Some $175 million that was allocated to finance the school food program that is meant to reduce child mortality in Colombia is unaccounted for, according to the Inspector General’s Office.
The irregularities and failures that have plagued the government program additionally left half a million of Colombia’s most vulnerable children without free school food in 2017 alone, the office said in a blistering report.
Vice-Inspector General Juan Carlos Cortes presented the results of an investigation into the program’s failures and successes in Bogota on Tuesday.
According to Cortez, 40 municipal governments are investigated for possible fraud with the program that has been in place for more than 80 years.
Five provincial governments are also investigated because of irregularities in the outsourcing of the school food program.
The program is considered key to prevent both malnutrition and school desertion but has long suffered excessive corruption and chronic under funding.
The former governor of La Guajira, the province with Colombia’s highest child mortality rate, was placed under house arrest while awaiting trial for embezzling funds from the school food program.
Part of the problems were caused by the Education Ministry’s 2001 decision to decentralize the program, according to a recent study by the National University.
The university deemed the execution of this new policy “poor and inconsistent.”
Governors threatened to stop funding gaps in the financing of the program earlier this year, claiming they were forced to pay for expenses meant for the Education ministry.
The program is meant to feed the 8 million children who receive public education in Colombia.
According to the National University, only 58% of Colombia’s children effectively received school food in 2016. In some cases they were not fed regularly. In other cases the food was bad or insufficient.