Investigations into discrepancies in the National School Feeding Programme are grinding along, with sources informing Guyana Times that some Police Officers who were handling the case were at one point transferred.
While the Police Officers have been transferred, it is unclear if this was a routine rotation or a punitive act. Efforts to contact top officials in the Guyana Police Force (GPF) were futile. When contacted, Auditor General Deodat Sharma informed this publication that the investigation should have been completed by now.
“I don’t know why it’s taking so long … I’m not very satisfied with that. We need to put a close to that aspect of it. I think they’re taking too long, because it was an area that was very clear-cut. I don’t know what’s happening there,” Sharma said.
The National School Feeding Programme targets all nursery and primary school students in Grades One and Two. It was implemented in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and 10 and Georgetown. Regions Seven, Eight and Nine are treated separately. The meals consist of biscuits and juices.
But the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the education sector, which was completed since 2017, had recommended that an investigation be launched into the Feeding Programme to ensure Government was getting value for money.
Following this recommendation, State Auditors had embarked on this very investigation targeting the Programme. They had reportedly found major “spending” inconsistencies plaguing the Programme in two remote villages in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) during the period 2016-2017.
Notwithstanding the lofty ideals of the Programme, coordinators in the red-flagged region have reportedly been abusing the responsibility and power vested in them. Particular scrutiny was brought to bear on the expenditures for each meal and that revealed costs were inflated. This had raised further queries as to whether the correct procurement procedures were followed during the award of the contracts.
Millions of dollars ($1.3 billion and $1.9 billion in 2016 and 2017 respectively) were injected into the initiative, which was implemented in the 10 administrative regions following its re-launch in 2010 by former President and now Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.
According to media reports, funds allocated to the Feeding Programme for the Kato Secondary School were even diverted to other areas.
Still unaccounted for
When it was released last year, the AG’s 2017 report had found that $52.5 million was still unaccounted for in the controversial programme. It was noted that 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 report revealed that key documentation, such as bank reconciliation statements, was 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.