Twelve year-old Kareem Ahmed and his friends are never happier about being at school than when they are waiting in the queue for their turn to be served the day’s dish of boiled rice and stew.
Kareem, a stick-thin but lively boy dressed in a grubby yellow and green school uniform, walks two kilometres every day to get to school, and this is often the only meal he gets. “I used to stay at home because my mother cannot give me any pocket money and there is no food at home in the morning, but now I want to come to school to get the food,” he said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been successfully running school feeding programmes around the world for years. But in Ghana the lead partners are the Ghanaian government and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), not the international community or non-governmental organisations.
Ghana became one of ten countries in Africa which included Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia selected by NEPAD to implement domestically-run school feeding programmes on a pilot basis in 2005.
The next year the programme started in earnest with the goals of reducing hunger and malnutrition, and increasing school enrolment, attendance and retention; as well as boosting domestic food production.
School attendance has increased, but an independent audit recently revealed that the programme is mired in corruption.
By the beginning of March this year the government of Ghana and the NEPAD secretariat had spent around US$21.82 million on the school feeding programme, whilst its joint funding partner the Netherlands had provided US$2.17 million.
The other partner, the WFP, says it has primarily served as a technical partner, providing training in hygiene, food storage and management, reporting and monitoring for schools coming on board the programme.
By May 2008, 477,714 pupils in 987 schools across Ghana were benefiting from the programme and according to the Local Government Ministry, there has been an average of a 40 percent increase in primary school enrolment since the programme was introduced.
An independent school feeding motoring report released by a local non-governmental organisation, the Social Enterprise Development Foundation of West Africa (SEND Foundation) on 27 May 2008, said that enrolment in 14 selected schools nationwide increased 21 percent between the 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 academic years.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|School teachers prepare donated food by WFP for students in Eva Orango school in Orango Island of Bijago Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau Feburary 2008|
Ghana’s Deputy Local Government Minister, Maxuel Kofi Juma said the programme has also contributed “significantly” to reducing hunger and malnutrition among children.
The programme has however run into difficulties, mainly financial and corruption-related.
An audit commissioned by the Dutch government and undertaken earlier this year by the international accountancy firm PriceWaterHouseCoopers, found that after two years of implementation there was “widespread corruption” at the programme secretariat.
Among other things the report cites the award of contracts to non-existent companies, the disappearance of funds allocated to programme management, and the deliberate purchase of unwholesome but cheaper ingredients.
The audit’s results were corroborated by the SEND foundation, which further asserted that 58 percent of districts involved “did not use laid-down procurement procedures” when awarding contracts for the programme.
Ghana’s President John Kufuor has authorised a committee investigation and has fired the chief executive of the programme, as a result.
“Our investigations are still underway. Officers of the programme are now being questioned based on the findings of the audit,” local government minister Juma said.
|Our investigations are still underway. Officers of the programme are now being questioned based on the findings of the audit|
The government’s main concern at this stage is to establish if school children were fed with food prepared with the unwholesome ingredients, he added.
The local branch of Amnesty International, the human rights group, has said in a statement that it is “shocked” at the revelations and has called for “a total overhaul” of school feeding in Ghana.
“The magnitude of the problem transcends anyone’s imagination… the programme is being undermined with the result that many of the children have been left out… it is a very serious matter, something that requires urgent attention,” Michael Brigandi, the Director of Amnesty International in Ghana told IRIN.
Amnesty International wants the entire programme secretariat to be disbanded and replaced by “an independent, non-partisan coordinating body”, Brigandi said.
Country director of the SEND Foundation, Samuel Zan Akologo, said the challenge now is for all the key stakeholders in the programme to rally around the project to make sure it is restructured but not scrapped.
He says its implementing structures have broken down because of a lack of understanding at the local government level of the programme’s guidelines and objectives.
“We need to stop and reorganise,” Akologo said, stressing the need to hold off adding more schools to the programme whilst addressing the challenges.
He says the government and its partners must begin an immediate drive to build the capacity for all agencies involved, equipping them with the resources needed to play their respective roles effectively.
The government says it has already begun restructuring the programme’s secretariat and is still planning to increase coverage to 1,556 schools by the end of the year, scaling up to 2,889 schools and 1.4 million pupils by the end of 2010.