RM1.67bil for free breakfast? Thought govt was broke, says Dr Wee

(The Star) – The government should reflect on its financial capacity before deciding to embark on a free breakfast programme for primary school students nationwide, says Ayer Hitam MP Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.

He said the free breakfast programme could pose as a major financial burden to the government, as Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said in Parliament on Wednesday (Oct 9) that it was expected to cost between RM800mil and RM1.67bil.

Noting that RM289mil was allocated for the Supplementary Food Programme in 2018, he said the implementation of the programme would mean an increase of some RM1.3bil in costs.

“I thought they said we were poor? They said they can’t assist some people in obtaining petrol subsidies, but then suddenly, they are allocating that (free breakfast programme).

“I’m not completely against the programme, but we must look at our financial capacity, ” Wee said to reporters when met at the Parliament lobby on Wednesday (Oct 9).

He also said that the free breakfast should not be given to the rich, but to needy students instead.

“I will be the first one who supports this programme if it’s not for everyone. What is the point for us giving free breakfast to those who are rich? Most importantly, food must be given to those who are poor, ” he said.

“Expand the programme to the B40. If the government can afford it, then expand it to the M40. Now, even the T20 gets free breakfast, ” he added.

The former deputy education minister under the Barisan Nasional administration said that proper planning must be done before implementing the free breakfast programme, as the size of school canteens are not big enough to cater to every student.

“Imagine before class starts at 7.30am, where will the 1,000 students sit and eat? Are they eating in classrooms? How many school canteens are big enough, ” he questioned.

“I’m urging the government to think this through. Otherwise, when there are problems next January or February, we will see yet another u-turn, ” he added.

Earlier in Parliament on Wednesday, Dr Maszlee said some 70% of students skipped breakfast, while the World Bank’s Report on Realising Human Potential noted that incidences of stunted growth in Malaysia was high.

The programme was announced last August and aimed at ensuring school students were provided with a healthy meal to start their day.

The free breakfast programme will be catered to some 2.7 million primary school students nationwide, starting next year.