The Ghana National School Feeding Programme (GSFP) introduce in 2005 by the Kufuor administration in partnership with the Dutch Government as a means to boost domestic food production and increase school enrolment, attendance and retention among kindergarten and primary school children is gradually sliding towards the direction of a failed project,The Al-Hajj can report.
The project, which is also to boost the nutritional needs of children in basic schools, and which has since yielded the desired result of increasing enrollment in basic schools, is reeling under severe difficulties as the release of funds for the smooth running of the programme is becoming problematic under the Mahama administration.
Though similar situation confronted both the Kufuor and Atta Mills governments, the situation today, according to caterers across the country has shot from bad to worse, to the extent that some of them have not been paid for seven to eight months now.
This situation is said to have so degenerated to the extent that, some caterers are forced to go contrary to their mandate and are serving food three or two times a week instead of five days.
Information gathered by The Al-Hajj indicates that most of the caterers with serious financial challenges are threatening to entirely withdraw their services any time soon, whiles the few who have managed to source funds with the hope of being paid later by the GSFP Secretariat, are said to have resorted to buying only foodstuffs their meager sums can afford to feed the ?vulnerable? children.
The huge arrears the project is battling with is also said to be affecting the quantity, quality and nutritional value of meals served the school children.
Sadly, though the GSFP national secretariat has confirmed the caterers have not been paid for some time and has pleaded with them to exercise restraint, the Public Relations Officer of the GSFP, Mr. Siiba Alfa, was unable to tell when funds will be released to offset the debts.
Reports are that the project has ceased in some districts across the country and by the end of this week, if officialdom does not take steps to make funds available for the project, the few patriotic caterers still rendering their services despite the lack of funds may also withdraw the services.
Though since the start of the project in 2005, it has yielded the desired results and has arguably become one of the most important social intervention programs aside National Health Insurance Scheme, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty among others, it has been saddled with financial challenges.
The financial difficulties of the program were further aggravated when the Dutch government, which initially co-sponsored the project, withdrew from it, leaving the entire funding on the laps of government which is already struggling with immense budgetary pressures.
Reports across the country is that the continuation of the government intervention programme is no longer guaranteed, and as such, some caterers have even started advising parents to give their children ?feeding fees? for school as they can no longer continue working without being paid.
A news report on TV3 last Friday confirmed the project to have ceased in the LA-Nkwantanang Municipal Assembly in the Greater Accra Region. It revealed that caterers in other Assemblies have threatened to withdraw their services in no time if the arrears are not settled.
The Head of School Feeding Caterers Association, Madam Faustina Cyriano , told TV3 that ?majority of the caterers have gone for money from MASLOC and we are supposed to pay back with interest?so, if we are not paid on time how do you pay interest on the loan you have taken??
?The Children have been complaining about the quality of meal we serve them, but there is nothing we can do,? a caterer told TV3 on condition of anonymity.
Prior to this, some caterers in the Central Region have also companied about delays in the release of funds on Adom Fm, and have also served notice of their resolve to withdraw their services. The case in other regions across the country is no different.
Speaking on the issue, the PRO of GSFP, Siiba Alfa, though could not tell the exact date the arrears will be cleared, stated that payment will be made soon.
He told TV3 that ?I don?t want to put timeline so that when we are not able to effect payment it will look as if we are making an empty promise?But what I can say is that they should bear with us.?
Meanwhile, The Al-Hajj has gathered that some assemblies that have been using their Internally Generated Funds to fund the project before government pays back have stopped, because there is huge pressure on their budgets, and more so some of the assemblies have also engaged caterers to extend the project to other schools where government was unable to reach and are funding it from their IGF.
Source: The Al-Hajj