Hostel learners on empty stomachs as invoices pile up

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Nuusita Ashipala/
Albertina Nakale

Ongwediva/Windhoek-School hostels in Omusati and Oshana regions have run out of food, and yesterday senior officials at the education ministry held urgent meetings on how to redeem the N$30 million unpaid invoices submitted by the catering company responsible for the two regions.

Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture Permanent Secretary Sanet Steenkamp acknowledged the worrying status of food distribution in the two regions and told New Era that the supplier, Atlantic Food Services, has been given assurances that payment would be effected.

“Oshana, Omusati and Omaheke are being catered for by one company. We have received all the invoices from the regions. We have engaged the catering company Atlantic Food Services,” she said.
“We have already signed off the payments to the Ministry of Finance and bank transfers to the suppliers will be done. It’s not only to Atlantic Food Services but to other catering companies we are engaged with.”

It is not known how much is owed for other regions. The revelation yesterday comes hot on the heels of the statement in parliament last week that the education ministry has a shortfall of N$278 million, the money required to continue feeding learners in hostels until the end of the current financial year, which is March 2018.

Compounding the problems for the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture is the N$10 million debt owed to the Northern Regional Electricity Distribution Company (Nored), which is now threatening to cut electricity to circuit offices next week Monday if the ministry fails to pay the outstanding invoices by this week Friday.

Nuuyoma Senior Secondary School and Negumbo Senior Secondary School in Omusati Region are among the schools said to have run out of food. New Era understands that the warehouse from where food to schools in the two regions are distributed stands empty.

Acting director at the education directorate in Omusati, who is also the chief inspector for education in the region, Shali Kankondi, confirmed that the schools in the region are without food.

“All the schools [in the region] do not have food, but we are still verifying [the extent of food shortage],” said Kankondi. Regarding plans to remedy the situation, Kankondi said the regional directorate “is still contemplating what to do.” He did not give any further details.

Nored is threatening to cut electricity supply to circuit offices next week Monday if the ministry does not pay the outstanding invoice of N$9.6 million.

“We are demanding immediate settlement of this account by the 20th October 2017. In an event that we cannot receive settlement, we are hereby also giving special notice that power will be cut off on the 23rd October 2017 at any time from 08h00 without any further notice,” reads the letter addressed to the directorate from Nored, signed by the executive manager of finance and ICT, Cristoph Aimwata.

The termination of food and power supplies come at a bad time – when grades 10 and 12 learners are sitting for year-end examinations.

A week ago the director of education in Omusati, Laban Shapange, said the debt owed the electricity distributor could sabotage the printing of examination papers for non-exit grades at the circuit offices.

Last week the Deputy Education Minister Anna Nghipondoka told the National Assembly that the ministry needed to cover a shortfall of N$277.96 million to feed learners until the end of 2018. The ministry has budgeted the amount of N$553 million to feed about 44,000 learners in school hostels during the 2017/18 financial year. However, the ministry only received N$274.71 million of the projected budget for hostels.

“I am providing this picture to demonstrate to the honourable members that the ministry is thriving in a difficult situation. While this is so, despite the situation it faces, [it has not] approved any adjustment to the current menu nor the meal times and neither is the ministry aware of any deviations from the prescribed menu,” Nghipondoka remarked.

She was responding to questions from the All People’s Party (APP) Member of Parliament Reinholdt Nauyoma, who asked whether it’s true that meals at boarding schools that used to serve four meals a day have been reduced to only three – scrapping mid-morning drinks.

Nghipondoka addressed concerns that the menu for hostels has been changed. Nutritious but expensive items are allegedly being replaced with cheaper alternatives, which are not healthy for children’s dietary requirements.
The deputy minister emphasised that there are no drastic changes to the menu as speculated.

She said the legally approved menu makes provision for replacements of certain food items, which are communicated to the regional directorates before such an envisaged replacement takes place.

For instance, she said, for vegetables and fruit, a company can interchange spinach, green beans or peas with each other, while for starch requirements rice, pasta, potatoes, maize meal or mahangu can be interchanged.
For protein, she said, chicken, mutton, mince, goulash, boerewors can be replaced with turkey, liver, Russian or Vienna sausages.

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