DOJ eyes fielding ombudsmen to check corruption at DOH


JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra is pushing for the designation of a prosecutor and auditor as “deputized ombudsmen” at the Department of Health (DOH) to act on allegations of corruption in the handling hefty budgetary allocations for the pandemic.

However, Guevarra admitted that the plan would require the concurrence of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) and the Commission on Audit (COA) so it can be included in the memorandum of agreement that the DOJ was scheduled to sign with the COA and OMB that would strengthen the monitoring and response against graft and corruption in government.

The signing of the MOA was moved back because of the declaration of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila from August 6 until August 20.

“The OMB/COA/DOJ MOA was supposed to have been jointly signed around this time, but the ECQ intervened. The MOA sets forth the general terms for the deployment of prosecutors and auditors as deputized ombudsmen,” Guevarra said.

When asked if DOH will be among the agencies to have a resident ombudsman and prosecutor, Guevarra answered, “ Subject to the Ombudsman’s and COA’s concurrence, yes.”

The DOJ chief added “specific provisions such as on trigger amounts will be spelled out in separate agreements with the agencies where resident ombudsman will be assigned.”

Guevarra’s statement came following the release of a COA report showing “deficiencies” in the handling of its funds amounting to P67.32 billion which, state auditors said, may have affected the agency’s Covid-19 response.

Guevarra said the Task Force Against Corruption (TFAC) would launch its investigation on possible irregularities with the handling of the funds by the DOH only if the latter failed to fully explain its side or remedy the deficiencies flagged by the COA report.

“Any government agency which is the subject of audit observations is given the opportunity to explain or rectify any deficiencies noted by the COA. The same is true with the DOH with respect to the handling of Covid funds, like any other agency, it will be given a reasonable chance to comply with or abide by the recommendations of the COA,” Guevarra said.

“In case of unjustified failure to comply or render an acceptable explanation, however, responsible officials of the agency may be held liable not only for infractions of accounting and auditing rules and regulations, but also for more serious violations of law, such as for breach of anti-graft and government procurement laws, in which case the TFAC will step in,” he added.

The COA attributed the deficiencies mainly to “non-compliance of pertinent laws and rules and regulations.”

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