Weak paper pushing snags CHED spending

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COMMISSION on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Patricia Licuanan on Saturday clarified that some P1.23 billion appropriated for college scholarships in 2014 was not spent because of the commission’s weak paper pushing, not “apparent lapses,” as observed by the Commission on Audit (COA).

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Licuanan said that during an exit conference with the auditing body in July last year, documentation for obligation of funds from the CHED regional offices still needed updating.

“In fact, by December 31, 2015, the remaining P1.2-billion 2014 budget, which had a validity of two years, had been fully obligated with an assurance that the beneficiaries will be paid,” she noted in a statement.

The COA, in its 2014 annual audit report released last week, said out of the P5.2 billion appropriated in 2014 for college scholarships, grants-in-aid and study-now, pay-later loans, about P1.23 billion remained unspent because of CHED’s low absorptive capacity.

The audit body cited several irregularities in disbursement of the scholarship fund, including unliquidated cash advances and ineffective monitoring and other operational lapses that resulted in “internal control weaknesses in the processing and releasing of claims.”

CHED’s Student Financial Assistance Programs (Stufap) includes scholarships ranging from P15,000 to P30,000 per academic year, grants-in-aid and study-now, pay later loans.

The COA also noted that “inadequate monitoring mechanisms and enforcement of the liquidation/refund thereof from recipient SUC [state universities and colleges]” resulted in the P3.13 billion out of the P4 billion DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] fund received by CHED remaining unliquidated.

According to state auditors, the fund was meant to upgrade infrastructure in the SUCs and shoulder grants-in-aid programs and researches.

In 2013, the Supreme Court declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of congressmen unconstitutional.

In response, the lawmakers realigned their PDAF allocations to the calamity fund and six agencies, including CHED that was expected to use the allocations for scholarship assistance to students.

As a consequence, CHED’s Stufap composed of scholarships, grants-in-aid and loans totaling 58,155 slots in the amount of P997 million in academic year 2013-2014, ballooned nearly seven times to 391,817 slots in academic year 2014-2015 amounting to P4.87 billion, testing the carrying capacity of the agency,” Licuanan noted.

The CHED chief said with the passage of the proposed Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) law, all government scholarship and grants-in-aid programs will be harmonized and unified.

“This is expected to further promote equity as well as rationalize access to quality higher and technical education for students in need,” Licuanan added.

Under the UniFAST Act, all existing publicly-funded national government programs for scholarships, grants-in-aid and student loans for tertiary education will be synchronized by a board based on a unified and definite set of guidelines and targets.

This scholarship law will cover over one million graduating high school students who do not qualify for the Iskolar ng Bayan program, the new initiative that ensures the top 10 graduates of every public high school will be entitled to admission to state universities and colleges without having to pay for first-year tuition and miscellaneous fees.

“The implementation of UniFAST is also expected to improve the delivery of student financial assistance,” Licuanan said.

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