CCT. Let’s make every centavo count

CCT or Conditional Cash Transfers. The Philippine government appears to focus its efforts on the poor, young students by giving  a 69% increase in this program just in one year. At the same time for the 1.5 million college educated but unfortunately unemployed, they do not get the same kind of support program. As what the writer of this article says, we have to every centavo count. The 1.5 million will not like it if this is just wasted instead of being extended to them for their needs.


Getting budget priorities right

Who should the government help first — the unemployed college graduates who have invested a lot of money, time, and effort to complete 14 years of education or the young, poor students who are just starting with their basic education? If the government has unlimited resources — an oxymoron — then it ought to help both groups. But we all know that budget resources are finite.

I don’t understand why the government does not have an active program to enable those who have helped themselves by getting a college education, to get employed. Based on the most recent labor numbers, more than 4 out of 10 unemployed or 1.2 million are either college graduates or undergraduates. I don’t know how many of the 8 million underemployed are college graduates or undergraduates; the government does not publish such numbers.

Many of the educated unemployed are nurses or nursing graduates. And here’s the painful truth: not all of them went through the public school system. Many went through the private school system, the government didn’t have to use taxpayer’s money for their college education.

They didn’t receive any subsidy to stay in school. They persevered to get their degrees without government’s help. And now what? After investing in a college education, they can’t get a decent job. What a waste of resources. It’s like putting up a manufacturing plant and then leaving it underutilized — if not totally idle.

But there’s a big difference: factories are inanimate, the educated unemployed are people with feelings, dreams, and aspirations. The educated unemployed can be frustrated and alienated. Right now, they feel that their government has failed them.

When the world economy was booming, many of the college-educated Filipinos didn’t care about their government. They had an escape valve — overseas employment. But that window of opportunity is fast closing. Where to now, college graduates?

Now contrast this lack of support for the educated unemployed with the heavily supported conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. The program is designed to prevent children from dropping out of school. The CCT program with a budget of P23 billion this year will have a higher allocation of P39 billion in 2012, or by a whopping increase of 69.6%.

The Department of Education’s budget in 2012 will increase by P22 billion to P228 billion. The budget increase will fund the hiring of new teachers, construction and rehabilitation of classrooms, and procurement of new school desks and chairs.

Consider the contrast: from 2011 to 2012, the budget for the CCT program will increase by P16 billion or 69.6% while the budget for the Education Department will increase by only P22 billion or by 10.7%.

The CCT program is well intentioned. But whether it will really achieve its objectives has not been tested in the Philippines. I am not aware of any social experiment that tests whether the CCT program will truly cut dropout rates among young Filipino students.

Will the CCT program really reduce the dropout rates at the elementary education level? It’s too early Right now, fragmentary evidence shows that dropout rates continue to persist. And there are reports that the leaks in the system continue — those who are supposed to receive benefits are not benefited, while some who are not supposed to benefit are benefited. There are some reports that the ATM cards for the program beneficiaries have been used for money laundering.

In a Philippine Institute for Development Studies Policy Note titled “Why are some Filipino children not in school?” authored by Jose Ramos Albert, Francis Quimba, and Andre Philippe Ramos, the writers noted that children will continue to drop out from school for many reasons especially if crowding in classrooms persist due to lack of teachers.

The researchers suggested that the government should implement measures that will not only augment the finances of the families to be able to send their children to school but also ways to address other problems like the quality of education.

In order to enhance the benefits from the program, Senate President Enrile wants more conditions under the CCT program. In addition to requiring beneficiaries to send their children to school regularly, having them immunized, and mothers getting pre-natal and maternal healthcare, Enrile wants the beneficiaries to do more, like planting trees and cleaning their surroundings.

The question is, why expand the program when the benefits have yet to be tested? The 70% expansion in the CCT program may be too big and too soon. What if the intended benefits are not realized?

Of course, the first best solution is responsible parenthood and the RH bill. No one should be brought into this world unless parents can reasonably guarantee a good life for their child. Yet, even this all-important RH bill is taking forever to get approved by Congress. For many families and their children, that bill could spell the difference between a good life and a miserable existence. Pass the RH bill now.

With the huge amount of funds committed to the CCT program, and its proposed quantum expansion, the Executive Department should be prepared to answer tough questions on how the program is being implemented, how the beneficiaries are chosen, the existence of an exit plan, and what measures are being put in place to ensure transparency and fiscal accountability.

Its implementation should be fiscally airtight, open, and should stand close scrutiny by Congress and the Filipino people.

This early, a monitoring system should be designed and implemented by the Commission on Audit. A separate audit team should be organized for each region. This will facilitate comparison of performance for purposes of choosing the best way of executing the program. Quarterly reports should be submitted to the President and both houses of Congress.

In the meantime, independent (meaning no ties, past or present, to the administrators of the CCT program) academic institutions should be commissioned by Congress to conduct rapid assessment of the CCT — its implementation mechanism and how to enhance its program benefits.

In order to enhance openness, the list of beneficiaries, per region, province, and municipality, should be made public, to be posted in the DSWD Web site, in order to avoid “ghost’” beneficiaries and/or giving benefits to those who are undeserving. This is being done now, but the list should be improved, and access to the file should be made more people-friendly.

Restriction should be imposed on how much of the fund can be used for administering the program. In order to minimize the administrative costs, existing staff should be utilized to the hilt. If the implementation of the CCT program has to be outsourced to private companies, the selection process has to go through competitive bidding.

And in order to ensure fiscal accountability, the money should be released only through accountable, usually bonded, DSWD officials.

The P39 billion allocated for the CCT program is an enormous sum of money. The bigger the amount, the higher the standards for openness and fiscal accountability.

The people’s agents, the members of Congress, in their exercise of their congressional power of the purse, should ask tough questions about the program. In turn, executive officials should be willing to give clear, concise, and satisfactory answers.

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