THE Commission on Audit (COA) questioned the Cebu City Government’s use of P9.1 million from the Special Education Fund (SEF) last year for teachers’ activities, saying these expenses were “unnecessary” and “excessive”.
The Local School Board assured, however, that the disbursements for the teachers’ activities can be justified.
The bulk of the amount, at P8.2 million, paid for services and purchases in connection with the Teachers’ Day for an estimated 5,000 public elementary and high school teachers.
It included the payments for the food and venue in the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino (P3.57 million); purchase of 5,300 sacks of rice (P2.9 million) and various appliances as door prizes (P1.75 million); and payment for flowers used during the celebration (P10,000).
Some P772,200, on the other hand, paid for the training and seminar of 221 teachers in effective communications and proper handling of media, and P105,000 for the annual Don Sergio Osmeña Sr. Academic Excellence Award.
In an audit observation memorandum (AOM) dated Feb. 2, State Auditor IV and Audit Team Leader Daisy Bercede said the use of the P9.1 million from the SEF has no legal basis and contradicts Republic Act (RA) 7120, the Local Government Code.
Section 272 states that the SEF, which is one percent of real property taxes, should only be used to operate and maintain public schools; construct or repair school buildings, facilities and equipment; conduct education research; buy books and periodicals; and sports development.
Bercede described as “extravagant and unnecessary” the holding of the Teachers’ Day in the Waterfront Hotel, as well as the giving of door prizes and sacks of rice.
The amount, she said, could have been used to implement priority programs and projects of the Local School Board.
COA also questioned the purchase of the rice as it was done through a negotiated procurement with San Antonio Rice and Corn Trading located in the Mandaue City Public Market.
Bercede observed that the request for a price quotation of the goods did not indicate a brief description, and said that this prevented “a fair, transparent and competitive pricing.”
“It also prevented the review on the reasonableness of the amount paid by the government,” she said.
For the Don Sergio Academic Excellence Award, Bercede said the receipt for the activity was dated April 13, 2013. But the notice of award was dated Sept. 6, 2013, while the purchase order was dated Sept. 9, 2013.
“This also cast doubt on the validity, legality and propriety of the disbursement,” she said.
COA then asked the City to explain why the expenditures were charged to the SEF, saying they will disallow the transaction if the reason is not tenable.
They also recommended to the school board to assess properly the purpose of an activity in order to make sure that government funds are protected.
They added that the City should strictly observe the guidelines in the use of the SEF.
Mayor Michael Rama’s response, which was included in the AOM, said the use of the P9.1 million from the SEF did not violate RA 7160.
“The phrase ‘operation and maintenance of public schools’ is broad enough to include the expenses that redound to the benefit of the students in particular and to the public school system in general,” he said.
Local School Board head Raddy Diola, in an interview yesterday, said that the transactions, especially for the Teachers’ Day celebration, can be justified.
He said he did not consider the activity and the venue extravagant, saying that the City only spent P500 to P1,000 for each public school teacher.
“There are more than 5,000 of them,” he said.
Diola explained that RA 7160, which was passed in 1991, did not repeal some provisions of RA 5447 or the law creating the SEF, which was passed in 1968. RA 5447, he said, allows the giving of “fringe benefits” to public school teachers.
“You know, there is only confusion because of the law. It should really be clarified to avoid all these problems,” he said.
Diola said he has already raised the matter to COA when the City and the state auditors had an exit conference last Friday.