Fraud in 5 'ghost' schools; DCE, 2 caterers fingered
2016-06-23 10:33:36This article has been read 450 times.A group calling itself Concerned Assembly Members in the Upper East region has come up with what has been described as the “biggest fraud” in the implementation of the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) in the Garu-Tempane District.
An amount of Gh¢229,341.40, according to the group, is said to have been paid to two caterers for services “rendered to five ghost schools” in the district.
The group says it uncovered the sneaky contract after the two caterers, Paulina Atigah and Gladys Fumira Laar, had been paid consistently for 16 months from January 2015 to June 2016. The caterers are not alone in the purported scam. Also indicted in a press statement issued by the group is the District Chief Executive (DCE) for the area, Albert Akoka Alalzuuga, for reportedly conniving with the caterers to dupe the state.
The “ghost schools” include Nisbuliga D/A Primary, Worikambo D/A Primary, Azuguri D/A Primary, Abilatega D/A Primary and Wukuan D/A Primary. They are being referred to as “ghost schools” not because they do not exist in the area, but because the schools were not on the school-feeding list for the most part of the entire period the caterers had been unduly paid and none of the caterers is actually assigned to any of the five schools.
“Additionally, the enrollment figures used to receive payments from the GSFP is completely different from the actual figures of pupils in the various schools. Accumulatively, caterer Atigah Paulina who was engaged to provide catering services to three schools, Nisbuliga Primary, Worikambo Primary and Abilatega Primary, was paid a total amount of one hundred and forty-nine thousand, one hundred and twenty-one Ghana cedis (Gh¢149,121.00) through an E-zwick account number 1009003225,” the leader of the group, Bampil Badeabo Moses, told journalists Wednesday at a news conference at Garu.
“Gladys Fumira Laar, who was also engaged to provide catering services to two schools, Azuguri Primary and Wakuan Primary, was paid the total amount of seventy-six thousand, four hundred and twenty-five Ghana cedis and forty pesewas (Gh¢76,425.40) through an E-zwick account number 1009002868 for no work done,” Mr. Bampil, who is the Assemblyman for the Denugu Electoral Area, added.
Caterers may have received more than 2 billion
Whilst members of the group recognised the two women as caterers, they also indicated that the monies the duo had undeservedly received so far could be more than was quoted by the documents they intercepted.
“These were payments made to cover the total of two hundred and thirty-seven (237) cooking days with differences in enrollment figures for the five schools. We suspect that actual payments started much earlier than our intercepted documents indicate,” the group’s frontrunners affirmed as copies of the intercepted documents littered the conference table.
The group in the middle of June, this year, in the wake of the payment anomalies, reportedly wrote a letter to the Garu-Tempane District Assembly, raising questions about the implementation of the school feeding programme in the area.
The DCE, in a written rejoinder, copies of which were made available to the press at the news conference, mentioned that the assembly, in collaboration with the District Implementation Committee and the School Implementation Committee, already had undertaken a monitoring exercise in 2015 to ascertain the issues raised about the programme.
The exercise, according to the DCE in that rejoinder, helped retrieve one hundred and ninety thousand, four hundred and forty-seven Ghana cedis, eighty-eight pesewas (Gh¢190,447.88) in March 2015, and another amount of two hundred and thirty-three thousand Ghana cedis (Gh¢233,000.00). The DCE is quoted in the rejoinder to have stated that the monies had been paid back to the GSFP through the assembly’s GCB cheque No. 002042 on March 17, 2015, and GCB cheque No. 002314 on November 9, 2015.
The DCE, in the rejoinder, admitted that “caterers were paid for periods during which they did not cook” and “wrote to them to refund the overpayment”.
Not convinced by the explanation contained in the rejoinder, the assembly members at the news conference pressed strongly for investigations into the alleged fraud.
“There has been collusion, fraud, injustice and criminality between the staff of the Ghana School Feeding Programme, the District Chief Executive of the Garu Tempane and the two caterers mentioned as having been engaged to provide ghost catering services to pupils of these schools mentioned,” the group’s statement stressed.
The quality of “free food”
The quality of food served in some schools in the region is so dry of quality that it is said the soup prepared is oftentimes so light and transparent that one can see the bottom of the big pot from the top of the soup. Some refer to the soup as "the dead sea" because there is not even a dry fish in it.
Whilst there are residents who appreciate the continuous addition of beneficiary schools to the programme, a number of people are not enthused about the expansion due to what they describe as poor quality of food fed to schoolchildren in the region.
At present, three hundred and fifty (350) schools among the seven hundred and twelve (712) basic schools in the region are said to be on the school-feeding list.
The programme was introduced to help boost up enrollment particularly in rural areas, to provide ready market for locally produced foodstuff in the country to beneficiary communities, to create job opportunities for individuals and groups in the catering industry and to reduce poverty by reducing the financial burdens borne by deprived households in providing lunch for their children.
Group petitions President, others
The group has petitioned President John Dramani Mahama, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection as well as the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and the GSFP to “initiate a high-powered investigation into the implementation of the school feeding programme in the Garu-Tempane District to unravel the mystery surrounding these five schools in whose names monies were unduly paid to caterers for periods the schools were not even aware that they were beneficiaries of the programme”.
Caterers paying back in bits
The head-teacher of one of the “ghost schools”, Abilatega Primary, Bartholomew Asore, when contacted told Starr News that his school was added to the school feeding programme only in January, this year and that one Mamata Ibrahim, not Paulina Atigah, had been responsible for catering services at the school.
Paulina Atigah told Starr News in a telephone interview she realised the undue payment in December 2015, and soon after notified the GSFP desk officer at Garu, whose name she only mentioned as Andani and also said to be on transfer, about the anomaly. The assembly, she said, wrote to her in February, this year, and the Upper East Regional Secretariat of the GSFP did same, that she should refund the money. But in what appears she might have expended the money before she was asked to reimburse, she told Starr News she was paying the money back in bits and that she had paid back only forty-six thousand Ghana cedis (Gh¢46,000.00) so far.
Contacts to Gladys Fumira Laar as well as those to the rest of the “ghost schools” were not available as of the time of filing this report. The DCE and the Upper East Regional Coordinator of the GSFP, Donatus Akamugre, as of the same time, also could not be reached through their mobile contacts known to Starr News.