Sanctions coming for non-compliant schools in feeding programme
The Ministry of Education has indicated that it will be taking sanctions against schools that continue to remain non-compliant in regards to their financial obligations under the School Feeding Programme.
A 2013 audit of the programme, conducted by the Public Accountability Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Finance, in nine schools within Kingston and St Andrew found several weaknesses and breaches.
The audit found that the subsidy provided to some schools was being lodged into bank accounts with other school funds, resulting in a lack of transparency in the utilisation of the funds.
For some schools, the accounting and financial records were not up to date and there was a failure of schools' administration to monitor the bank accounts to prevent them from going into overdraft and incurring overdraft fees.
The audit also found that schools were failing to submit the returns for the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) ME260 form in a timely manner and also cited the School Feeding Unit (SFU) at the education ministry for failure to take action against schools which did not submit the returns.
The annual school feeding budget amounts to $4.2 billion and is used to provide meals to 202,000 PATH beneficiaries, 139,864 students in the early childhood cohort and an additional 30,000 students considered vulnerable, but are not on the PATH programme.
With some 972 public schools and 1,042 basic schools involved in the programme, the ministry has said fewer than 20 schools are yet to set up a separate account in which school-feeding funds can be received.
Another school cited in the 2013 audit racked up a series of overdraft charges, amounting to $48,740, and also failed to submit ME260 forms.
CHANGES ON THE HORIZON
The Ministry of Education has given assurances that a raft of recommendations made by the PAI audit are being implemented.
According to ministry officials, officers from the Internal Audit Unit in the ministry have been auditing schools on a regular basis. A Management Information System, which is being imple-mented will be used to identify delinquent schools. In addition, school board chairmen will this year receive training in regards to their financial responsibility under the school-feeding programme.
"Measures have been taken to have the regional financial controllers streamline the financial operations of these schools. Training continues to build their capacity and the School Feeding Unit monitors their compliance," the ministry said.