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Senator Orwoba demands audit on distributed sanitary towels

 

Kiambu Woman Rep Ann Wamuratha during the launch of free sanitary towels for all public schools in Kiambu County. [Kimaku Chege, Standard]

Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba has demanded for a statement on budgetary expenditure on sanitary towels under the 2023/24 financial year.

In a request tabled before Parliament, Orwoba wants the Senate Finance Committee to provide details from the Ministry of Education, and Gender, Culture, Arts and Heritage.

“I rise to standing order 53 (1) to seek a statement from the standing committee on finance budget concerning the expenditure of the budgetary allocations to sanitary towels program for the year 2023/24,” stated Orwoba, also an international menstrual hygiene ambassador.

The legislator also wants the committee to provide all tender documents, including advertisements and details of awarded tenders of procurement for sanitary towels for the year 2023/24.

Further, the document tabled in parliament demands documentation on the delivery of the towels to learners.

“In the statement, the committee should provide delivery notes or proof of receipts of sanitary pads by the beneficiaries including reports of payments to suppliers of the pads during the year under review,” Orwoba requested the committee.

According to Senator Orwoba, there has been a glaring loophole of accountability regarding spent budgets and actual beneficiaries of the Sanitary Towels Budget.

"Neither the Ministry of Education nor Gender, has ever had an actual framework that safeguards these budgets from rogue suppliers who supply cheap, substandard, harmful imported products to capitalise on profits from allocated tenders," she alleges.

The senator also avers that a thorough audit of delivery will confirm that a fraction of the budget supplies is what finally reaches the beneficiaries who are vulnerable school girls.

She added that there is absolutely no attempt at safeguarding this budget, which the president tripled, to ensure that the Kenya Kwanza Government fulfilled one of its Women Charter agenda.

"There is no transparency in procurement of the same, raising too many eyebrows. To date, as we close the financial year, the information on the expenditure of Sh940 Million budget allocation is not available to the public or beneficiaries. There is also no attempt to use this budget to end Period Poverty by limiting imported pads from suppliers. So in the end, even when the goodwill is there by the president, the implementation is a zero-sum project." Orwoba laments.

She also states that it is because of the above reasons that she is lobbying to get her bill on Free Sanitary Towels passed in Parliament so as to cure all the above problems.

Under the 2024/25 financial budget, Women Representatives are set to take over the management of sanitary towels.

In the budget estimates, The National Treasury has allocated Sh940 Million for the purchase of sanitary towels.

Until the programme was placed under women representatives, the Ministry of Education has been running the sanitary towels program in all public schools across the country.

In the financial year 2023/24, at least Kshs 3 Billion was allocated to NGAAF for the sanitary towels program.

The National Treasury has retained the same allocation in the next financial year, 2024/25.

The committee, chaired by Thika Town MP Alice Wahome, recommended the shift in management of the kitty because of gaps witnessed in the Gender Empowerment Programme that operates under the State Department for Gender.

To have all girls in school, the Basic Education Act of 2017 recommended a free supply of sanitary towels to all adolescent girls in public schools.

Under Senator Orwoba's proposed bill, sanitary towels will be procured by an independent committee, while oversight of distribution will be done by Women Reps.

For smooth operation, the Committee on Social Protection of the National Assembly, proposed the establishment of proper policies for the supply of the essential commodity by July 30, 2024.

The policies are to be appended to Women Representatives who will receive the items for distribution to beneficiaries in their respective counties.

According to the Office of the Auditor General, at least 12,561, 553 girls have benefited from free sanitary towels.

According to the 2022 Performance Auditor Report on the performance on the provision of sanitary towels to girls in public primary schools by the Ministry of Education, the government spent approximately Sh3.1 billion from 2021 to 2022.

But the report also states that despite the heavy allocation, a number of girls have suffered access to the essential commodity.

“Despite the budgetary allocation, there has been an outcry from Cabinet Secretary of Education and heads of schools about fee sanitary towels not being available for every period as expected,” reads a section of the Office of Auditor General.

The Sanitary Towels Bill, 2023 drafted by Orwoba, seeks to address the issue of sanitary towel shortage faced by girls in the country.

The bill proposes the provision of sanitary towels to all girls and women in schools and prisons, through budgetary allocation.

Further, the bill proposes the establishment of better distribution structures to ensure beneficiaries receive the commodities.

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