Amid allegations of overpricing, the Department of Education has canceled a P427-million contract awarded to a lone bidder for the supply of instant noodles to public schools. The noodles were supposed to be fortified with fresh eggs and malunggay, but the eggs were allegedly missing in the actual servings for 2008 and 2009. The noodle supply contract has been awarded for the past five years to Jeverps Manufacturing Corp. A public hearing conducted by the Senate education committee chaired by Manuel Roxas II showed that the noodles and freight charges were overpriced.
What happens now to the school feeding program? Classes in public schools start next week. Though the food is modest, the feeding program helps keep children in school. One of the causes of the high dropout rate in public elementary and secondary schools is malnutrition, which makes children more susceptible to illnesses. For many families, there is rarely enough food on the table, much less money for a child’s food allowance during school days. Though elementary and secondary education is free, parents must set aside money for the other expenses of sending a child to school. Among the biggest expenditures are transportation and food.
The school feeding program is meant to augment the nourishment of these less privileged children. Now the program is mired in accusations of anomalies, and the education department is rushing the bidding for a new contract. If the bidding process again becomes tainted by a scandal, public school students will have a long wait for their noodles.
It is not enough to cancel the noodle contract. The cancellation implies that the accusations of anomalies are true, and those behind the overpricing must be penalized. The administration cannot keep sweeping under the rug anomalous deals simply by canceling them, as it did with the broadband network contract with China’s ZTE Corp. A P427-million contract cannot be canceled on a whim. The cause must be justified, and if it because of corruption or other irregularities, the culprits must be punished.