Several schools and private contractors are counting losses following decision by Muhanga district to pick the food supplied to schools, and instead distribute it as aid during the COVID-19 lockdown.
In March 2020, when government ordered all schools closed, public schools already had huge stocks of food for students to last them through the first term. The same month, on March 21, the whole country went into lockdown for two months.
Government announced that the most vulnerable would get food deliveries. In Muhanga, district officials opted to pick the tons of food in public schools. The headteachers of those schools were told at the time that the food would be replaced before schools opened.
Investigation done in collaboration with RADIO HUGUKA found four of the biggest schools are affected. They include: ACEJ KARAMA, Group ST JOSEPH, GS SHYOGWE, and NYABIKENKE school.
Schools opened in January this year, but the district has not brought back the food it took, neither have the officials offered alternative to how to feed the thousands of secondary and primary students.
School heads of the affected institutions, all of whom declined to be identified, said when they engaged the district to give them solution, they were told the district has no money. Besides that, district officials also said to school headteachers that the food was bought using government money and therefore isn’t necessary to be repaid.
At the same time, due to impact of the pandemic on parents, school heads say most of the students reported without full tuition. And since government directive was that no students should be sent back due to lack of tuition, the burden of feeding the students has fallen back on the schools which have no resources.
At the beginning of February, the Education Minister Dr Valentine Uwamariya announced that government would give an additional Rwf 25,000 for each student in secondary and vocational colleges for feeding them for the added weeks of the 2021 first term. The term is going to be longer than usual.
At the schools in Muhanga district which are facing an imminent food crisis, they are yet to receive that additional money from the education ministry.
As a fall back, the headteachers have all been getting more supplies from food contractors without any indication as to when they will be paid.
According to data from two of the affected schools, the food taken by the district amounts to more than Rwf 12m in total. One of them needs Rwf 5m, while another needs Rwf 7m.
Private food suppliers, all of whom also declined to be quoted, wondered how they would continue to deliver while not being paid. They all said the banks from which they have loans are also on their case demanding repayment of the accrued loans.
KAYITARE Jacqueline, mayor of Muhanga district, said the schools shouldn’t be complaining because the food was bought by education ministry, and therefore the district was right to distribute that food since schools were closed.
When reminded that district officials had in meetings informed the headteachers of the affected schools that the food would be replaced or given cash, once schools opened, the mayor responded; “We are holding discussions with the affected schools to see what can be done. We will have to first find out why suppliers were not paid for that food last year. It is from there that we will engage the education ministry for a way forward.”
As the district mayor conducts consultative meetings, the schools may soon be unable to feed students as suppliers wouldn’t be in position to keep delivering supplies without payment.