A “GRADING SYSTEM” NEEDS TO TRACK DOWN EDUCATION EXPENDITURES
|Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, questioning Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. during a public hearing on the proposed 2015 budget of the Office of the President last week.|
Senator Chiz Escudero is proposing a “grading system” that will track down education expenditures after education officials failed to report on the status of classrooms built, books bought, teachers hired this year, for which Congress appropriated billions of pesos during the Department of Education’s (DepEd) budget hearing last week.
Escudero, chairman of the senate committee on finance said, DepEd officials left many pertinent questions on key education projects unanswered. “It was like a spot quiz. I wanted to know how the agency has allocated the P309 billion budget of the year.”
Escudero asked, “how many of the 33,194 teachers who were supposed to be hired this year have joined the DepEd workforce?” DepEd officials present, who included all regional directors, could not give a number. They instead promised to collate the data and submit it to the Senate “as soon as possible.”
As to the 43,183 classrooms programmed to be built in 2015 have been completed, DepEd officials did not possess the information on how many brand-new classrooms have been turned over and being used. Regarding the 42.6 million books and the 1.6 million new chairs, the same reply: No data available.
Even a purchase which Escudero stressed, was easy to track because of smaller volume involved – 38,315 sets of science and laboratory equipment – “also escaped the DepEd radar.”
He said “if the fund absorptive capacity of DepEd is low, then we must identify what and where the spending and implementation bottlenecks are.”
“The approved national budget is like a lesson plan to spend. If this is the way how low and slow the way we spend, we are worsening the problems in the public schools, Escudero pointed out.
Escudero said “spending chokepoints in DepEd, or in the DBM which releases the funds, or in the DPWH which builds some of the classrooms must be identified and decongested. We want to maximize their fiscal space.”
Because Congress saw to it that the General Appropriation Act (GAA) will take effect “on the first hour of the first day of the first month of the year” then agencies are not pressed for time in utilizing funds, Escudero added.
He reminded Education officials present that Congress acted on their plea for higher funding on the premise “that it was for urgent things and on the promise that it will be spent promptly.”
“When we approved your request, in full and without deduction, you entered into a contract with us that the personnel will be hired and the equipment will be bought in time for the start of the school year and you have a six-month lead time,” he said.
He reminded DepEd officials that the Senate has always given “preferential treatment” to their request. When it is DepEd budget: Do not delay.’’
Escudero said “procurement and recruitment chokepoints” must be addressed this early so that the department would be able to “absorb tens of billions for new teachers, classrooms, and books next year.”
For 2015, government will open up 39,066 teaching positions at a first year compensation cost of P9.3 billion.
A selection window of six months is more than enough, Escudero insisted.
Escudero also noted that there is P52.88 billion in the DepEd “wish list” for 1.3 million chairs, 31,728 new classrooms, for the repair of 9,500 classrooms, the purchase of 1.3 million seats, and the setting up of 455 vocational laboratories.
“These must be procured in the fastest time possible without circumventing procurement, accounting and auditing rules,” he said. /MP