University University Feature

Student orgs raise ‘red tape’ concerns over University procurement process

As of the Second Term of Academic Year 2017-2018, the University administration obliged student organizations to undergo the procurement process for sizeable transactions with external suppliers. This was done with the intention of promoting transparency and accountability in the financial practices that these groups entail.

This, however, did not sit well with students. Officials from both the University Student Government (USG) and the Council of Student Organizations (CSO) officials have lodged complaints over excessive bureaucracy in the new standard, with delays and cancellations plaguing planned student activities.


A long and winding process

In an interview with The LaSallian, Procurement Office Director Elvira Tang discusses the rationale for procurement practices and procedures, explaining that their office ensures that due diligence is exercised and that cost efficiency is attained when conducting transactions. Compliance with policies and standard practices is also a major factor their office focuses on when conducting these activities.

The procurement process is employed when student organizations, faculty members, departments, and offices need material or services from an external supplier.

For student organizations, they must first file a Request for Procurement of Services and Materials Form, to be signed by the director of the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement, Formation, and Empowerment. Depending on the nature of the request, the form must also be signed by other offices involved, if required.

The approved form is then sent to the Accounting Office to confirm that the organization has enough money to pay for the purchase. Once this is done, the request is finally sent to the Procurement Office, who will then process the payment and arrange for the delivery of products or services.

Tang further elaborates on the two ways procurement is conducted, which are through regular canvassing or through bidding. For requests that cost P299,999 or below, regular canvassing is used, which allows the requesting unit to choose a preferred supplier. Requests that cost more than P300,000, on the other hand, are bidded out to potential suppliers. Regular canvassing usually takes around 13 to 20 working days, while bidding takes much longer, lasting between 22 to 30 working days.

For requests that cost more than a million, the waiting time is extended even further as it requires the approval of both the University Chancellor and the University President. She notes that this waiting time can be shortened if the same order was made by the requesting unit within the last three months, or if the supplier is the sole manufacturer or distributor available.

But this was not always the case for student organizations. CSO Executive Vice Chairperson for Finance Nicolle Bien Madrid reveals that previously, student organizations were not required to undergo procurement. Instead, materials were paid for by obtaining a cash advance from the Accounting Office.

“Before [my predecessor], it was more of students contacting suppliers. They will process either a memorandum of agreement or a quotation to the Officer of the University Legal Counsel (OULC). The OULC will then certify if it’s legitimate then the [payment] will be processed,” he explains.

When asked why the change of procedure was mandated, Madrid elaborates that the University is required to comply with regulatory practices that ensure transactions are fair, transparent, and legitimate.



Procurement hurdles

The most common problem with the procurement process encountered by student organizations is the increased waiting time and the prolonged delivery lead time. Tang clarifies that the latter issue is standardized depending on the item.

For example, flyers require at least 25 days of lead time, while requests for electronic equipment need only 12 days. “There are requests that are by order basis. Pag order basis, ito yung oorderin pa ng suppliers abroad and [the] community minsan hindi aware na kailangan pa i-source out from other countries, o kailangan pa i-fabricate or manufacture,” she elaborates.

(There are requests that are by order basis. In this case, the supplier has to first order it from abroad. The ones who request are sometimes unaware of the need to outsource it from other countries, or that the order needs to first be fabricated or manufactured.)

USG Executive Treasurer Adi Briones, meanwhile, expresses concern regarding the amount of manpower available in the Procurement Office in contrast to the large number of student organizations in DLSU. He adds that there is a lack of accredited suppliers who can provide cheaper prices or can provide specialized equipment.

The lack of direct communication with the supplier can also mean that they might not fully understand the specifications of the request. “Right now, we’re not allowed to talk to the suppliers because [the communications flow] right now is from students to the Procurement Office [and then] to the suppliers,” Briones explains.

Briones further argues that prices are negatively affected because suppliers will not offer student discounts to the office, stating, “The quotation that they provide to the Procurement Office [is] much higher than the usual quotation that they charge students.”

Madrid observes that organizations now have to take into account the increased planning time needed, limiting the flexibility of organizations since officers only have a year of tenure. “There’s the problem that there are processes that Procurement Office will say that ‘It’s no longer possible.’ It’s not an isolated case; [there are] a lot of activities that get delayed,” he says in Filipino.

Kryszle Escobar, Vice President for Finance of Business Management Society, laments the difficulty of accrediting preferred suppliers, citing that the process can take months due to the amount of documents needed from the company. “Not all companies have those documents. Preferred suppliers or venues tend to not get accredited,” she explains.

Delays such as this, she adds, have caused these activities to be moved or cancelled completely, citing one of their projects, Red Ink Magazine, as an example. Originally intended for print, it was instead published online due to time constraints.

Alexandra Austria, who previously served as Vice President for Finance in the European Studies Association, echoes Escobar’s sentiments, emphasizing that the change made it more difficult to process requests. “Once you make a mistake with the papers, you have to go back to a certain step to have the papers countersigned,” she states.

Aside from this, Austria highlights the difficulty they face in communicating with the Procurement Office, citing that delivery details, for example, are not properly imparted to them. The officers are thus forced to contact the supplier instead for clarification, defeating the purpose of having the Procurement Office as an intermediary.


Negotiating a student-friendly solution

Currently, both CSO and USG are attempting to reach a “workable” compromise with the administration on the procurement process. Proposals pitched by the student-led bodies include the creation of a procurement manual, the reinstatement of the cash advance, and the implementation of a threshold system where the procurement process will only be utilized once a certain amount is reached.

Briones says that reaching a compromise with the administration requires understanding both sides of the issue. “The Procurement Office also has difficulties with the concerns of the students. [They] will mention that most of the student concerns are urgent requests or specialized concerns, [and] sometimes they fail to communicate these specialized concerns to the suppliers,” he notes.

Tang admits that the office gets overwhelmed at times by the number of requests they receive. “There are days wherein the Procurement Office only receives around only 25 requests, while there are days where they come in at a larger volume. If I’m not mistaken, there are around 80 student organizations, so there are a lot of different requests weekly,” she explains in Filipino.

For Madrid and Briones, the task of reaching a holistic resolution remains. “We really hope that before the end of our term, [Adi and I] can reach a compromise with the administration for better student organization processes,” Madrid says.


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