The height of callousness and greed. This was how Sen. Panfilo Lacson described on Thursday the pattern of overpricing in the Department of Health’s purchase of medical equipment to address the COVID-19 threat.
Lacson said there will be a day of reckoning for those behind such anomalous purchases involving items ranging from nucleic acid extractors to personal protective equipment.
“They can always come up with all sorts of reasons. But at the end of the day, we see a pattern of overpricing. If it’s only one item then probably it’s been overlooked or they can reason out a different supplier or manufacturer. But it’s a pattern,” he said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“Every time they procure health products, when you compare it with the purchased price of private sector, remember there are at least 120 business establishments participating in their own swab tests, PCR tests, etc. Maraming kasali rito. So you cannot avoid being compared sa purchase price ng private sector,” he added.
At the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole last Tuesday, Lacson bared a glaring discrepancy between the prices of a nucleic acid extractor purchased by the private sector and that acquired by the DOH.
While the equipment supplied by Sansure, acquired by Project ARK, cost P1.75 million each, the Thermo Scientific King Fisher Flex equipment bought by the DOH was priced at a whopping P4 million each.
“(W)hat DOH did was to submit brand-based equipment. Meaning, they submitted to the procurement service of DBM the brand they prefer, which is a no-no. It’s a violation, it’s not allowed under Sec 18 of the Government Procurement Act. Of course we acknowledge that when we passed the Bayanihan Act, it is I think in Sec 4 Par K, to allow the expeditious manner of procuring health equipment. Suspended ang provision ng Sec 18, which does not allow brand-based procurement,” Lacson noted.
“It is wrong (for DOH to submit to the DBM procurement service a preferred brand). They are claiming, for example Sansure, this is a brand, and the private sector I think under Project ARK of Go Negosyo headed by Joey Concepcion, they purchased 1 extraction machine, nucleic acid extractor machine, and it cost them P1.75M. DOH when they submitted a brand-based for King Fisher, they purchased 1 unit at P4M. Right away we can see the difference at P4M and P1.75M,” he added.
Lacson also belied the DOH’s claim that Sansure’s equipment is a closed system, saying a check with doctors and medical practitioners showed it is compatible with at least five other machines.
He added Sansure was also the brand of equipment used by the Philippine Red Cross, which is conducting COVID tests.
Aside from the extraction equipment, Lacson cited big differences in the acquisition of swab systems – with DOH spending $32 for each, double the price of those acquired by the private sector.
On the other hand, Lacson said there were traces of overprice in the DOH’s acquisition of PPEs – at P1,979 each compared to P1,079 each in the private sector.
“So there’s a pattern of overpricing. Not this time, we are in the middle of a crisis. We should not be distracting DOH and other government instrumentalities by conducting an investigation. But I think there should be a day of reckoning on all this,” Lacson said.
Making matters even worse, he said, is that such overpricing comes at a time the government is hard-pressed to find funds to fight the COVID threat.
“Seizing an opportunity out of a crisis is a good thing when you do it for country. For example when we know other locators or factories are relocating from China to other places in Asia, yan ang i-seize nating opportunity. But to seize an opportunity for self-aggrandizement out of a crisis as big as the COVID-19 pandemic I think that’s the height of callousness and greed,” he added.