THE Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged the Office of Civil Defense’s (OCD) slow implementation of projects related to the country’s response in the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

In its 2021 audit report, the COA noted the slow construction of Covid-19 quarantine and isolation facilities in various local government units (LGUs) that “deprived the intended beneficiaries of the needed facilities to curtail the spread of the virus during the pandemic.”

It said the OCD, as the head of the National Task Force, got P4.5 billion under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act for the construction and maintenance of facilities intended to cater to individuals undergoing isolation amid the pandemic.

COA said the OCD transferred a total of P713,529,293.39 to 24 LGUs in six regions, in which P335,293,700 was for operational requirements of two LGUs while the remaining amount was for the construction of quarantine and isolation facilities in the 22 other LGUs.

But only four out of the 22 LGUs were able to complete the construction of the isolation facilities as of report date, it said.

The other LGUs reported a physical and financial accomplishment ranging from one to 90 percent.

COA said the failure of the LGUs to complete the projects within the deadline will result in the termination of the projects and reversion of the fund to the national treasury.

In response, the OCD assured its consistent efforts to ensure the timely implementation of the programs and projects through the issuance of memoranda for the guidance of the implementing arms.

It cited the various issues that caused the delay such as the procurement process that was affected by surges and varying community quarantine and classifications, identifying site location, weather and other documentary requirements.

In a statement, the OCD said 15 facility construction projects have already been completed.

It said facility construction status of Magsaysay, Palawan is now at 85 percent; Taytay, Palawan is at 90 percent; Santa Cruz, Marinduque at 97 percent; Torrijos, Marinduque at 99 percent; Libacao, Aklan at 47 percent; Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat at 90 percent; and Municipality of Malungon, Sarangani at 96 percent completion.

“To sum, the total fund provided by OCD for LGU facility construction/conversion projects and support to LGU isolation facilities is P769,529,293.39, with P605,229,143.58 or 79 percent fully utilized/obligated and P164,300,149.81 or 21 percent unutilized/reverted to the National Treasury,” the OCD said.

The COA also noted the low utilization rate of funds transferred to OCD regional offices for its humanitarian and disaster relief operation and Covid-19 response which “deprived the government and the intended users of the benefit that could be derived therefrom.”

The OCD was allotted P500 million from the General Appropriations Act for 2021 as its Quick Response Fund (QRF) or as stand-by fund to be used for rehabilitation and relief programs and projects.

The COA said of the P1,854,051,059 QRF received by the OCD in 2021, P1,814,884,577.78 or 97.89 percent were utilized.

However, while the OCD presented a high utilization rate, the COA found that its regional offices only utilized 74.17 percent of the total funds transferred to them.

Among the regions with utilization rate lower than 50 percent were Region 10 (Northern Mindanao) with 38.23 percent, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) with 47.54 percent, and Central Visayas with 47.73 percent.

Regions 1 (Ilocos), 4B (Mimaropa) and 7 (Central Visayas) also registered a low utilization rate on the fund transferred to them for Covid-19 response.

“The [regional offices] claimed that the low utilization of the fund was primarily due to the late downgrading of funds from the [central office], incomplete technical specifications and/or details on the proposed procurement as well as lack of technical experience of the Regional Bids and Awards Committee,” COA said.

“However, these issues could have been avoided had the agency judiciously planned its procurement projects,” it added.

The OCD noted, however, that the use of QRF is demand driven, which means that with the decreasing number of Covid-19 cases, the use of the funds would also go down.

“OCD has been working closely with the COA during the entire pandemic period to ensure that there is proper spending of public funds. All COA recommendations are welcomed, examined, responded to and complied with,” it said. (SunStar Philippines)