Nationwide probe into school lunch fraud ordered

Nationwide probe into school lunch fraud ordered

Pupils receive their lunch at Banbangkapi School in Bang Kapi district, Bangkok. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)
Pupils receive their lunch at Banbangkapi School in Bang Kapi district, Bangkok. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)

The Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) has ordered educational service area offices nationwide to review free lunch programmes for kindergarten and primary students at schools under their responsibility after allegations of corruption re-surfaced.

The move comes after the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in Nakhon Ratchasima discovered that at least four schools in the province had supplied students with substandard lunches.

According to the NACC, school bosses spent only part of their school lunch budgets and could not explain where the rest of the money had gone. Some claimed they had not embezzled the remaining funds, but spent them on other student activities such as sport.

In some cases, the number of students registered for school lunch programmes were found to be higher than the number of students enrolled in school, suggesting student numbers were concocted so the school could get more money.

The findings are another blow to the credibility of the state-run school lunch programme. Since 1999, when it started, the Ministry of Education has provided 20 baht per pupil per day for students from preschool to elementary school levels.

Each school is empowered to hire private caterers to provide the lunches for its students.

Yet there have been reports of fraud at some schools, which have been accused of not allocating the full amount for meals and misusing or siphoning off the rest.

Last week, Obec transferred the director of Maheyong School in Nakhon Si Thammarat province to an inactive post pending an investigation, after a video clip went viral this month showing a student with only rice, a soup containing vegetable scraps and watermelon for lunch.

Two years ago, corruption involving school lunches was also found at two schools in Phrae province where cooks were hired to prepare lunch, but the actual money they were paid was lower than that recorded in the schools’ financial reports.

Obec secretary-general Suthep Chittayawong said stealing students lunch money is an unacceptable act as it is not only a matter of enriching oneself by siphoning money meant for public causes, but also a crime that damages the lives of the nation's future generation.

“A lunch budget of 20 baht per head provided to schools may not be much, but it is more than enough to provide healthy and decent meals for students if there is no corruption,” he said.

Mr Suthep said the inspection conducted by educational service area offices is expected to take about two weeks. He said a fact-finding committee will be set up to look into the matter if irregularities are detected, and if any school executives are found guilty they will face serious legal and disciplinary action.

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