Some caterers under the Ghana School Feeding Programme in the Ashanti Region and other parts of the country are practically crying out to government to pay three terms arrears owed them.
The caterers, majority of whom would not speak on record for reasons best known to them, say they are forced to reduce the size of the meals to the beneficiaries and also suspend cooking on some days due to lack of funding.
Others say they are indebted to their suppliers for many months. From hindsight, it could be deduced that the fear of being victimized and taken off the programme had oppressed any boldness in these caterers to come out to trumpet their debilitating condition.
A man who could not bear the frustrations his caterer wife was going through in the Ashanti Region, complained bitterly when he called into the Ultimate Morning Show to join a discussion on the seeming collapse of the programme. According to him, his wife, who feeds over a thousand pupils in the region, has sleepless nights because she has not been paid for the past three terms.
“We owe someone close to eight thousand Ghana cedis and they keep calling us telling us we are collapsing their business. And for close to three terms not a pesewa has been paid to my wife. I am on my knees in my room begging you to please tell those who are in charge, and I don’t speak for myself alone, to find out when they will pay them something. You know how much I weigh? I weigh 76 kilos. But in less than one month, I have lost 3.6 kilos. I am begging you”.
He further lamented he was only praying none of his four children would fall sick as he had practically nothing to pay for any medical bills since he has been forced to support his wife with all their earnings.
“Can you imagine if you cannot fend for your four children when on a daily basis you are borrowing to feed about a thousand children?” he inquired almost in tears.
But it appears the caterers may have to brace themselves for the worse a bit longer, because not even the National Coordinator of the School Feeding Programme is aware of when they will be paid.
Adamu Seidu, who in the past suggested all was well with the programme, told Kumasi-based Ultimate Radio he is equally fed up and frustrated with the unending series of unfulfilled promises from the Finance Ministry to release funds for the caterers. He admitted some caterers were owed for over a hundred and forty days while some had not received their due payments since the first term of the 2013-2014 academic year.
He lamented morosely, “I don’t even know what to say. It seems there is a problem somewhere between the finance ministry, the Bank of Ghana and the controller and accountant general’s department. I just don’t understand what is happening. They keep promising there will be a release of funds after salaries are paid but February salaries have been paid long ago. I am even overwhelmed and I don’t know what to do” he admitted in frustration.
Mr. Adamu Seidu said it was likely the huge government expenditure for the year 2013 had accounted for the serious financial challenges the government was facing in the release of funds.
“I think basically there is a budgetary problem and I don’t know how soon we will get over it and these are all the consequences of what happened in 2013.”
When asked to expatiate, he admitted that “In 2013, Government revenue was affected by a series of activities and events that happened in the country and since then, I don’t think we have recovered much. We are not out of the woods yet.”
He also explained that a share of the district assembly common fund which is supposed to be paid to the School Feeding Programme wasn’t forth coming. Another issue he raised as affecting funding for the programme was the termination of donor support the programme used to enjoy from the Danish government.
When asked whether there was any hope at the end of the tunnel, he declined making any promises only to say “I myself, I am so much embarrassed and overwhelmed with this thing because as usual they promised me last week Thursday to release the funds and as I speak, I have not received it and I am as desperate as any person.”
Sharing in the quagmire of the caterers who complained of sleepless nights because of the problems they were going through at the hands of their creditors, Adamu Seidu said “please, I too cannot also sleep because the caterers are calling me day and night.
He said “even at midnight, they call me and I have nothing to tell them except to control them and tell them we are working around it, and I am fed up giving them promises”.
The Coordinator also joined the caterers in making a passionate appeal to Government to “do the right thing” by prioritizing the programme and make funds available for them. He is of the view that just as government always found money to pay for salaries, the food to be given children of Ghana also deserved the same attention and if “government has to cough up the money, it has to do it”.
He stressed that caterers should not be treated like any ordinary contractor “since when contractors are not paid, no other person goes hungry but if caterers are not paid, several children go hungry”.