Ministry of Education, Guyana

Tuesday, 23 May 2017 15:36

COI calls for probe into school feeding programme

-to determine if Ministry is getting value for money

A probe into the school feeding programme might be necessary to ensure that it is serving the purpose for which it is intended. This has been a recommendation coming out from the recently completed Commission of Inquiry [COI] into the education 20170504 2

The Commissioners are of the opinion that the Ministry of Education has not been getting value for money when it comes to the feeding programme. “The Commissioners are recommending that another look be given to the school feeding programme,” said Chairman of the COI, Mr. Ed Caesar.
“We have gone to so many places and we are hearing the same thing…‘We want the School Feeding Programme but we don’t like some of the juices’.Some parents are telling their children not to accept the biscuits,” Caesar said.
According to him, teachers have found it necessary on many occasions to package biscuits in black bags and give it to their charges to take home. But this move has not found favour with all parents.
“Some parents have sent back reports to teachers saying ‘Don’t send any biscuits home’,” informed Caesar as he pointed out that there have been several suggestions forthcoming to improve the programme.
“‘We would like to have another kind of juice’, has been the appeal of some parents,” Caesar said, even as he pointed out that there have been many complains.
“For example, they complained a lot about the mango juice…It has really been something that we listened to almost everywhere we went. Give us sandwiches sometimes; Change the flavour of the biscuit; make the biscuit in different shapes sometimes and in some places they said give us milk sometimes,” said Caesar.
He added, “Everywhere that we went and ‘Nursery business’ came up that was the cry so we need to look at it very carefully.”
The school feeding programme, which commenced in February 2010, was intended to guard against children having to attend school hungry. Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine since taking up the Education Minister portfolio in 2015 has said publicly, “hungry children will have difficulty focusing on their work.”
He’d explained that areas in which the school feeding programme was implemented saw increases in student attendance rates and improved academic performances.
The programme is one that targets students from grades one to three.
The Education Ministry has over the years received support from the Ministry of Local Government then Ministry of Communities and other stakeholders to ensure that the initiative is successfully implemented. This has been the case in parts of Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Ten and Georgetown. Regions Seven, Eight and Nine are targeted separately.
There have been financial concerns with the programme which were long highlighted in the Auditor General Report. These have translated to some systems of accountability lacking within the public education system to monitor the ongoing multi-million-dollar programme which is designed to provide a meal to pupils during school hours.
In the 2015 Auditor General Report, which was laid in the National Assembly in October 2016, amounts totalling $419.582M were expended on the Ministry’s School Feeding Programme. It was made clear that the programme is one that caters to the purchase of juice and biscuits which constitute the meal given to the pupils.
Following a process of examination of payment vouchers, discrepancies were uncovered. This, according to the Report, translated to monthly distribution reports not being returned by the Divisional Officers to the Book Distribution Unit (BDU) which has responsibility for distributing the juices and biscuits to schools within the respective Regions.
Another sum amounting to $309.731M was expended, and it was found that monthly distribution reports were not always returned to the Book Distribution Unit in 2015. According to the Report, “The non-submission of the monthly distribution reports made it impractical to ascertain whether the schools had received the juices and biscuits for the period for which reports were un-presented.”
Based on the information detailed in the Audit Report, at the time of reporting reports were outstanding for many months for Regions One, Seven and Eight.
While there was an outstanding report for Region One for October 2014, Region Seven had outstanding reports for the months of January to June and September to November 2014 and February to June, 2015.
Reports were also yet to be received for the months of February to April, June, September to November 2014 and February and May to June, 2015 for Region Eight.
The Ministry has acknowledged the non-submission of monthly distribution reports but has noted that there are individual listings for each school substantiating delivery.
Although this publication was not able to ascertain whether these issues were addressed, the Audit Office has recommended that efforts be made to ensure that functioning systems be put in place to account for the distribution of juice and biscuits which constitute the School Feeding Programme.


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