“Where did these funds go? Why are these funds unliquidated? Clearly, there is something fishy going on.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon is calling for a congressional investigation on unspent funds of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) meant for poor college students in 2014.
Ridon called for the probe on Ched’s student financial assistance program (Stufap), one of the agency’s highly-funded programs, following a Commission on Audit (COA) report which revealed up to P1.23 billion ($26 million) out of the P5.2 billion ($110 million) fund for scholarships was unspent due to Ched’s low absorptive capacity.
“While many of our students and their families go to extreme lengths just to pay matriculation, here is Ched – awash in government funds yet unable to properly perform its mandate,” Ridon, a member of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education (CHTE), said.
COA’s report noted several irregularities in the disbursement of the scholarship fund, including unliquidated cash advances, ineffective monitoring, and other operational lapses that resulted in “internal control weaknesses in the processing and releasing of claims.”
Among these are; double or multiple payments made to 703 students totaling P3.44 million ($72,486), cash advances of P108 million ($2.3 million) which cannot be verified to have been received by the beneficiaries, delayed release of allowances by up to 14 months to at least 25,442 students and checks worth P9.3 million ($195,967) that were not claimed because the beneficiaries were not notified.
“Our audit of the Stufaps showed internal control weaknesses in the processing and releasing of claims, contrary to Ched Memorandum Order No. 13 series of 2014, and existing accounting and auditing rules and regulations,” the COA said in the report.
Ched’s Stufap includes scholarships ranging from P15,000 ($316) to P30,000 ($632) per academic year, grants-in-aid, and study-now, pay later loans.
Ridon will call on the CHTE to conduct a motu proprio hearing next week to summon concerned Ched officials to explain the irregularities.
Ridon also said that he will file a similar resolution to investigate the reported P3.1 billion ($65 million) fund that Ched received from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that remains unliquidated.
The COA noted in its recent report that “inadequate monitoring mechanisms and enforcement of the liquidation/refund thereof from recipient State Universities and Colleges” resulted in P3.1 billion out of the P4 billion ($84 million) DAP fund received by Ched remain unliquidated.
The said funds, according to COA, were meant to upgrade infrastructure in SUCs, and fund grants-in-aid programs and researches.
“Where did these funds go? Why are these funds unliquidated? Clearly, there is something fishy going on. Congress needs to look into this matter, and see whether criminal acts – even corruption – has transpired. We are particularly concerned since these monies come from the controversial DAP,” Ridon said.
Meanwhile, a group of students from the Samahan ng mga Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) protested in front of Ched’s main office in Quezon City on Jan. 13.
“This development highlights the deception of President Aquino’s government in repeatedly boasting that it has increasingly expanded spending on education, with the number of beneficiaries of financial assistance programs increasing 10-fold in 2014,” said SPARK National Coordinator Vin Buenaagua.
“But in reality, the budget it has allotted failed to reach those students who need it the most, because of inefficiency and shady practices in the bureaucracy,” he added.
Buenaagua said the COA report is not unexpected, with the government’s approach to student financial assistance. “Like what we have seen in the pork barrel system and the disbursement acceleration program (DAP), allocating a huge sum of resources in lump-sum to be spent on previously unspecified items, is prone to patronage, corrupt practices and under spending.”
Buenaagua pointed out that an across-the board increase in spending on education provides a better, more efficient and just alternative. He said if Stufap aims to encourage students to pursue education, there is no better way of doing this than to increase its quality and accessibility.
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines-Diliman University Student Council (UPD-USC) member Joanne Lim described this development as disturbing. She said the death of UP freshman Kristel Tejada, Cagayan’s Rosemary Sanfuego and the reported death of EARIST student, Jhoemary Azaula show that matriculation and financial capability are matters of life and death.
“That there are funds which did not reach beneficiaries in time or did not reach them at all, is nothing less Thanatos injustice,” Lim said.
The group demands that the Aquino government and the Ched administration must be held accountable. “Reports like this mean nothing if no one is punished once irregularities are exposed. Transparency without accountability is nothing,” she added.