The national school feeding programme was officially re-started by the Bharrat Jagdeo
administration in 2010.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were being plugged into the programme which targeted all the Regions with locally-produced biscuits and juices. Regions Seven, Eight and Nine were treated separately.
Last year, $1.3B was allocated. A further $1.9B set aside this year for the national programme.
However, despite the good intentions, the programme appeared to have been abused by the coordinators.
In Region Eight, a vast area that has schools scattered in many of the outlying areas, discrepancies were found with two schools- the Kato Primary and Paramakatoi.
Officials this past week confirmed that state auditors have been investigating spending of Region Eight, with the spotlight on the program.
From last year to early this year, auditors reportedly found a number of worrying things.
For example, a senior Region Eight official reportedly purchased items from her Parika, East Bank Essequibo shop. Not only were some of the items purchased not delivered, but high prices were paid for them.
Auditors would have been looking at the cost for every meal which reportedly scandalously ran into thousands of dollars.
There were also questions about whether the correct procurement procedures were followed in awarding the contracts.
In some cases, millions of dollars were being paid to the boyfriend of a senior official after he moved there to take up a contract.
Monies reportedly set aside for feeding students of the new Kato Secondary, in the tens of millions of dollars, were diverted and used up in other areas, it was explained.
Kaieteur News was told that a key report of state auditors was recently handed over to the administration and it was scathing in its comments of the management in Region Eight of the programme.
It was unclear whether auditors have recommended further investigations by police and even criminal charges.
In recent times, the Auditor General has been pointing more and more to widespread breaches in accounting and procurement breaches which could not easily be explained away.
In fact, earlier this year, former Region Eight Regional Executive Officer (REO), Rafel Downes, was sent packing after a number of worrying things were found under his watch.
His evasiveness in answering questions after he appeared earlier this year before the Public Accounts Committee, a Parliamentary oversight committee that examines spending of tax dollars, angered the members.
Several of the issues surrounded the overpayment of salaries and deductions. There was also overpayment to several contractors.
The Auditor General was ordered by the PAC earlier this year to launch a special audit and investigation into Region Eight.
When asked why five of the defaulting contractors who owe the Region millions of dollars were once again awarded contracts in 2016, the former REO could not answer.
A Region Eight official, Daniel Fraser, had accused Downes of hijacking the procurement system in the Region. This year, almost $1.6B had been budgeted for the region.
In one case, although Mahdia, the capital of Region Eight, has several mechanic shops, someone was hired to do work on heavy duty equipment. One bulldozer was left unrepaired because of a dispute over monies.
”There are many more cases like this. The contracts and projects are being handled in a clandestine manner. We see cases of contractors, some who are relatives of the officials, being handpicked. And we are talking about projects around here. We are not even sure about projects that are happening over the hill,” Fraser had complained.
There were several cited cases of procurement and contract irregularities.
The administration has vowed a zero tolerance stance against non-performance and corruption against public servants.
Under the school feeding programme, administrators were supposed to procure the services of persons and farmers within the Region. It was the preference that local dishes were to be distributed to the students.
The programme is viewed as a key one for the Coalition Government.
In fact, in June, it was announced that a more sustainable school feeding programme was being pursued.
Development partner agency, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has engaged Government officials with the ultimate goal of finding solutions, including using fresh products.
Based on a presentation by FAO’s country representative, Rueben Robertson, school feeding should be a multi-sectoral policy programme, which will allow Guyana to achieve goals in various strategic areas such as education, public health, agriculture, social protection, social cohesion and business.
Representatives from the Ministry of Education, in June, outlined that there are at least five activities executed by the Ministry under the school feeding programme.
The programme currently provides one healthy meal for at least 22,000 students in 158 schools across Guyana.
The activities include the Breakfast programme, the juice and biscuit for students along the coastland areas, the Dora feeding programme on the Linden, Soesdyke Highway, the peanut butter and cassava bread programme in Region Nine and the community based school feeding programme in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine.
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