For many student organizations, mobilizing the necessary funds for activities has been a major challenge—less for want of greater spending capacity, and more on the need to get around bureaucratic hurdles. Last year, The LaSallian delved into how the University’s procurement process presented a pitfall for student organizations. Finance heads of both the Council of Student Organizations (CSO) and the University Student Government (USG) promised back then to lobby for changes that would ease the burdens of student organizations.
When the second term of the current Academic Year (AY) began, student leaders have noted that new breakthroughs may indicate progress made toward resolving the longstanding finance issues faced by their organizations and government units.
Cornered on two sides
The heavy constraints on financing for student organizations were not as established before as they are now, with student organizations having a variety of options to support activities. But in AY 2017-2018, the University administration dramatically cut back on these available options. Reimbursements, used to repay members’ expenses from the organization’s account, were withdrawn from the options due to students’ incidents of financial negligence. Meanwhile, cash advances, obtained from the Accounting Office to pay for expenses prior to an activity, became restricted as the University struggled to comply with national regulatory practices.
As a result, student organizations were mandated to follow the University’s procurement process instead. Although it was intended to promote transparency and accountability in financial transactions, the lengthy lead times associated with the process made procurement greatly unpopular to students, who found it easy to blame the process for activity delays or cancellations.
Procurement Office Director Elvira Tang previously admitted that the office is overwhelmed by the number of requests, from student organizations, faculty departments, and administrative offices alike. CSO Chairperson Nicolle Bien Madrid himself also acknowledges this problem, as he explains in Filipino, “[The Procurement Office] also caters to a lot of offices, so we understand why procurement orders take so long, and oftentimes, students are also in a rush, which adds to the difficulty.”
Other than the troublesome procurement process, students were left to rely on the petty cash fund—a measly P3,000 allocation—of which only 70 percent could be spent per activity, lowering the usable amount to just P2,100. Additionally, organizations are only allowed a maximum of P600 to be refunded per receipt under the petty cash replenishment scheme.
At the start of the current AY, changes were finally introduced, beginning with the procurement process. Under the near-universally condemned standard procurement process, requests costing P299,999 and below took 13 to 20 days from start to finish. Students have to file a Request for Procurement of Services and Materials Form to be signed by other concerned offices. The Accounting Office also has to confirm that the organization has sufficient funds to pay for the purchase. Only then would the request be sent to the Procurement Office, who then processes the payment and arranges the delivery of the order.
With the new system, students are now given the Student Procurement Form (SPF) for expenses costing less than P50,000. This allows students to canvass and to contact suppliers themselves, simplifying procurement. Students additionally are requested to name three suppliers accredited by the University and include a justification for these choices.
Revisions for petty cash fund guidelines followed soon after, just introduced this term. From just P3,000, the petty cash fund was raised to P7,000, which also increased the amount that could be spent to P4,900. From a tiny P600, organizations under CSO are now also allowed to replenish up to P5,000 in a single receipt.
Madrid, who previously served as CSO Executive Vice Chairperson for Finance, shares that the new solutions were in response to problems observed in the processes, notably “chop-chop” receipts—students would spread out large expenses into several receipts worth up to P600 each as a work-around to bypass the old restrictions.
“Students can only spend so much because the limit was only at P600. They were not able to buy materials [priced at] around P1,000 or P2,000 [because] they [still] have to get it through [the Procurement Office],” Madrid shares in Filipino.
USG Executive Treasurer Kevin Wu, meanwhile, reveals that USG units have now been furnished with petty cash funds as well instead of reimbursements. College governments still have separate petty cash funds, while Wu remains in control of the petty cash fund for the Executive Board and special groups including the Commission on Audit, the Department of Activity Approval and Monitoring, and the DLSU Commission on Elections.
Wu vouches for the petty cash fund, citing the difficulty of getting reimbursements from the Accounting Office and pointing out that, with the existence of the SPF, there is less of a need to use the fund.
“The downside lang naman is you have a limit. At least 20 percent of the petty cash [is the maximum] per receipt, so for example [you have] P7,000, only [P1,400] lang ‘yung puwede mong gamitin per receipt,” Wu explains.
The cash advance process for the USG, on the other hand, is now permitted for special cases, such as for cash prizes for contests or for expenses used when the USG needs to represent the school in external events.
A welcome development
Angel Smayl Sesante, the current CSO Executive Vice Chairperson for Finance, notes that there are still “mixed opinions” on the new policies as organizations begin to adjust to the changes. However, she adds that the new steps already heralded massive improvements, noting that “there is really a difference with the [adjusted amounts], that is why it is a great help to the organizations.”
Finance officers of student organizations have generally found the changes to be positive. European Studies Association Vice President for Finance Sam Potines believes that the new changes to the petty cash fund make the “process and requirements [for financing activities]” easier “since they have adjusted a little in order to cater to the needs of [their members].”
Union of Students Inspired Towards Education’s Finance head Miguel Sumagui also believes that the change in guidelines for petty cash funds and the procurement process has made the finance system more “student-friendly and convenient” compared to before.
“The new petty cash system allowed organizations to have larger allowances, thus giving more options for spending when planning activities,” he emphasizes.
Meanwhile, former Executive Vice President for Finance of Sociedad de Historia Philip Taguba argues that despite the changes in the petty cash fund system, getting funds directly from the organization’s depository funds is still difficult and presents another restriction.
“[The restrictions on depository funds] should hopefully be relaxed or at some point [have] a compromise wherein there will be an ease of access without delays or extreme planning [needed] to get it, while implementing effective cash controls to prevent money [mismanagement],” he says.
Nonetheless, both Madrid and Wu assure that CSO and the USG remain open to further points of improvement.
“Kung may puwede pang i-improve, we are welcome naman to feedback, and we will study it naman kung anong improvements ang puwede naming gawin [pa],” Madrid says.
(If there is something we can improve on, we are welcome to feedback, and we will study possible improvements and consider what else we can do.)