School lunches launched

Rita Elementary students Wilmer Joel (5A), left, and Bakol Lauror (6B) were happy to be getting lunches three days a week. Photo: Isaac Marty.
Rita Elementary students Wilmer Joel (5A), left, and Bakol Lauror (6B) were happy to be getting lunches three days a week. Photo: Isaac Marty.

ISAAC MARTY

The $800,000 school lunch program that was budgeted by the RMI for fiscal year 2016 commenced late last month. Laura Elementary School, Rairok Elementary School, Majuro Middle School, and Marshall Islands High School (MIHS) were the first of 15 public schools (including kindergarten, elementary, high school, and special education) on Majuro to receive their lunch Monday a week ago.

The original plan when the lunch program was put out to bid in December was for lunch to be provided every school day. This was reduced to three days per week in late January when vendors went to get their contracts from the schools. According to Ministry of Education’s Public School System (PSS) Associate Commissioner for Budget and Finance Catalino Kijiner, the $800,000 covers “53 lunch days” that are assigned for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are parents’ responsibility, he said.

PSS conducted a three-week screening process for vendors in December. Results had 51 selected out of 97 applicants based on the criteria – health certification for handling food and EPA clearance on quality of water that they will use in making the food.

Rita Elementary School started their lunch Wednesday due to the absence of required signatures for vendors’ contracts. Kijiner explained that after vendor and PSS commissioner Evelyn Konou signed the contract, it goes to the Attorney General for legal review and gets signed. From there, it goes to the Education Minister. The Finance Secretary and Minister are last to review and sign before payments can be made.

Unfortunately, payments to vendors could not be made because of the leadership turmoil that left key positions in doubt until Monday this week when the Cabinet was sworn in.

At least one vendor expressed surprise that the contract-stipulated requirement of an up-front payment was not adhered to by the government, while the vendors were expected to finance thousands of plates without initial funding.

MIHS Principal Jabwill Ned said he’s got two vendors and 1,069 students. “We appreciate the lunch program,” he said. “Parents have a lighter burden on lunches and it will be better if they can improve their students’ meals on other days and especially breakfast.”

Read more about this in the February 5, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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