CHEd found spending less than half of Bayanihan 2 funds
The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) spent only less than half of the P3.3 billion in funds for online learning that it received last year under the Bayanihan 2 law, a report from the Commission on Audit (COA) showed.
The COA said its 2020 audit found out that CHEd was able to spend only P1.33 billion, or 40.61 percent of the total allocation.
State auditors noted that of the P3-billion allocation for the provision of financial and material assistance to state universities and colleges, or SUCs, to develop smart campuses through investments in ICT infrastructure, acquisition of learning management system and appropriate equipment, which included the purchase of 20,000 units of laptops for the implementation of flexible learning, only 1.04 billion was obligated or spent.
Need for in-depth reviews
It was, however, able to use P299.9 million of the P300 million in subsidies and allowances to qualified students of public and private tertiary education institutions.
In response to the COA, CHEd said the delay in disbursing the funds was caused by the need for in-depth reviews by technical experts.
“The review process took some time as this involves iterations of comments from experts and revisions by proponent SUCs,” CHEd said, as cited by the COA in its report.
CHEd added that Typhoons “Rolly” and “Ulysses” also moved the timetable of the project and this was compounded by the lack of additional staff to help undertake the project.
It said it used existing employees and implementation was further hampered by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
State auditors said the low usage rate of the allotted budget for 2020 prevented the timely and efficient implementation of the major programs of CHEd.
The COA ordered CHEd to come up with a strategy or catch-up action plan to immediately address the gaps or setbacks encountered in the implementation of its programs and projects. In the same audit report, the COA also flagged the CHEd regional offices in the National Capital Region and Region 1 for the unused subsidy funds under the Bayanihan 2 for Higher Education Tulong Program (B2HELP), which sought to provide a one-time fixed grant of P5,000 to qualified students whose families faced financial difficulties due to the pandemic.
Out of a total budget of P71.37 million, state auditors said P26.27 million remained undisbursed as of Dec. 31, 2020.
The COA said this “deprived some qualified grantees of their financial benefits which could have contributed for their educational needs.”
According to the COA, some participating higher education institutions also failed to submit the appropriate application documents within the timeline or schedule set.
The CHEd problem reflected the bigger issue on unspent funds for the government’s pandemic response efforts.
The Department of Budget and Management earlier reported that as of June 25 this year, some P168.7 billion in approved COVID-related funds have remained unused by various state agencies.
Bureaucratic red tape
This was a fourth of the P665.7 billion already released to departments and agencies since the onset of the pandemic in March last year.
Bureaucratic red tape—those unnecessary paperwork, documents and procedures that take time—prevented many departments from spending billions of pesos to address the pandemic.
The Senate has promised to look into why government agencies failed to fully disburse their funds under the two Bayanihan laws that had already lapsed and the unused funds reverting to the Treasury.
Topping the list of agencies with unspent allocations was the Department of Health (DOH), the lead agency in the fight against the pandemic.
Of the P157.4 billion in approved fund releases to the DOH across the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws plus the 2021 budget, only P51.4 billion had been spent as of last month, DBM documents showed.
While a total of only P9.69 billion out of the COVID response allotments in the 2021 budget had been obligated so far, the unused funds amounting to P57.3 billion could still be disbursed for the remainder of the year.
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