By Chularat Saengpassa
Obec secretary general Suthep Chittayawong has ordered directors of primary education service areas nationwide to check school lunches and take action against any foul play.
The order was in response to the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s (NACC) findings that some schools in Nakhon Ratchasima province had spent just half of the budget received for school lunches and served meals lacking in nutritional value.
The government launched its free-school-lunch policy in 1999 to curb malnutrition and support child development. Since 2001, the school-lunch budget has been allocated via local administrative bodies in response to decentralisation laws.
The government currently budgets more than Bt10 billion annually to provide school lunches for kindergarten and primary students at a cost of Bt20 per child. About Bt15 of that amount is reserved for ingredients while the rest pays for cooks and preparation.
However, a recent NACC inspection found four schools in Nakhon Ratchasima where the lunch budget was not being spent on students.
In response, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered the Interior Ministry, which oversees local administrative organisations, to work with the Education Ministry in monitoring free-lunch provision at some 30,000 schools under the Education Ministry and more than 10,000 under local administrations.
Children at the four Nakhon Ratchasima schools were reduced to eating rice and gourd soup or noodles with fish sauce – minus the protein-rich meat that the budget covered.
“I have told all schools to consult the School Lunch programme in planning menus for their students so as to ensure that children are fed all five food groups [protein, dairy, grains, fruit and vegetables],” he said.
He added that 20 panels had been established to monitor schools, along with free-lunch committees for every school.
“Each committee includes representatives of parents as well as students,” Suthep said.
2015: Bt16.46 billion (200 school days per year)
For 4.11 million students
2016: Bt16.33 billion (200 school days per year)
For 1.08 million students
2017: Bt16.50 billion (200 school days per year)
For 4.12 million students
2018: Bt16.32 billion (200 school days per year)
For 4.08 million students