Group demands greater ‘clarity’ in purchase of anti-virus items

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ANTI-corruption advocacy group Pinoy Aksyon on Monday urged the government to be more transparent on its procurement processes for medical supplies in the fight to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

In a news statement, the group said it is alarmed by reports alleging that certain suppliers have “cornered” government deals involving polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing machines and kits and the bulk orders of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“The government is spending huge amount for medical equipment and supplies to fight Covid-19. That’s why we have to make sure that every single centavo is accounted for and that the money was spent on the right things. We need to check the background of all companies bidding to get contracts for these medical equipment,” the group’s convener Ben Cyrus Ellorin said.

The group released the statement after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) launched an investigation into accusation of overpricing and profiteering against the owners of Omnibus Bio-Medical Systems, a distributor of Sansure in the Philippines.

The owners were identified as couple Van William and Emily Co.

The investigation stemmed from the admission of Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao that the couple wrote the Department of Budget and Management and offered an automated extraction machine at P4 million, while another e-mail indicated that the equipment is priced at P4.35 million.

But Sen. Panfilo Lacson disclosed that the machine can be bought directly from Sansure at P1.75 million, triggering renewed calls for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s resignation from his post for mishandling the health crisis.

Lao said that the couple’s company did not win in the bidding as the government opted to buy from a Hong Kong-based corporation also distributing Sansure, “but they are complaining why are we not respecting their exclusive distributorship.”

The NBI was asked to determine if the couple may be held liable under the special law on Anti-Profiteering and the Bayanihan Act.

Ellorin also called on the firms who have bagged several government contracts to be transparent and cooperate in any investigation that is aimed to address accusations of overpricing, bribery and other irregularities.

It cited the huge difference between the unit price of the PCR kits of different brands awarded to a company.

“There may be other purchases that need to be probed. We cannot let this pandemic turn into an outbreak of corruption,” the group said.

Ellorin suggested that the government should look into conducting fast-tracked due diligence audits on the Covid-19 purchases in order to keep up with the numerous purchases—most of which required an accelerated date of delivery.

“Legitimate suppliers with solid reputations have nothing to fear,” Ellorin said.

“Each contract costs anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions. It’s only right for the government to carefully consider each transaction,” it added.

The group also said the quality of the products of the firms seeking government contracts for medical equipment and supplies also have to be tested.

“We know that several countries such as Canada and the UK have returned equipment and medical supplies that are substandard or defective. We have to make sure that we don’t end up getting equipment and supplies that we can’t use,” the group said.

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