Audit shows LGUs spending for COVID response a mess

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    LOCAL government spending for COVID-19 response in 2020 was a mess with numerous instances of sloppy implementation, questionable fund releases, and government cash assistance going to undeserving individuals.

    These were revealed in the 2020 audit reports on the municipalities of Bacolor, Pampanga released last March 5, and San Marcelino, Zambales released yesterday (March 22).

    In the case of the municipal government of San Marcelino, auditors reported inadequate documentation on the distribution of cash assistance to poor households under the Special Amelioration Program (SAP), inconsistencies in the lists of beneficiaries, and outright violation of the guidelines.

    The town received P20,494,500 for the first tranche of SAP cash doleout on April 7, 2020 from the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Region 3 for 3,146 beneficiaries.

    Based on the liquidation submitted on May 29, 2020, the full amount was distributed even if replacement names had to be found after seven of the original beneficiaries returned the money due because they had received other form of assistance from Small Business Wage Subsidy of the Social Security System (SSS) or the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

    Audit of the disbursement claims, however, showed various problems: the liquidation report was not supported by photos of the actual distribution of the SAP, the social amelioration card was not attached, and beneficiaries did not present any valid ID or barangay certification.

    A staff of the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office assured the audit team that the pictures would be provided but none was furnished by the time the audit report was released.

    To verify the distribution, auditors sent out 1,215 letters to beneficiaries of whom 847 replied.

    Of these, only 834 acknowledged having received the P6,500 cash assistance. Two said they got none while 11 provided no answer.

    There were also 97 who said they worked in government, 33 did not consider themselves belonging to poor households, 13 admitted they were beneficiaries of the Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), and 17 received other forms of cash assistance from DOLE, SSS, the Department of Finance, the Department of Agriculture, or the Department of Interior and Local Government.

    “The foregoing observations indicate lapses of local officials in assessing the qualifications of some recipients which resulted to the payment…to ineligible recipients. Thus, the objectives of the SAP-ESP to provide assistance to low-income families …may not be fully achieved,” the audit team said.

    While auditors found that Bacolor was mostly compliant with the rules on the payout of its P28.424 million SAP, verification by phone unearthed beneficiaries who said the P6,500 intended for each household was either divided into two or three.

    Another 16 recipients also came forward to inform the municipal government that they received assistance from other agencies and returned the money.

    Both Bacolor and San Marcelino were also flagged for laxity in the payment of hazard pay to personnel who are considered front line workers in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

    Auditors said while the extra pay were correctly included while the areas were under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ, the payouts continued even after the restrictions were lifted and the areas placed under general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified GCQ.

    Payments were likewise released even if the required proof and documentation were not complied with.

    “Examination of submitted payrolls for the month of January and February showed that the MHO (Municipal Health Office)…failed to attach the required proof of actual exposure to specific health hazards for them to be entitled to Hazard Pay,” the COA said.

    The municipal government assured the COA that the public health workers would be required to submit proof of actual exposure to substantiate the validity of their claim to hazard pay.