[OPINION] DepEd underspends too

September 29, 2017 at 13:00

DepEd underspends too

Old excuses are falling by the wayside. In the past, the reason why we did not have enough classrooms is because there was not enough money to build. Civic groups pool funds to build some of the classrooms.

Sen. Frank Drilon used his pork barrel fund for classrooms built by the Federation of Chinese Chambers of Commerce because the classrooms were built cheaper, faster and better than the ones built by DPWH. After Yolanda, ABS-CBN Foundation built some beautiful classrooms in Tacloban faster than DPWH could get bureaucratic papers processed.

Money is no longer a problem that can be used to explain why public school pupils hold classes under the mango trees. During a hearing for next year’s budget, Sen Loren Legarda found out that DPWH has been too slow in building the classrooms for DepEd.

According to DepEd they still have unobligated funds for the construction of classrooms worth P196 million from their 2016 budget. For this year, DepEd also said the DPWH had a remaining balance of P76 billion or 70 percent of the P109 billion in the 2017 budget for the construction of classrooms.

This is horrible. Sen. Legarda wondered if DPWH can still build those classrooms in the remaining three months. The unobligated amounts meant for classrooms from the 2016 and the 2017 budgets would all expire by December 2017, if not obligated.

It is not fair to blame DepEd for a failure that totally belongs to DPWH. DepEd’s mandate is to teach. They do not have expertise to build classrooms, which is why this task was delegated to DPWH. But it seems DPWH, under Secretary Mark Villar, also doesn’t have what it takes to build the classrooms.

 There was a time when a very innovative DepEd usec, the late Francis Varela, utilized PPP to build classrooms. It was a good idea because the contractor advanced the money needed and they had to be efficient in building the classrooms to start getting paid soonest over a period of time as a multi-year obligation of government.

Indeed, some of the contractors ended up spending more than they figured because it took DepEd a while to tell them where to build the classrooms. And very often, the sites are so remote it was costly to bring construction supplies there.

But the schoolrooms were built. Despite the initial problems they faced, the private sector entities that participated in that first PPP venture were ready to do a second round. But DPWH apparently insisted they can do it… except that they can’t as we are finding out now in the same way that they can’t build bridges over the Pasig River or anywhere else since Duterte took office.

DepEd itself has not been too good in using their budget. They returned to the Treasury P21.5 billion last year. This means there have been a number of things they were supposed to do, but failed to do… like hiring new teachers.

“Before we even talk about giving you a new budget, we want to know why you returned P21.5 billion. Last week, we were very disappointed, saddened by the Department of Transportation returning P11.5 billion. Now we see DepEd returning P21.5 billion,” Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee complained.

Sen. Legarda asked DepEd to submit a memo listing the programs and infrastructures that were not done when the money was reverted to unappropriated surplus of the government’s general fund and specifying the reasons why it happened.

Looking at the table sent to me by the office of Sen. Legarda, I note that DepEd has an unobligated balance of about P45 billion from the 2016 budget that must be returned to the General Fund by year-end. For the current 2017 budget, over P395 billion remains unobligated, giving DepEd a rather low 34 percent obligation rate as of June 2017. Since obligation doesn’t mean expenditure, that means they actually spent less than that 34 percent.

Looking at the numbers, one wonders if any work is getting done. Maybe we can reduce taxes because the line agencies seem unable to spend the money on needed projects, anyway. Having more money than needed with the Treasury only invites the thieving eyes of our politicians to waste our money on themselves.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones told the Senators they are having difficulty keeping up with its spending backlog from 2015, even as they are also trying to catch up with using its 2016 budget. That’s new for me… spending backlog.

Regarding the P21.5 billion DepEd returned last year, it meant they lost the opportunity to spend on the following: P12 billion for teacher positions, P5 billion for the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe), P1.3 billion for the provision and maintenance of basic education facilities, P1 billion for technical-vocational supplies and P3.6 billion for the provision of textbooks and instructional materials.

“Now we are catching up with 2017 and we can only do it in phases,” Secretary Briones explained. She assured that they have introduced reforms, restructured their management system and tightened their cooperation with DPWH to address classroom backlogs. At least they are working to cut waste.

I have no doubt Secretary Briones is doing her best not just to use up her budget, but also to deliver the means by which her department can live up to the high expectations we all have. But as is the case with other departments, the bureaucracy is just unable to absorb the money being poured on them to solve age-old problems.

Now I am doubly worried that bureaucrats will just speed up obligating funds to present a nice report card and worry about spending later. This means they will still fail to deliver the services and facilities expected of them. Something is obviously wrong with the structure of government or the quality of government officials or both.

At least in the past when they were unable to build the classrooms, build the highways or deliver a functioning MRT, we could understand because we didn’t have enough money to meet all those needs. But now that money is not the problem, as Budget Secretary Ben Diokno keeps on saying, they have lost that excuse.

We need better managers as department secretaries and bureau directors, and less political interference so they can do their jobs well. It seems easier to kill suspected drug pushers than deliver a really functioning government.

Maybe trying to collect more taxes from the already long suffering middle class is premature. Figure out first if the money can be spent by people now in position to spend it.

Make sure we get the projects and services our taxes were collected to fund in the first place. It’s not happening now.

Source: http://www.philstar.com/business/2017/09/27/1742909/deped-underspends-too

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