Senators question TESDA for unused funds from 2019 and 2020 budgets

Senators raised concern over the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s (TESDA) capability to spend the funds given to them by Congress after finding out that the agency still has over billions of unused appropriations from 2019 and 2020.

At the hearing of the Senate finance subcommittee on the TESDA’s P13.7-billion proposed 2021 budget, TESDA director-general Isidro Lapeña said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the implementation of their scholarship programs and thus, their utilization of their budget.

“Due to the pandemic, the implementation of TESDA’s programs was affected, as such our obligation rate as of August 28 is at 43 percent while our disbursement rate is 92 percent,” Lapeña briefed senators.

Senator Nancy Binay, however, noted that the agency has also yet to fully utilize the remaining funds from its 2019 budget.

The TESDA still has P3.6 billion unspent money from 2019, and P7.2 billion for 2020, based on its presentation in the hearing.

Senator Joel Villanueva shared the observation, citing a report from the budget department that the TESDA only spent some 75 percent of its allocated budget for 2019. He also mentioned that the dismal enrollment in TESDA training programs this year, with only 12,393 enrolled across all programs, out of the over 300,000 total target beneficiaries.

“Importante na malaman natin ‘yong (It’s important that we know the) capacity of TESDA to use these funds,” Villanueva said, citing that the TESDA, under the Bayanihan 2, was also given a P1-billion budget to implement training-for-work scholarship program for workers displaced by the pandemic.

“Ang dilemma ng mga kasamahan sa Senado na magagawa ba ‘yan, maee-execute ba ‘yan (The dilemma of our colleagues in the Senate whether or not you can implement or execute your programs)? Magagamit ba ‘yan (Will those funds be used)?” he said as he is set to defend the TESDA’s proposed budget.

Lapeña, however, said only P687 million of their 2019 funds remains unspent.

He said their “catch-up” plan is to fill the 215,000 slots for TESDA scholars by the end of 2020. He was optimistic that they will be able to fill all the training slots in the remaining three months of the year.

But Binay asked: “Kaya pa ba (Can you do that)? Kaya pa bang magastos ‘yong pera o talagang a certain portion of the budget eh magrerevert back na lang to the treasury. (Can you actually spend all that money on time or really, a certain portion of the budget will just revert back to the national treasury)? [I’m] Just being realistic kasi nga, alam naman  nating naka-lockdown pa rin tayo at mahirap, walang face-to-face classes — may ganoong constraint ang TESDA (because we all know that we are still on lockdown and it will be difficult to hold classes, there are no face-to-face classes — those are some of the constraints for TESDA).”

“We are confident that we can use these funds para sa ating mga kababayan (for our people), your honor. Ang daming nangangailangan ng training (Many people will need the training), your honor. Kinakailangan kasi natin dito ‘pag nagkaroon ng (We were just waiting for the) lifting or improvement on our community quarantine, then we can go full steam ahead in our trainings,” Lapeña assured.

“We have a big number of enrollment and as soon as the community quarantine condition will improve, we can start training,” he added, saying TESDA regional offices have already started implementing flexible learning system and hybrid classes in some provinces.

Despite the underspending, the TESDA chief has asked the Senate for an additional funding of P14.18 billion “to implement the various priority programs and projects”, which include training programs on agriculture, construction, information technology, and health to aid in the country’s economic recovery.

Villanueva said he will look into the TESDA’s request “considering there are unused funds in 2019” and the dismal enrollment rate in their training programs this year.

Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher Go said he supports the TESDA’s proposed 2021 budget. “Tama lamang po na tulungan natin sila dito sa kanilang budget (It is just proper that we help them with their budget),” Go said in his brief manifestation during the hearing.

 

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