MPs reject Sh1bn-a-week schools milk plan

Economy

MPs reject Sh1bn-a-week schools milk plan


milk

Mariakani Pre-school pupils taking milk after receiving it from Nairobi County Executive in charge of Education, Youth and Gender Janet Muthoni Ouko on September 27, 2018. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

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Summary

  • The program would have distributed free milk in public primary and pre-primary schools in a bid to encourage pupils to stay in school.
  • Returning it could have cost the Treasury Sh1 billion weekly to provide 250ml packet of milk daily to the 8.3 million students enrolled in Kenya’s nearly 24,000 schools.
  • In rejecting the Bill, the National Assembly’s Education committee cited lack of a budget for the program and the risk of it derailing the current school meals program— which targets low-income areas, particularly in slums.

MPs have rejected a Bill that seeks to reintroduce the provision of free milk to school children under a multi-billion shilling State-funded scheme.

The program would have distributed free milk in public primary and pre-primary schools in a bid to encourage pupils to stay in school.

But the National Assembly’s Education committee rejected proposals that would have ushered in the return of the tiny packets of milk popular with school children during the reign of former President Daniel Arap Moi in the 1980s and 90s.

The scheme popularly known as Maziwa Ya Nyayo program was canceled after it proved too costly and unsustainable for successive governments.

Returning it could have cost the Treasury Sh1 billion weekly to provide 250ml packet of milk daily to the 8.3 million students enrolled in Kenya’s nearly 24,000 schools.

This would have grown to Sh36 billion annually, an expenditure that would have proved burdensome to a government grappling with rising expenses and worsening debt service obligations.

The Basic Education (Amendment) Bill, 2020 sponsored by Nominated Senator Beatrice Kwamboka sought to compel the national government in consultation with county governments to provide milk to learners enrolled in pre-primary and primary schools.

In rejecting the Bill, the National Assembly’s Education committee cited lack of a budget for the program and the risk of it derailing the current school meals program— which targets low-income areas, particularly in slums.

“In seeking to provide milk for learners, other school meals would be affected owing to budgetary shortfalls,” Florence Mutua, who chairs the committee, said.

The committee advised against passing the Bill unless a policy on provision of free school milk is introduced.

“The proposal is that prescriptions on the expansion of the school meals program are first relegated to policy before they become legislated,” the committee said during the scrutiny of the Senate Bill.

The school feeding program started in Kenya in 1980, with initial benefits being 240,000 children supported by the World Food Program (WFP).

In July 2018, WFP pulled out and transferred the meals responsibility to the government for over 540,000 primary school children in arid and semi-arid counties.

Since WFP’s exit, the program has been grappling with occasional breakdowns caused by underfunding.

It targets 1.5 million children each day, with government spending Sh11 per child per day.

“The respective roles of the national and county governments should be delineated so as to avoid any potential conflict,” the Assembly team said in justifying rejection of the Bill.

The committee noted pre-primary education is a devolved function as it falls under the functions and power of the county governments as set out in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution.

“Clearly, demarcating the role of national government from that of county government as set out in the Constitution is necessary to avoid conflict on who is responsible,” Ms Mutua said.

The Bill proposed that the distribution of free school milk be handled by county directors of education.

The Bill will now be returned to the Senate with amendments and should the Senate fail to agree with the National Assembly, the proposed law will be referred to mediation.

An equal number of members from both Houses will be appointed to hammer out an agreed version of the Bill. Should one House reject the mediated version of the Bill, the proposed law will be lost.

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