Pay Caterers of their 68 working Days of feeding pupils -Apaak urged the Government

Dr. Clement Apaak is urging government to save both the current and future generations by sending the children back to their classrooms by making payment to the caterers on the School Feeding Programme.

Pay Caterers of their 68 working Days of feeding pupils -Apaak urged the Government

Member of Parliament for Builsa South, Dr. Clement Apaak, has urged government to pay the 68 days of feeding owed careers. He also added that the payment must reflect the amout of Ghp 0.97 per child per day. The Builsa South MP explained that the payment of amount owed the careers would enable the affected pupils return to their classroom. His call follows the government's decision to place premium on building a Cathedral to keeping over 1.67 million Ghanaian children in school and failure to increase the demeaning GHS0.97 per head per day to a dignified feeding fee.

The situation, according to the Deputy Ranking Member, was dire such that any further delay in holding back monies owed caterers under the School Feeding Programme would affect the academic calendar. The careers, he added have registered their displeasure and indicated their resolve to discontinue the programme some six weeks ago, a situation which would likely erode the gains of the program and completely ground it.

The sad situation, he continued, has kept some 1.69 million Ghanaian children out of school. According to him, the ripple effects of the government's reneging on the payment would be unbearable for the present and future of the country.

The Builsa South lawmaker said the government has instead of payment reneged and has taken preference rather on the building a Cathedral to feed Ghanaian children. "Monday, June 13th, marked the sixth week since caterers under the School Feeding Programme placed on record their plight to government on their inability to continue to render services, while the government decided to arrogantly continue to erode their meager savings spent to sustain the program which is affected and whittled away by registered micro economic indicators", he sadly said. "These caterers have since embarked on an industrial action to register their abhorrence and protest of the ill and unfair treatment meted out to them by the government. ...This action was meant to bring to the notice of heads of the concerned ministry and agency if the above-raised issues haven't yet reached them,", he added.

He, therefore, urged the government to do the needful by making immediate payment for the feeding of pupils for 68 days at the current rate of Ghp 0.97 per child per day. He further proposed an increment of the allocation from Ghp 0.97 per child per day in light of the high cost of food items.

It would be recalled that the then Kufuor administration established the school feeding program for good reasons. The feeding program housed under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, is to amongst others, increase school enrollment, attendance, and retention of school children in school. The program is also meant to reduce hunger and malnutrition amongst pupils in addition to enhancing domestic food production, especially in deprived and rural agrarian communities across the country.

Sadly but legitimately, Dr. Apaak noted that caterers engaged to provide these services have been on strike for the past six weeks with legitimate demands which include: a) immediate payment for the feeding of pupils for 68 days at the current rate of Ghp 0.97 per child per day; and b) an increment of the allocation from Ghp 0.97 per child per day in light of the high cost of food items. The caterers, according to the Ranking Member, have contracted loans from various financial institutions and taken supplies of food items on credit from suppliers to meet the demands of their contract. He, therefore, urged that the immediate payment by the government would enable the caterers to pay off their debts and sustain a credit-worthy status.

"Their situation is exacerbated by their creditors who are on their necks each day and night. In addition, if the payment must be at the current rate of Ghp 0.97 per pupil per day, it will be practically impossible for them to prepare a decent meal at the prevailing current economic conditions", he observed. "Accordingly, the caterers have a legitimate case. What decent meal can be provided at Ghp 0.97 in Ghana today; with this high cost of living and with galloping inflation, particularly the exponential growth rate of inflation on food items, at these dizzying levels? This is particularly worrying and calls for responsible leadership to address these pertinent legitimate calls," Dr. Apaak said.

The absence of those service providers the Builsa South MP revealed, has so far affected school attendance as the absence of the caterers has a direct relation to the attendance of pupils, especially those in the lower primary, in rural and deprived poor communities. "In other words, several numbers of the 1.69 million pupil-beneficiaries of this program delivered through these caterers, who were fed before the curtailment, brought about through the strike, are currently not attending school and may not return if the government does not address the pending issues raised by these service providers,"  he cautioned. "It beats my imagination how the attitude of government seems lethargic in addressing this urgent matter.

Those who share this position cannot be faulted when the government continues to exhibit these hardcore traits of insensitivity to the plight of the deprived and the most vulnerable in our society", he lamented. He maintained that the government could not claim funding was the issue when it has become evident that huge sums of taxpayers' money have been clandestinely released towards the fulfillment of a private and personal pledge to build a cathedral.

Dr. Apaak, however, disclosed that the Akufo-Addo government has illegally and unlawfully spent a whopping GHC 200m to finance the fulfillment of a personal pledge to build a cathedral without the requisite permission and parliamentary approval for any such disbursement of state funds, a matter indicating a clear case of abuse of office, he said. He emphasized, "I pledged to God, that, if I become the President after two unsuccessful attempts in the 2016 Presidential Elections, I will build a Cathedral to the glory of God" this is personal and not national.

"Though a Christian, it is not acceptable and remains inappropriate for Akufo-Addo to use public resources in the fulfillment of a personal pledge, such as the building of a cathedral, whilst a significant number of the population wallow in glaring abject poverty. The narrative was that the building of the cathedral was not going to burden the public purse. So, why did Akufo-Addo stealthily initiate processes, unlawfully, using his cousin Ken Ofori-Atta, to do otherwise?", Dr. Apaak quizzed. "It is a documented fact that at no time has the government forwarded the cathedral project in any national budget to Parliament with an assigned financial allocation for approval.

The first budget Statement and Economic Policy under Akufo-Addo to capture the cathedral project was the 2019 budget, and here is what it said on page 193, paragraph 1001: "Meeting the spiritual needs of our people with the promotion of the Ghana National Cathedral". It's worth noting that the 2the 017, 2018, and 2022 budget statements never mentioned the cathedral project at all. In the budgets for 2019, 2020, and 2021 although mention was made of the cathedral, no funds were allocated to it", he said.

He said any indication of the state providing seed money might rather be traced to the Finance Minister's speech, which he read in brief to Parliament during the presentation of the 2019 Budget Statement and Economic Policy. "In paragraphs 156-157 of the 2019 budget speech, on pages 104-105 under National Cathedral, the Minister stated as follows:Mr. Speaker, the state is facilitating this process by providing the land, the Secretariat, and seed money for the preparatory phase. ... the President is determined that the building of the National Cathedral would not put undue financial burdens on the state", the Finance Minister assured.

He maintained that the Finance Minister, therefore, proposed a partnership between the State and the Ghanaian Christian community both at home and in the Diaspora. "Even so, no particular figure was mentioned as seed money. But even if a figure was mentioned in the Minister's speech, Parliament, as it is known, does not debate, consider and approve what the Minister narrates.

Parliament debateconsiderses, and approves the content of a Budget Statement and Economic Policy presented on behalf of the President. Parliament does not engage in speculations", the Builsa South MP strongly sounded. Dr. Apaak was of a firm belief that the narrative around the cathedral project has exposed the President and his cousin Ken Ofori-Atta as having no regard for the laws of the country, processes, and procedures.

He condemned in no uncertain terms the capricious, unlawful, and unreasonably use of executive power, a matter that has enraged the public "No citizen had a problem when the indication was that the cathedral project was to be funded with private resources.

Didn't government tell the Supreme Court that its contribution is to provide land for the construction of the cathedral? And that the actual construction was to be sponsored and financed by the churches in the ruling of the James K. Bomfeh Jnr. Vrs Attorney General case?", he questioned. The churches, he revealed were told the same as restated by the Secretary of the Christian Council under whose watch the cathedral project was birthed. According to Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, the government said it would only be a facilitator; while the churches were to provide funding for the project.

He further said, "The then Minister of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, Honourable Kofi Dzamesi, was one of those who explained to us again and again, that the churches in Ghana are going to build the cathedral and not the government." "In all humility, it is not right, it is immoral, and is unaccountable for Akufo-Addo to cause Ken Ofori-Atta to apply GHC 200m of public funds towards building an unapproved, and unbudgeted cathedral; when school children sit at home because school feeding caterers are owed their due.

Unlike the cathedral project, the budget for the School Feeding Programme was contained in the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy, which was debated, considered, and approved by the representatives of the people.

Release of public funds for the construction of an unbudgeted and unapproved cathedral to the detriment of budgeted and approved programs like School feeding cannot be tolerated in any democracy, and we must not tolerate the same", the Builsa South and Deputy Ranking Member condemned. "Government must quickly honor its obligation to pay the caterers and increase the cost of feeding per pupil as soon as possible.

This is what the government was given the mandate to execute with the GHC 881m captured in Appendix 6, page 272, of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy under the School Feeding Programme", he urged.

Report by Prosper Kwaku Selassy Agbitor