Govt’s school feeding programme: $50M still unaccounted for- AG report finds

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A group of students enjoying their midday lunch at the Shulinab Primary School, South Central Rupununi, Region Nine

The Auditor General’s latest report has found that $52.5 million was still unaccounted for in the controversial school feeding programme that saw a special investigation being launched by the Auditor General’s Office.

State auditors examined the records of 11 schools in Regions Seven and Nine. Some $73.6 million was allocated to the programme in those schools, which was supposed to go towards feeding 2189 students.

But the 2017 AG report revealed that key documentation, such as bank reconciliation statements, were not presented to the auditors. As such, the AG could not even determine whether the sum, which was received by eight schools, was ever deposited into the bank in one lump sum.

“The absence of this key control measure can lead to the perpetration of wrongdoing, without prompt detection,” the report notes, while adding that there was no evidence of supervisory checks of cash books by the management committee in three of the schools.

“Supervisory checks were also absent in the stock ledgers and goods received book for six schools in Region Nine … the safeguarding of public funds was compromised. Moreover, cash was kept in the personal possession of the treasurers in eight schools. This unsatisfactory situation could lead to the perpetration of wrongdoing,” the report states.

In its response, the Ministry acknowledged the AG’s findings. But it was pointed out that the programme itself was in the process of being transitioned from central management to community-based management.

“As such, challenges will be encountered,” the Ministry said. “Notwithstanding this, the Ministry will seek to provide the necessary training to avoid reoccurrences of this nature. Further, better monitoring will be done.”

But in the ‘follow up on the implementation of prior year recommendations’ table, the school feeding programme is the only issue within the Education Ministry that the AG described the recommendations as ‘not implemented’.

Millions of dollars were injected into the initiative ($1.3 billion and $1.9 billion in the years 2016 and 2017 respectively) which were implemented in the 10 administrative regions following its re-launch in 2010 by former President and now Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.

But notwithstanding the original lofty aims of the programme, coordinators in the cited regions have reportedly since been abusing the responsibility and power vested in them.

Particular scrutiny into the expenditures for each meal revealed outrageous costs attached to them, raising further queries as to whether the right procurement procedures were adhered to in the contract-awarding stage, among other issues.

According to media reports, funds allocated to the feeding programme for the recently-opened Kato Secondary School were even diverted to other areas.

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