SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Flogging the public with flagged funds

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 17 August) – In trying to shield [his] officials, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in particular, from “corruption by perception,” President Duterte didn’t seem to care that he was crossing the line when he told the Commission on Audit to stop flagging government transactions and publishing its reports.

Duterte was referring to the preliminary audit report released by COA on the deficiencies of the Department of Health’s handling of the P67.3 billion in COVID-19 funds. Duterte forgot that COA is a constitutional body which is not accountable to the President and duty-bound to safeguard public funds. He also forgot that DOH’s mismanagement of the flagged funds speaks volumes about government inefficiency in responding to the pandemic, and that in light of the continuing health crisis, the nonfeasance is revolting.

To be clear about it, it is still premature to say that the deficiencies in the handling of the COVID-19 funds noted by COA mean that public money had been lost to corruption. However, the fact alone that P11.28 billion of those funds remained untapped at the end of 2020 and P59.1 billion of the DOH 2020 budget was unspent should have at least made heads roll, Duque’s included.

Those idle funds, we can safely presume, were meant to hire additional healthcare workers, upgrade the facilities of government hospitals, and provide medical frontliners with the benefits and incentives they deserve in these times.

Granted that Duque or any of his subordinates did not personally benefit from the flagged amount. Nonetheless, the failure to use the funds to alleviate the plight of citizens whose lives were disrupted by the endless lockdowns is a crime of omission.

Had the DOH done its part well by seeing to it that the funds didn’t remain idle, perhaps the pandemic situation in the country would not have been as bad as it is now. There would not have been a shortage of nurses. Contact-tracing could have worked more effectively. Public hospitals could have acquired more ventilators and other needed equipment.

Yes, people inevitably suffer in times of crisis. But good, sensitive governance could have mitigated their agony.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)

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