– as AG decries slow pace of investigationInvestigations into discrepancies in the National School Feeding Programme are grinding along, with sources informing Guyana Times that some Police Officers who were handling the case were at one point transferred.A group of students enjoying lunch at the Shulinab Primary School, South Central Rupununi, Region NineWhile the Police Officers have been transferred, it is unclear if this was a routine rotation or a punitive act. Efforts to contact top officials in the Guyana Police Force (GPF) were futile. When contacted, Auditor General Deodat Sharma informed this publication that the investigation should have been completed by now.“I don’t know why it’s taking so long … I’m not very satisfied with that. We need to put a close to that aspect of it. I think they’re taking too long, because it was an area that was very clear-cut. I don’t know what’s happening there,” Sharma said.The National School Feeding Programme targets all nursery and primary school students in Grades One and Two. It was implemented in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and 10 and Georgetown. Regions Seven, Eight and Nine are treated separately. The meals consist of biscuits and juices.But the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the education sector, which was completed since 2017, had recommended that an investigation be launched into the Feeding Programme to ensure Government was getting value for money.Following this recommendation, State Auditors had embarked on this very investigation targeting the Programme. They had reportedly found major “spending” inconsistencies plaguing the Programme in two remote villages in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) during the period 2016-2017.Notwithstanding the lofty ideals of the Programme, coordinators in the red-flagged region have reportedly been abusing the responsibility and power vested in them. Particular scrutiny was brought to bear on the expenditures for each meal and that revealed costs were inflated. This had raised further queries as to whether the correct procurement procedures were followed during the award of the contracts.Millions of dollars ($1.3 billion and $1.9 billion in 2016 and 2017 respectively) were injected into the initiative, which was implemented in the 10 administrative regions following its re-launch in 2010 by former President and now Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.According to media reports, funds allocated to the Feeding Programme for the Kato Secondary School were even diverted to other areas.Still unaccounted forWhen it was released last year, the AG’s 2017 report had found that $52.5 million was still unaccounted for in the controversial programme. It was noted that State auditors examined the records of 11 schools in Regions Seven and Nine. Some $73.6 million was allocated to the programme in those schools which was supposed to go towards feeding 2189 students.But the report revealed that key documentation, such as bank reconciliation statements, was not presented to the auditors. As such, the AG could not even determine whether the sum, which was received by eight schools, was ever deposited into the bank in one lump sum.“The absence of this key control measure can lead to the perpetration of wrongdoing, without prompt detection,” the report notes, while adding that there was no evidence of supervisory checks of cash books by the management committee in three of the schools.“Supervisory checks were also absent in the stock ledgers and goods received book for six schools in Region Nine … the safeguarding of public funds was compromised. Moreover, cash was kept in the personal possession of the treasurers in eight schools. This unsatisfactory situation could lead to the perpetration of wrongdoing,” the report states.In its response, the Ministry acknowledged the AG’s findings, but it was pointed out that the programme itself was in the process of being transitioned from central management to community-based management.
The next day Julen Lopetegui was sacked, owing to what the club said was a “great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid and results.” Barca were top of La Liga, Madrid ninth.There will be little comfort then for Madrid that Messi could be missing again on Wednesday, a niggle in his thigh leaving coach Ernesto Valverde, and Messi, with a decision to make.If Messi plays – and Valverde was optimistic on Sunday – it will be because he is fit. Barcelona have indicated they will not risk their captain with a gruelling month ahead.The 2-2 draw at home to Valencia last weekend means their lead in La Liga is six points over Atletico Madrid and eight over Real, but with games away to Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and then Real in the next four weeks, there is little room for complacency.Dotted between are two legs against Lyon in the Champions League, the holy grail for Barcelona this season, and perhaps the one trophy they really crave after years of underachievement.Last month, Messi even had to reject claims they would be better off out of the Copa del Rey.“It was said that we had given up in the cup, that we didn’t want it,” he said. “But in no way is this the case.”The fervour of any meeting with Real Madrid dictates it cannot be taken lightly. As Barca’s stirring comeback against Sevilla in the quarter-finals showed, the players picked will not be holding back.But for the club, and their season, it is possible Barcelona need this match less than their opponents.Revenge is one thing. Madrid’s hammering in the autumn was the final humiliation at the end of a miserable run but their trajectory, despite a dip at the start of the year, has been generally upward since.“It was a complicated time for them psychologically,” said Valverde, after the semi-final draw. “Now they are in a different moment.”This is a chance for Madrid to wrestle back momentum. They will hope that beating Barcelona over two legs, even in the Copa del Rey, can knock them out of their stride.– ‘Phenomenally well’ –After Real’s win over Alaves on Sunday, Santiago Solari said his team were ready to fight. He has played up the spirit in the camp and there have been some impressive performances to back it up, most notably against Sevilla.“The spirit is like a family,” Solari said. “I think they are doing phenomenally well.”But as coach, this is Solari’s biggest test. He has put his faith in youth but how might Alvaro Odriozola, Sergio Reguilon and, in particular, Vinicius Junior handle their first Clasico, at the Camp Nou?Gareth Bale was quiet against Alaves but could he follow Isco and Marcelo as the next big name made to fight for his place?Santiago Solari faced the media on Tuesday ahead of a Clasico that could held strengthen his position as Real Madrid coach © AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS“I see Gareth focused, connected and plugged in,” Solari said last week. “I want him to perform how he knows he can.”Solari’s own future is on the line too. He has a contract until 2021 but his position is likely to be reviewed in the summer, when blockbuster games like these will surely spring quickest to the mind of president Florentino Perez.A domestic trophy would certainly help Solari’s case. Barcelona have won the Copa del Rey in each of the last four seasons, even if its prestige now pales in comparison to the league and Champions League. For Real, there is more than just the cup at stake.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as Barcelona humiliated Real in October © AFP/File / GABRIEL BOUYSMADRID, Spain, Feb 5 – One hundred days will split the last Clasico from the latest one and for Real Madrid the prize in the rematch is more than a place in the Copa del Rey final.When they trudged off the Camp Nou in October, the big screens above them flashed 5-1 to Barcelona, with Luis Suarez scoring three and without Lionel Messi at all, their best player injured and sitting in the stands.