FCC owns up to the sorghum rot

Guilty- chief public health officer Ookame Kelaeng and chief education secretary Leslie Botsie and Town clerk Mompati Seleka PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Guilty- chief public health officer Ookame Kelaeng and chief education secretary Leslie Botsie and Town clerk Mompati Seleka PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG

Following Mmegi’s recent expose into the rotten sorghum that the Francistown City Council (FCC) has been feeding schools around the city, the FCC top leadership this week conceded there have been leakages in their supply chain management. Mmegi Staff Writers RYDER GABATHUSE and CHAKALISA DUBE found out

FRANCISTOWN: Francistown City Council (FCC) has this week conceded an array of storage weaknesses attributed to the recently condemned rotten bags of sorghum meal, samp and beans supplied to schools as feed for pupils.

“Within our food supply chain, we do concede that there was where the food was infested,” outgoing FCC town clerk, Mompati Seleka conceded in a broad interview at his office this week.

Seleka was accompanied by his deputy responsible for finance and administration, Botshe Matlhodi, acting assistant manager supplies, Edward Molamu, chief public health officer, Ookame Kelaeng and chief education secretary, Leslie Botsie.

“First and foremost, last week when you enquired about this matter, I think from our side in the office, we focused on just one area of which I don’t think that’s what you wanted. Your view was also that the food that we supply to schools was infested with weevils, mould and worms,” Seleka recapped.

After the FCC had done its thorough follow-up on the matter, they found out that the supply from the warehouse situated at Area G to the various schools within the boundaries of the city, the supplies will be in order as they are inspected. According to Seleka, foodstuffs are stored properly at a place that has no infestation. What is happening is that food will be distributed to the various schools from the central warehouse, especially sorghum meal and others such as beans and maize basing on consumption patterns.

Schools’ consumption patterns do vary substantially as at some schools pupils from middle-income families do not feed from the schools, but rather they carry provisions to schools. In turn, such schools do not cook quantities that they were supposed to.

“Therefore, we supply schools basing on those consumption patterns. Well and good about food supplied to schools. But there were schools where there were leftovers when the schools closed for three weeks last term only to be found infested with weevils, mould and worms.”

About five schools could not exhaust their supplies up to the period when such schools went for their breaks.

Seleka’s explanation about the infestation of the school supplies was that the storerooms at various schools grappled with ventilation and others, especially during school closures forcing the supplies to turn bad.

Seleka was not convincing enough when trying to explain, because from time immemorial, schools have been closing and reopening and it seems they have not learnt anything in terms of how to safely supply foodstuffs to schools and store leftovers effectively.

In most cases, infestations were only detected when schools reopened that supplies of sorghum meal, maize and beans had mainly turned bad and declared unfit for human consumption. The million-pula question is that how much has the Council lost in previous supplies that had been infested at the schools around Francistown? The latest condemnation certificates issued in May this year are not the first and last that ordered for destruction of bags of supplies. About 60 bags of sorghum meal, beans and maize were destroyed in May throwing thousands of the taxpayer’s money down the drain through the officers’ imprudence. The FCC teams did some inspections at various schools in town and they duly issued condemnation certificates on certain supplies to some schools. Mmegi is in possession of some condemnation certificates issued by the Council’s environmental health inspectorate team at about five schools.

At Mokaleng Primary School, the condemnation certificate shows that 12 bags of 25kg sorghum meal, six bags of 25kg samp and two 50kg bags of beans were found to be unsound or unfit for human consumption and have been seized and destroyed in accordance with the Food Control Act. Conditions leading to the seizure were that the bags had weevils and infestation.

At Our Lady of the Desert Primary School, 23 bags of 25kg sorghum meal were destroyed because they had weevils and worm infestation. At Lekgaba five bags of 25kg sorghum meal were also destroyed because of weevil infestation. Finally, at Mahudiri Primary School 12 bags of 25kg sorghum meal were destroyed as a result of weevil infestation as well.

Following the destruction of supplies that were infested, the FCC supplies team started replacing destroyed foodstuffs. Now, it happened recently that when the FCC supplies team was delivering some foodstuffs they raised a red flag about the state of the foodstuff, feeling strongly that the foodstuff was infested from the warehouse and not schools’ storages. Seleka emphasised, however, that pertinent inspections were undertaken at the Council’s warehouse at Area G and the council got a clean bill of health, as there was no contamination detected. Worriedly, their method of random sampling from the stored bags raised doubts even in the minds of the supplies officers that their method was not efficient enough. "I think we concentrated at the Area G warehouse when reports of sorghum infestations emerged. We focused more on the warehouse overlooking the fact that at the schools we store foodstuffs as part of our storage,” Seleka explained.

He conceded that it was an omission on their part to have overlooked some important parts in the whole exercise of accounting for the movement of foodstuffs. “At the end of the day we duly apologise as people ought to know how their pupils are fed at the schools,” Seleka owned up to their mistakes. He emphasised that the source of infestations at schools is that when food is stored from time to time, ventilation has to be very good. The matter, he said, becomes even challenging when schools have closed given that the storerooms are not the best of facilities to write home about.

“There are some schools that have experienced some logistical problems because their pots had broken down and could not cook sorghum for a long time. What we are saying, however, is that going forward, we are going to be vigilant in terms of our school storages.”

Seleka still believes that they must have an intervention plan and go to the schools and check the inventory of food left over upon closing schools with the view to finding a central place to store the food and apply the requisite monitoring so that food does not go bad.

One of the suggested monitoring tools was to place the storages at the schools under the Council’s management radar so that they are able to monitor trends.

The FCC has also opted to look at the Dumela Industrial site so that when schools closed, they can be able to store the leftovers for proper storage.

In short, they are saying there were incidents where food was found infested at schools. But, insisted that they did not feed the pupils with the infested food.

He noted that given the circumstances, it was normal for their supplies team on the ground to contend that supplies from the Council warehouse could be contaminated dragging their feet to supply.

“All in all, we are not saying we dispute your story in its entirety and appreciate your oversight responsibility.”

He conceded that it has been an inefficiency that they had to depend on schools and supplies officers indicating that their involvement has to go beyond distribution as the Council.

“We have realised that it’s all about strong management and we are going to dedicate officers to man the schools’ storages. We want to get regular updates from the schools.”

In summation, Seleka conceded on behalf of the FCC team as well that they were caught unawares by the line of questions they had to endure. According to Seleka, the Mmegi story has not tarnished the good image of the Council, but has instead helped them appreciate a lot of things, especially concerning communication.

“We appreciate some of the things that we have raised and we look at them positively. If we had met earlier in a similar fashion, the story could have come out better,” Seleka said indicating that the Mmegi investigations have come to them positively as feedback from the public that has helped correct some things within their supply chain management.

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