DICT says no irregularity in purchase of P170M worth of gadgets

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on Wednesday said there was no irregularity in its purchase of more than P170 million worth of gadgets procured from a construction company, which was earlier questioned by the Commission on Audit (COA).

In a statement, the DICT said it is unfortunate that its project of distributing various gadgets to schools to aid students cope with distant learning amid the pandemic was flagged by COA.

“The DICT has already responded to the COA’s memorandum, addressing the issues raised and assuaging its concerns regarding the said projects,” the agency said.

In its 2020 audit report of the DICT, state auditors cited the P170,273,000 worth of gadgets which included thousands of laptops, pocket wi-fi and tablets, that were bought by DICT from a construction firm.

Of the total amount, P50,773,000 worth of laptops, tablets, and pocket wi-fi were given to teachers and learners in Pinaglabanan Elementary School in San Juan City.

Meanwhile, P29,875,000 tablets were procured for city governments of Makati and San Juan and P89,625,000 worth of other tablets were also donated to the said local government units.

All these procurement, COA said, were purchased from Lex-Mar General Merchandise and Contractor, which has insufficient funding to finance the P170 million projects.

Lex-Mar has current assets of P44,578,450 and P25,539,417 in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

With this, the COA said the supplier has “doubtful financial capacity to implement the projects.”

On top of this, Lex-Mar is also not involved in supply and delivery of gadgets and devices because its purpose is for general construction.

“Hence, it is doubtful whether herein supplier has legal capacity to engage in this kind of business,” state auditors also said.

The DICT explained that the tablets and devices were procured through Emergency Cases of the 2016 Revised Implementing Rules (IRR) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9184 and awarded to Lex-Mar General Merchandise and Contractor, which it found to be a technically, legally, and financially capable supplier.

“While also engaged in the business of general construction, Lex-Mar is a wholesaler of office supplies and office equipment, including the supply of computer units and tablets,” it said.

“Recent financial statements also indicate that the bidder’s revenue or income exceeds and is capable of sustaining its operations, costs and expenses. This sufficiently shows that Lex-Mar is capable of generating sufficient funds and revenue through various types of activities,” it said.

The DICT noted that Lex-Mar presented several completed contracts which include procurement projects conducted for the local government of Quezon City involving laptops and computer units.

“These projects were duly completed involving similar types of ICT equipment, for the same procuring entity as the local authority that issued the business permits and authorized the business activities of Lex-Mar,” the agency said.

“Put simply, if the local government unit that issued the permit for Lex-Mar to engage in business respected such permit in their procurement project for computer units and similar ICT devices, then it stands to reason that other government agencies may also rely on such duly issued permits,” it added.

The COA, likewise, said that the purchase of various gadgets is not under the DICT’s mandate and implementing policies, which means it could be an illegal expenditure.

“Hence, while we sympathize with the plight of learners and teachers in this time of distance learning or online classes, a donation of government property may be considered as illegal expenditure,” said COA, which recently received the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte in a public briefing.

Nonetheless, the DICT said the laptops and gadgets procured under its Digital Education Program (DEP) were intended to assist its partner local government units (LGUs) facilitate ICT-enabled education especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ICT gadgets, which were turned over by the LGUs to student beneficiaries, enhance the delivery of services to the education sector – a mandate that DICT fulfills,” it said.

The agency emphasized that aside from formulating and implementing national policies, plans, programs and initiatives with government agencies and instrumentalities to promote and develop use of ICT in education, it is also mandated to foster ICT resource sharing, build the capacity of the government in terms of ICT, and improve public access to the internet.

“Through these initiatives, we aim to be more responsive to the needs of our students under the online and blended learning modalities as face-to-face classes are currently suspended during this public health emergency,” DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II said.

Pursuant to Republic Act No. 10844 or the Department of Information and Communications Technology Act of 2015, the DICT is the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the executive branch of the government that will plan, develop, and promote the national ICT development agenda

In the formulation and implementation of policies and initiatives, it coordinates with the Department of Education (DepED), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), to develop and promote ICT in education consistent with national goals and objectives.

“Hence, devices and laptops were procured for DICT’s DEP’s pilot projects– Cybersafe Learning for Education, Cybersafe Learning for Education of the Cybersecurity Bureau (CSB), and the Digital Learners and Teachers,” it said.–AOL, GMA News

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