Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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The Learning curve

DepEd addresses underspending

I was so pleased to read the Department of Education’s response to my column “The burden of a large DepEd budget,” which cited more recent statistics than my July 2017 figures obtained from them. Of course, there is every reason to celebrate the welcome news of the DepEd’s 3-percent underspending (defined as “a government agency’s spending less than what was appropriated for its use as provided in the General Appropriations Act [GAA]… an indication of programs/projects/activities not being implemented according to scheduled plans”) in 2017, from 10 percent in 2016.

I am more than happy to stand corrected, especially on optimistic reports on what ought to be everyone’s priority focus, education. Education issues affect all of us and the future of the next generation, the future of this nation.

That the government realizes this — and how much the Philippine educational system has to catch up with our Asean neighbors and the rest of the world — is seen in its allocation of 22 percent of its total budget in the GAA of 2017, P543.19 billion—the highest among all departments and agencies. That was an increase of 32 percent from 2016.

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To understand the efforts of the current DepEd administration to address underspending, one has to recognize the major factors it identified and recognized as the causes in the 2016 budget: procurement, data management, savings. The procurement process was complicated, and there was a failure in bidding. For the DepEd computerization program, there were four rebids, three rebids for the science and math equipment, and copyright authorization issues for textbook and learning materials.

Related to these are the limitations of the local market and industry to meet the huge and complex demands of the DepEd, especially for its computerization program and the need for technical-vocational-livelihood equipment in the K-to-12 program.

The bulk of funds for programs such as  Abot-Alam (“Knowledge within Reach” program for out of school youth), basic education facilities, operations of secondary schools and the school-based feeding program for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was downloaded only in the last quarter of the calendar year, as it was dependent on the availability of sufficient data for the release of the funds.

Another factor that reflected underspending was real savings from the difference in cost in the approved budget for the approved contract, rather than the actual contract amount spent.

One also has to bear in mind the amount of documentation and paper trail needed for any budget outlay in the bureaucracy, something which is public knowledge. When underspent accounts are seen in the annual budget hearings, the logical conclusion is that these are not truly needed and may benefit other government agencies with bigger needs. There is no question about it, the DepEd needs every peso it has been allocated.

How have these been addressed to maximize the use of a generous budget in the largest bureaucracy? Among the many implemented financial reforms to improve and streamline the absorptive capacity of the DepEd that are of particular interest and significance to me are the creation of an Education Programs Delivery Unit to facilitate faster programs delivery, more Bids and Awards Committees to fast-track procurement, financial management operations training for its personnel, streamlined downloading of funds, and improved budget planning and execution for the “same year delivery challenge.”

Being a direct witness to the difficulties of preparing thick documentation for what appears to me as legitimate and justifiable expenses which have been budgeted for in the National Book Development Board, for instance, one wonders how corruption happens under the COA watch. What magic, what witchcraft do these wily parties employ?

How the largesse of a large budget impacts the quality of teaching and learning certainly bears watching. There is no time to waste, there is no excuse for any inadequacy. There must be an evident marked improvement in our educational system. May Secretary Leonor Briones’ dream upon assuming office in 2016 of achieving “our goal of quality, accessible, relevant and liberating education for all” come closer to our reach. Our students are worthy of nothing less.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: DepEd, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, The Learning Curve, underspending
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