P1.2-B fund for poor Philippine students unspent: Commission on Audit

SOME P1.23 billion (S$37 million) meant to help poor students through college had gone unspent due to the faulty implementation of the government's student assistance programs.

State auditors uncovered several "internal control weaknesses" in the way the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) allocated slots, and processed and released allowances under its student financial assistance programs (Stufaps).

In 2014, the CHEd was allocated P5.2 billion to help 391,817 poor college students-nearly 10 times more than its usual number of beneficiaries-through scholarships, grants-in-aid and study-now, pay-later loans.

But P1.23 billion of that amount went unspent because the CHEd was not able to "absorb" its allocation, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).

Multiple payments

In its 2014 report released only this week, COA uncovered several "deficiencies" such as the following:

Excess, double or multiple payments made to 703 students totaling P3.44 million.

Cash advances of P108 million, which cannot be verified to have been received by the beneficiaries.

Delayed release of allowances by up to 14 months to at least 25,442 students.

Checks worth P9.3 million that were not claimed because the beneficiaries were not notified.

"Our audit of the Stufaps showed internal control weaknesses in the processing and releasing of claims, contrary to CHEd Memorandum Order No. 13 series of 2014, and existing accounting and auditing rules and regulations," the COA said.

The agency was referring to the CHEd's revised guidelines for the implementation of its student assistance programs.

The CHEd's student financial assistance consists of scholarships worth P15,000 and P30,000; grants-in-aid worth P6,000, P9,000 and P12,000; and study-now, pay-later loans of P15,000 all given for each academic year.

Priority courses

Student beneficiaries are required to enroll in CHEd-identified priority courses in authorised colleges and universities, with scholars required to maintain a minimum grade average.

In 2014, the CHEd opened 351,910 new slots on top of its 39,907 beneficiaries for its student assistance programs with a budget of P5.23 billion. The CHEd central and regional offices, state universities and colleges handled the processing.

But the surge in the number of slots for student beneficiaries was "beyond their (CHEd's) absorptive capacity, resulting in operational deficiencies, thus adversely affecting the implementation of the programme," the COA said.

The COA added that the CHEd did not follow its own formula in allocating slots per region when it opened 340,280 new slots under the Tulong Dunong grants-in-aid programme. "(H)ence, it is not responsive to the number of student applicants in a particular district/region."

The CHEd committed several "operational lapses," said state auditors, such as when it increased the target number of beneficiaries without additional personnel in the scholarship section, resulting in delayed processing of claims and unused funds.

Other lapses include:

- Ineffective monitoring of scholarship programs.

-Checks issued without adequate documentation.

-Unauthorized granting of cash advances to agency officials to pay the grantees.

-Late submission of monthly financial reports and liquidation documents.

- Incomplete records.

Payments of allowances not made through colleges that have at least 10 beneficiaries.

Not on master list

The COA found that 34 students received allowances amounting P384,000 even though their names were not on the master list of beneficiaries of the CHEd office in Eastern Visayas, while allowances totaling P117.9 million were paid without proper documentation in three regional offices.

The audit agency also found "inadequate" the implementation of the government's university-based student loan programs with a P1.065-billion allocation.

It said loan funds in the amount of P29 million were not used in CHEd central office and its offices in Bicol and Northern Mindanao, while most of the participating universities were no longer monitored.

The COA also found that loan funds totaling P2.48 million were "misused" in Northern Mindanao when these were diverted to funding the construction of four laboratory classrooms.

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