About 5,000 caterers under the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) have not been paid for their services since the beginning of the year.
While some of the caterers who can afford it have been self-financing the programme, making it possible for them to feed pupils on a regular basis, others do not feed the pupils regularly.
In some of the beneficiary schools, pupils are fed twice or thrice a week, instead of the usual five times per five school days, a situation that seems to be undermining the essence of the programme.
Some of the caterers in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, Northern and Volta regions are so worried that they are contemplating taking action to compel the government to pay them what it owes them.
Meanwhile, the National Co-ordinator of the GSFP, Mr S.P. Adamu, who confirmed that the programme was indebted to the caterers, told the Daily Graphic that some payments would be made to them soon to clear the arrears.
He attributed the problem to budgetary constraints, particularly since the beginning of this year, adding that the release of funds to the various ministries had been a major challenge.
That, he said, had also made payment erratic, adding, “I think having had some discussions with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, it has actually agreed to release some funds.”
Mr Adamu said arrangements were being made to pay part of the arrears to the caterers.
“Our caterers should remain calm because something little is coming to them and I assure them that by the first week of August, another tranche will follow what we are releasing today. By September, all the arrears would be cleared, so that we will begin the first term of the new academic year on a clean sheet,” he said.
He put the total number of caterers at about 5,000.
Schools with over 600 pupils have two caterers each.
From Kumasi, George Ernest Asare reports that the caterers had raised the issue of financial difficulty as the key challenge to their operations.
At the Onwi and Worakose D/A Primary schools in the Bosomtwe District in the Ashanti Region, pupils are fed twice or thrice a week.
When the Daily Graphic visited the Onwi D/A Primary School around 9 a.m. yesterday, the caterers were yet to arrive to prepare meals to feed the pupils.
When contacted, the headteacher of the school, Mr Francis Kofi Nti, said since the beginning of the week, the pupils had been fed only twice.
“The caterer is not very regular in providing meals for the pupils as mandated, and in spite of the constant reminder for her to live up to expectation, she is adamant,” he said in an interview.
On why the caterer had not been regular in feeding the pupils, he said she had been complaining that she had not been paid for her services since January.
At the Esereso D/A Primary, the headteacher, Mr Justice Amoah-Poku, told the Daily Graphic that the pupils had been having their daily meals since the beginning of the year.
“The quality and quantity of the meals are very good and I hope that it would be sustained,” he said.
When contacted, the caterer, Taiba Ayuba, said although she was encountering financial challenges, she had not shirked her responsibility to feed the pupils.
“I am yet to receive any payment for my services since the beginning of the year but that has not prevented me from serving the pupils with food every day,” she said.
According to Madam Ayuba, early this year the authorities of the GSFP reimbursed her for the services she provided last year. She was, therefore, hopeful that she would be paid eventually.
Meanwhile, some pupils in the region have expressed concern over the quality and quantity of meals served under the GSFP.
According to them, the nutritional value of the meals was not the best, a situation which undermined the desire of the government to keep them healthy for them to focus more effectively on academic programmes.
The situation in the Ashanti Region is similar to what pertains in other regions.
From Tamale, Vincent Amenuveve writes that caterers working under the GSFP in the Northern Region continue to provide services for schools because of an appeal to them by the authorities to bear with the government while it looks for funds to pay them.
The Northern Regional Co-ordinator of the GSFP, Madam Olivia Yahaya, said the caterers had been entreated to find ways of continuing with their services, although they had not been paid what was due them since the beginning of the year, as a result of which many of them were in financial distress.
“We let them understand that this programme is not like paying salaries at the end of every month and so they would have to find ways of providing the services until the government pays them,” she said.
Madam Yahaya pointed out that the various district assemblies engaged the services of the caterers because of the caterers’ capacities, for which reason the assemblies expect the caterers to perform in the face of the current challenges.
She said the caterers had been reminded that they were on contract and that the government would ultimately pay them what was due them.
In the Ho municipality, the GSFP is yet to pay the arrears owed caterers under the programme, writes Victor Kwawukume from Ho.
According to Ms Suzzy Kudjoe, one of the caterers at the Anfoeta Gbogame Evangelical Presbyterian School, funds had not been released to them since January, this year.
Ms Kudjoe said many of the caterers had had to borrow money to be able to provide meals for the pupils.
The objective of the GSFP is to provide pupils with one nutritional meal a day to enhance their studies. The delay in the release of funds, therefore, seems to defeat the good intention of the programme, since most of the beneficiary pupils are from poor homes.
In the Ho municipality, 36 schools, with 8,000 pupils, are enrolled under the GSFP.
According to the Volta Regional Coordinator of the programme, Ms Edith Akpoto, although the programme was pre-financed, the delay had come about because of government’s intention to review upwards the 40Gp paid daily for each pupil.
She said the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development was expected to release funds to pay the caterers soon.