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Friday, March 13, 2009
No end in sight to milk corruption
No more zoning regulations for the school milk programme. More UHT milk with a longer lifespan for the kids, instead of pasteurised milk which spoils easily.
If we believe these new rules will solve the problem of corruption in the school milk programme while absorbing raw fresh milk from the local dairy industry, then we will soon be in for a big disappointment.
According to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, he would revoke the zoning regulations designed by the Thaksin administration to let the free market take over.
Under this new scenario, he would also increase free milk days for school children while expandng the programme to cover up until Prathom 6 level.
The change will involve an additional budget injection of 2,000 million baht, said Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu.
Some 1,300 million baht will go to buy milk for Prathom 5 and 6 pupils. The rest will go to the change from pasteurised to UHT packaging.
Meanwhile, the government will still let the Tambon Administration Office under the Department of Local Administration of the Interior Ministry, decide who will get the milk supply contracts.
Whether it be Thaksin's or Abhisit's administration, the officials are still holding fast to the daddy-knows-best policy, which believes that uniform rules can meet different needs in different locales.
But they cannot.
This new scheme will not solve school milk corruption either, since the corruption-ridden local administration bodies are still the main decision-maker, without participation from schools and parents groups.
There are many questions the government has to answer.
Let's start with a simple one: How can we be certain that the milk in the UHT package is really made from fresh milk?
We are only kidding ourselves if we believe that the label "Made From Fresh Cow's Milk" on the package is always true.
When milk powder is still much cheaper, how can we guarantee that UHT milk will not be made from powdered milk?
The difference in real cost will make a lot of people richer, but it does not necessarily guarantee better quality milk nor does it promise the end of raw milk oversupply in the local dairy industry.
Another question: What if a particular community does not want their children to drink cow's milk?
This is not a hypothetical question. Dr Waemahadi Waedao, Narithiwat MP of Puea Paendin party, has already pointed out that goat's milk is more suitable for the southern Muslim children.
Not only because goat's milk is healthy, but also because there is abundant goat's milk to be had there.
Using goat's milk in the deep South would, therefore, be good for the local dairy industry, convenient for transportation and in line with local traditional diet.
Similarly, what if some communities want their children to drink soymilk instead of cow's milk to avoid allergy problems?
What if they want to take turns serving their children dairy and soymilk so the kids are not bored with drinking the same thing every day?
It boils down to this question: Why cannot the communities work with schools to decide for themselves what they want for their children?
Why do they have to follow the top-down rules designed by those who do not understand local differences and preferences?
Why do they have to let the corruption-ridden local administration bodies control what affects their children's health?
When the communities take charge, the bidding and monitoring processes will be more open and transparent, thus eliminating the chance for corruption.
Call it anything you like, but the villagers call it grassroots democracy.
Rules from the top without local consultation cannot solve the problem of sub-standard milk. Nor can they stop corruption.
Is it a wonder, then, that despite the huge amount of money spent on the school milk programme, the rate of malnutrition has not improved at all in the past decade?
For our children's good health in a corruption-free system, it takes transparency and participation from the local people. It takes decentralised policy decision-making.
The answer, for the health of our kids and our system, is democracy.