The Commission on Audit (COA) “clarification” on its Department of Health (DOH) audit report shows it has to improve its communicating of findings to the public.

If not that, then it was pressured into softening the impact of its report.

These are what one may glean from the statement Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, of COA seeking to clarify its findings of “deficiencies” in the handling of P67.323 billion in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response funds. Calls were made for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to resign for his alleged failure to manage the funds.

There was no complaint of wrong interpretation or wrong conclusion made by media on the COA finding that pointed to the DOH deficiencies in the management of funds. If the news reports were wrong, then the correction should have come immediately. The COA clarification came two days after the media broke the news and after the backlash on Duque and the DOH. The media reports stuck to the COA findings without mention of the bad word “corruption.”

The COA said in its clarification that these “deficiencies” it noted in the management of Covid-19 response funds were not conclusive of corruption. It said: “Accompanying the observations and findings are the recommendations made by the auditors for the management of DOH to address the observation and findings. These are part of the audit process, which allows the audited agency to comply with the recommendations and rectify any deficiencies. The Report itself does not mention any findings by the auditors of funds lost to corruption.”

It said some of the findings of deficiencies resulted from the non-submission of documents which the DOH may still submit to comply with the COA recommendation. Of the P67.323 billion, P42.4 billion are on fund transfers to procurement or implementing partner-agencies without the required documentation. “There is no finding that this amount cannot be accounted for,” it said.

The COA statement added: “As there are recommendations for compliance with the DOH, the audit process for the deficiencies pointed out has not been completed. Hence, it is premature at this stage to make conclusions on the findings in the Consolidated Annual Audit Report.”

When then will the compliance work be completed? The COA findings referred to 2020 transactions yet and the auditors have surely asked health officials for supporting documents to expenses. This is urgent because any money withheld or misused was money that could have been used to save lives.

The COA should understand that this is the reason for the strong public reaction and suspicions of corruption in the DOH. That money could have been used to put up an extra intensive care unit bed or to medicine such as Remdesivir or Tocilizumab for a sick parent, sibling, cousin, or friend.

The COA clarification has no impact on someone running around to look for a hospital bed for a loved one or burdened by the weight of expensive medication.