School lunch suppliers face extra demands

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2008, 12:00am

School lunch suppliers facing inappropriate demands from schools should report them to anti-corruption enforcers immediately, the Health Department said yesterday.

The warning followed a survey of suppliers, some of whom said they were asked for donations and sponsorships of up to HK$1 million to schools in return for their business.

The information came from an anonymous questionnaire completed by 14 of 34 suppliers contacted by the department in October and November last year, in which nine of the respondents said they had faced extraordinary demands. One company said it had been asked to offer an additional 30 per cent of its daily lunchboxes at no charge.

Others said they had been asked to offer HK$100,000 to HK$1 million to improve school cafeterias or to provide fruit, sandwiches or drinks to teachers free or at low cost.

'Although it was not possible for the Health Department to identify the supplier or school concerned, the department did encourage lunch suppliers to consider reporting cases directly to ICAC,' a spokesman for the department said yesterday.

Findings of the survey and recommendations by the Education Bureau and the Independent Commission Against Corruption had been posted on the department's website since Monday, the spokesman said.

The Education Bureau said schools should not receive any donations or advantages from suppliers.

The ICAC said some requirements might involve conflict of interest and the cost of the demands might reflect on the quality and price of lunchboxes.

School Meal Suppliers Association chairwoman Julita Lee Cheung Wai-Mi said the cases mentioned in the study were isolated ones. 'We really seldom hear these demands. They are serious however, and our association will talk to the members to see what we will do next,' she said.

Aided Primary School Heads' Council chairman Alex Cheung Chi-hung said allegations in the study were serious. 'There are already clear guidelines for choosing lunchbox suppliers and many schools are very transparent over tendering,' he said.

Committee on Home-School Co-operation vice-chairman Christopher Yu Wing-fai said suppliers should 'turn down these extraordinary demands'.

'At the end of the day, the quality of these children's lunchboxes will be compromised,' he said.

The ICAC said it could not comment on individual cases or say whether it was investigating any. 'But then, generally speaking, if we receive a corruption allegation, we will investigate,' a spokesman said.

The ICAC commissioner had reiterated earlier this month that people who were in important positions should try to avoid involvement in conflicts of interest. The Health Department's survey was conducted after the campaign, aimed at promoting healthy eating in schools.