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Vergeire: DOH can share COVID-19 vaccine deal documents with COA

The Department of Health (DOH) is allowed to provide the Commission on Audit with the documents related to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, as stated in the non-disclosure agreements (NDA) with the suppliers, saidDOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire.

In a press conference on Friday, Vergeire pointed out that these NDAs included exemptions that stated that “[if] it is required by law, if it’s required because of a process for auditing or investigation, we (DOH) can already share.”

In contrast, according to COA chairman Gamaliel Cordoba, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III wrote to the state auditors that the DOH could not provide the documents due to the signed NDAs with suppliers.

During the hearing on his ad interim appointment, Cordoba said that the COA legal office position was that they were not bound by the NDAs.

He warned that COA may “have to issue a notice of suspension and go through the process of notice of disallowance,” including the issuance of a subpoena to DOH, if they will not release the documents.

This was in light of the special audit requested by the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the loans they granted the Philippine government for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines—to which the COA Chairman committed to ensuring a complete audit of.

DOH said they were the ones who sent the letter to the COA in September to request the special audit, and chose COA to be its auditing firm in the agreements.

“Our funds that we have used for us to procure these vaccines came from the different loans with multilateral organizations. Kaya tayo humingi rin tayo nitong special audit kasi ‘yung World Bank at saka ADB, they were requiring an audit system para dito sa nahiram nating pera,” Vergeire said.

(That's why we also asked for this special audit because the World Bank and then ADB were requiring an audit system for this amount of money we borrowed.)

“The best agency that we can tap so that we can have an accurate auditing process would be the COA,” she added.

Vergeire also reiterated the DOH’s commitment to cooperate with the audit process and stressed that their legal experts are already looking into the matter to ensure that there will be no violation of the NDAs with vaccine suppliers.

Senator Sonny Angara, who defended the proposed P13.1-billion budget of the state audit agency for 2023, earlier said there was P8.93 billion under the 2021 national budget allocated for vaccine procurement and almost P70 billion from foreign-assisted loans.

He added that there are other appropriations for COVID-19 vaccines that were included in other laws.

As for vaccine wastage, Vergeire reported that 44 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were wasted due to expiration and operational wastage. — DVM, GMA Integrated News