibang bodies na—kasama na po kami sa Kongreso—na ulit ulit na hiningi 'yon sa DOH at pagkatapos sa DOF din dahil sinabi naman ng chair na, sinabi ng legal office ng COA na hindi kayo bound ng NDA at under the Constitution, may mandato talaga kayo. Hindi po ba nag-iinfringe sa Constitution ang NDA? Hindi po ba't mas maiging i-subpoena ninyo na po?" Hontiveros asked.

(Why do we have to undergo several steps when different bodies, including us in the Congress, have repeatedly asked for the documents from the DOH and DFA. The legal office of COA also said that you are not bound by the NDA and, under the Constitution, you have a mandate to conduct the audit. Isn't NDA infringe the Constitution? Isn't it better to issue a subpoena?)

Cordoba, in response, said they have to undergo COA processes such as the issuance of notice of suspension to show the DOH that their actions were not compliant with the auditing rules and regulations.

"Dadaan lang po kami doon sa process, ma'am, 'yun pong notice of suspension para po bang we are saying that mali po 'yung kanilang ginagawa (We need to undergo the process, the issuance of notice of suspension is like telling them that what they are doing is wrong) but if they continue with that, then we'll issue the subpoena," he said.

"Baka po naman kasi after that ay mag-submit na po sila ng (Maybe after the initial steps, they would submit the) documents that we need for the financial audit of the government expenditures including po the loans granted to us by the World Bank and ADB," he added.

GMA News Online sought the comment of the DOH on the matter but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.

The DOH earlier said they were also unaware of the prices of the COVID-19 vaccines procured by the government as they were not a party to the NDAs.

The Commission on Appointments committee on constitutional commissions and offices has recommended to the plenary the ad interim appointment of Cordoba.

Last week, the CA panel rescheduled the continuation of the hearing on Cordoba's appointment due to time constraints.—AOL, GMA Integrated News