‘More than double?’ Duque defends procurement of pricier medical equipment
MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday defended the government’s procurement of pricier medical equipment amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, after Senator Panfilo Lacson confronted him over the purchase of “overpriced” health supplies.
Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier flagged what he said were “grossly overpriced” health and medical supplies purchased by the government for the Department of Health (DOH).
On Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate committee of the whole on updates on the COVID-19 response, the senator promptly quizzed Duque about it, presenting a comparison of the cost of supplies procured by the private sector to items bought by the government.
For example, the senator said, Sansure Natch CS Fully Automated Nucleic Acid Extraction System purchased by the private sector for Project ARK (anti-body rapid test kits) were worth only P1.75 million per unit while the ones purchased by the government, the Thermo Scientific King Fisher Flex Automated Nucleic Acid Extraction Machine, amounted to P4 million per unit.
He also questioned the price of the government-procured swabbing system, which amounted to $32 dollars each, compared with the ones acquired by the private sector, which was able to buy the same for only $16.
“Bakit mas mahal ang bili ng gobyerno kesa dun sa bili ng private sector?” Lacson asked.
(Why is the equipment purchased by the government more expensive that those bought by the private sector?)
“Bakit higit doble ang presyo ng gobyerno sa presyo ng private sector?” he further asked.
(Why are prices of the supplies procured by the government more than double the items the private sector was able to purchase?)
Duque then referred the question to Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao, executive director of the Procurement Service, saying “none of these items (were) directly procured by DOH.”
“We had to ask the help of the PS-DBM (Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management) precisely because at around that time, we were beginning to ramp up testing capacity,” Duque said.
“We believe that the PS-DBM has a much wider network of local and international suppliers. We were thinking they would be able to get at very, very competitive if not reasonable pricing points,” he added.
Lao, who noted that the equipment purchased by the private sector was manufactured in China, explained that the PS-DBM can only procure items based on the agency purchase request (APR) issued by the agency requesting for the procurement.
“If they will issue to us an APR which is generic, ‘pag sinabi nila na (if they asked for) extraction machine, we will bid it to all providers and whoever has the cheapest, we will buy it. But since the APR issued to us is very specific, brand-based, pag specific and brand based, we can only buy that specific brand which is in this case, Thermo Science King Fisher,” Lao said.
Lacson then asked if it was allowed under procurement laws for an agency to request for the procurement of an item from a specific brand.
In response, Lao said: “Based on our experience, yung procurement law, we don’t do that (buy items from specific brand).”
“But in the Bayanihan (to Heal as One ) Act, pwede po. Kasi it should based, be based on the decision of the agency, like DOH, RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). Kailangan po i-validate, so ‘pag sinabi nila sa amin, ‘Gusto namin ito bilhin mo’ hind kami makadecide nun,” Lao explained.
(It needs to be validated, so if they said that this is exactly what they wanted to buy, we can’t decide on that.)
“Kasi pag bumili kami ng ibang item, baka hindi nila tanggapin, hindi bayaran, matatamaan kami ng (Commission of Audit),” he added.
(Because if we buy a different item, they may not accept it, then we will be flagged by COA.)
Lacson then pressed for an explanation for the purchase of the seemingly overpriced equipment.
Duque then explained that the brand procured by the government is the one compatible with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines in the Philippine testing laboratories.
“Yung Thermo Scientific is a US-brand compatible with the US real-time PCR machine which the Philippine labs have procured in the past,” the health chief said.
“So incompatible kung puro Sansure ang bibilhin (It would be incompatible if the equipment to be procured will all be Sansure),” he added.
Lacson, however, said he could not comprehend the explanation given by the health secretary and moved on to ask questions on another topic.
Duque, meanwhile, assured senators that the DOH “will cooperate fully” should an investigation on the alleged overprice of medical supplies be conducted.
“I have instructed my undersecretary for administration and finance and all the program managers and end-users to provide us all the necessary documents if and when investigation will happen… to collate the documents kasi I know that the RITM and the end-user, the program managers, are the ones who actually provide the specifications because PS-DBM on its own cannot do that. It has to be on the basis of the specifications as provided by program manager, and in this case, RITM,” he said.
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