Ongwediva-The education directorate in Omusati Region yesterday released nearly 500 learners from hostels, with a further 368 scheduled to be sent home due to a shortage of food in hostel kitchens.
However, the decision was not well received by the education ministry permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp, who late yesterday was steadfast that those who have been sent home would have to return to school to write their examinations.
“This is a critical time for our learners – it is examination time. And even if it was not, it is our mandate to make sure that our learners receive food and that is what we have been working on,” said Steenkamp.
The 468 learners of IK Tjimuhiva Combined School were released yesterday as the school hostel only had sufficient food for yesterday’s breakfast, acting director at the education directorate in Omusati, Shali Kankondi, confirmed.
It was also confirmed that some of the learners at the secondary schools Mwaala, Onegumbo and Shikongo Iipinge have also vacated the hostel.
Steenkamp maintained that no children would be sent home as the ministry is hard at work to remedy the situation. Kankondi, who is also the chief inspector for education in the region, said he was yet to confirm which schools have released children from the hostels. He also said his office has asked schools to keep learners in the hostels while they work out a temporary solution.
“[But] if the situation persists we will seek a recommendation from the ministry to release the learners,” said Kankondi.
Steenkamp acknowledged to New Era on Tuesday the worrying status of food distribution in Omusati and Oshana regions.
The problem has been attributed to the supplier, Atlantic Food Services, not supplying food because of an outstanding payment of N$30 million.
“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 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.”
Yesterday Steenkamp said the caterers have indicated that they are prepared to deliver the food to the schools if they can make payment to their suppliers.
She said the education ministry also has a commitment from the finance ministry to effect the money.
Steenkamp furthermore assured that the ministry has reached consensus with the caterer to deliver specific foodstuffs to the schools in the meantime, while making provision to deliver protein and the rest thereafter.
“So if both of us honour our commitment, no learners would be sent home,” Steenkamp emphasised.
IK Tjimuhiva Combined School has released all learners from pre-grade to Grade 9, retaining only Grade 10 learners who are currently busy with their external examinations.
The little food that is still left at the schools is only sufficient to feed the Grade 10s for a few days more on a compromised diet.
New Era also had it on good authority that three to four schools in Omusati were also likely only to have had enough food to provide breakfast on Tuesday.
It is not known how much is owed for other regions.
New Era reported yesterday 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.