On Friday, July 7th, 2023, the RT Hon. Speaker of Parliament directed that the Ministers of Education, Agriculture and Finance appear in Parliament. The purpose for the summons was for the aforementioned Ministers to brief the august House on matters which occasioned the picketing, including, sleeping at the premises of the National Food Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO), by members of the Ghana Association of Food Suppliers, a group of food supply contractors.
The Speakers’ directive was after members of the responsible and empathetic NDC group in Parliament made compelling submissions to the Speaker to intervene in the matter. As we wait for the summoned Ministers to appear as directed on Wednesday July 12, 2023, it’s important to set the records straight; and to share a few issues with Ghanaians, whom we represent as Members of Parliament.
To begin with, it was a needless drama which ensued from the intrusion by the Minister for Agriculture, Bryan Acheampong, when the leadership and members of the NDC group in Parliament visited the picketers to empathise with them and to obtain a first hand account of the vexatious reasons precipitating their action. The visit was to help the NDC side under the issues and to prepare adequately for the appearance of the summoned Ministers.
The NDC members of Parliament deserve commendation for standing their grounds. They had every right to visit and interact with the picketers. It’s however worth adding, that the food suppliers who had been picketing amidst wailing, sleeping and cooking at the premises of the NAFCO for four days, on purpose to draw public attention to their plight and to put pressure on the NPP government to pay them some outstanding GHC270m, have suspended their action.
According to the food suppliers, the decision to suspend their action is based on assurances given them by the Minister for Agriculture, under whom the NAFCO is housed. According to them, the Minister assured them that they [the food supply contractors] will be paid, starting from the 17th of July 2023. Notwithstanding the above, some interesting revelations have come to the public that would surely guide members of Parliament as we anxiously wait to welcome the summoned Ministers to Parliament on the matter of nonpayment of the food suppliers by government.
According to the the food suppliers who picketted at the premises of NAFCO, they belong to a group called the Ghana Food Suppliers Association. They add, that their group has supplied food to Secondary Schools since the implementation of the fSHS policy in 2017. They indicate, that the trigger for the action they embarked upon, was because government has not paid them for the cost of supplying food to Secondary Schools for two years – 2021 and 2022. Cumulatively, they claim to be owed some Ghc270m by government.
In their reasons for picketing, the group assert, that all efforts to get paid by the NAFCO, including petitions to the Presidency and meetings with the Minister for Education, yielded no fruit. The suppliers further claim, that the Minister for Education told them at a meeting, that his outfit had released 90% of the amount owed them to the NAFCO to pay them [food supply contractors]. Yet, the said releases never materialised in payments to the suppliers.
This is what caused them to issue a public notice of the now suspended action. They informed the public that government’s indebtedness to them made it impossible to pay their creditors, who pestered them for monies owed. Consequently, under such circumstances, they no longer had the capacity to supply food to Secondary Schools. Despite prior served warnings to the powers-that-be, to the effect that they would take drastic action if government failed to pay them, nothing was done to address their issue.
What seems to have greately irritated the members of the Food Suppliers Association, as they claim, is that, while they are owed for supplying food to Secondary Schools for two years, two new groups of food suppliers were formed, given contracts and paid. According to them, these new supplier groups – one formed by the Ministry of Education and the other by the FBSC – are paid timeously and even pre financed, in some cases, to supply food to schools. Why new groups were formed and are paid, while the group that refers to itself as orginal are owed, deserves further interrogation.
As it stands, Parliamentary records reveal, that Parliament, since 2017, has always approved every amount the government of Ghana has requested to fund the fSHS policy, including the years for which the members of the Ghana Food Suppliers Association are owed. For example, fSHS was allocated GHC1.9b in 2021, GHC2.3b in 2022, and GHC3.0b in 2023. The records further confirm, that from 2017-2023, Parliament has approved a total sum of GHC11.9b to fund the fSHS programme.
For the period 2017-2021, Parliament approved a total sum of GHC7.62b to fund the programme. According to the Minister for Finance, out of the GHC7.62b, only GHC5.3b was used. This means a surplus of GHC2.5b was unused for the allocated purposes. Interestingly, according to the Minister for Education, for the same five year period, from 2017-2021, only GHC5.1b out of the GHC7.62b was used. Consequently, GHC2.3b remained unused.
Notwithstanding the obvious inconsistencies in the total amount invested from 2017-2021, it is further clear, that the total funding for the period was not used. And while we wait for actual figures on how much of the GHC2.3b allocated to fund the programme for 2022 and how much of the GHC3.0b allocated to fSHS for 2023 has been utilised so far, it is certain that inadequate funding cannot be the reason for government’s inability to meet it’s obligations to all suppliers of food to Secondary Schools.
While at it, be informed that some suppliers of school uniforms and sports apparels have indicated privately, that government owes them too. Equally intriguing is, that since the implementation of the fSHS, some absorbed fees have never been released to schools, thereby creating some serious financial management constraints for Heads of Secondary Schools, in those respects. Particular mention must be made of fess in respect of maintenance, library, ICT and ID Cards.
I’ve long called for an audit of the fSHS. I believe the issues enumerated justify the need for an audit. Ghanaians have the right to know why the fSHS faces so many implementation challenges despite the quantum of resources allocated to fund the programme year in and year out. What is clear is, that there are many issues associated with the implementation of the fSHS policy which need further illumination.
I have no doubt that Members of Parliament will boldly demand answers from the summoned Ministers with regards to all matters associated with the implementation of the fSHS policy in the national interest. Wednesday July 12, 2023 promises to be memorable.
Dr. Clement Abas Apaak
M.P, Builsa South and Deputy Ranking Member on Education Committee of Parliament