The Speaker Of Parliament has called the  Need For Challenges With The National School Feeding Programme to Be Quickly Resolved.

Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, said this when he paid a surprise visit to the National Buffer Stock Company and the National School Feeding Programme, yesterday.

Ironically, his visit coincided with President Nana Akufo-Addo’s termination of the appointment of the President of the Greater Accra School Feeding Caterers Association, Juliana Cudjoe as a member of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.

The reason for the revocation of Madam Cudjoe’s appointment is unknown, as it was not indicated in the letter but she has been vocal in advocating for the payment of members of the School Feeding Caterers Association of Ghana, who have not been paid for three terms.

Madam Cudjoe’s has also been pushing for an increase in their feeding grants from the current 97 pesewas.

A letter dated June 17, 2022, signed by the Greater Accra Regional Minister, Henry Quartey, noted that “H.E. the President…has revoked your appointment as a government appointee with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly with immediate effect… You, therefore, cease to be a member of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly accordingly.”

Madam Cudjoe  had refused to comment whenshe was contacted for her response.

In recent times, there has been a running battle between caterers of the programme and authorities over the cost of feeding per student.

Mr. Bagbin explained that “I decided to spring this surprise to see on the ground how these agencies are struggling to cope with the pressure. I am trying to understand the challenges they are experiencing and how we can support them to do their work. It is a national issue that I did not want to be taken along partisan lines. We pass the laws and approve the budget, and therefore we should be on top to assist the government to put their priorities right.”

Caterers nationwide boycotted cooking weeks ago, over outstanding allowances owed to them by the government.

Caterers in Savannah, Volta, Western North, Oti, Bono, Ahafo, Bono East and North-East regions were subsequently paid by the government after several protests.

However, some school feeding caterers in the Western Region recently picketed at the offices of the School Feeding Programme Secretariat in Accra, agitating over the non-payment of monies owed them for preparing meals for pupils.

The Speaker explained that although there are specific Parliamentary Committees assigned to perform their oversight responsibilities over these state institutions, it is his duty as the Speaker to familiarise himself with the challenges of these institutions to appreciate their concerns when they are brought before the House.

Speaker’s familiarisation visit to the Ghana Buffer Stock Company was to engage with the company’s management to become familiar with the successes the company has chalked so far. It was also to be abreast with some challenges it faces for Parliament to know how it could help the company.

Welcoming the Speaker to the Offices of the National Buffer Stock Company, the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Hanan Abdul-Wahab noted that the staff strength of the company has been increased and their offices have expanded from operating in three regions to all the 16 regions since he took over in 2017 therefore their inputs have improved.

Abdul Wahab Hanan, said one of the company’s major challenges is the ability to stock huge quantities of food during bumper harvest to ensure price stabilisation.

“Our major challenge is a stocking for government emergency use as in food security reserve. That has always been our challenge, so along the line, there was another programme by government, one district, one warehouse, which is also laudable.

“The reality is that we must make sure that food is available before we think about stocking. Stocking in our various warehouses will also go a long way to cut down on our budget on food,” he said. 

Abdul Wahab Hanan further called on the Speaker of Parliament to assist the Ghana Buffer Stock Company in terms of stocking food for the long and short term and also mentioned inadequate allocation of funds to purchase food has being the major challenge of the company.

Food inflation has been on the rise recently, driving overall inflation to above 27%, one of the highest in the sub-region.

Abdul Wahab Hanan also blamed the rising prices of foodstuffs on the activities of go-betweens, whom he claims are creating artificial shortages.

“As a company that has been doing well on its own with little support from various stakeholders, we have also been able to get firsthand information on what is happening on the ground. 

“The reality has to do with the fact that we are unable to stock at the peak of the harvest and also food is available.

But some middlemen in the food business are taking advantage of that, and they are creating artificial shortages to shoot up food prices,” he noted.

Mr. Bagbin assured the company Parliament will ensure funds are made available to the organisation to expand its capacity to stock large quantities of food for a rainy day.

“You can see that one of the biggest challenges is funding. It is just not sufficient to give seed money; I think that government will, from time to time, have to come in to provide them with some financial support.

“This will keep the prices to the level we usually refer to as affordable and not allow this price escalation. Let us see how we could support this institution, and so I will brief the House,” Bagbin said.

Alban Bagbin also called on the private sector to step in, given the potential high returns for such a venture.

“The private sector should be able to lend a helping hand to the institution. It is not a matter of looking at the commercial banks but private sector investors looking for places to invest. This is one of the areas you could invest in to get good returns…I will want to call on all of them to do so,” he stated.

At the School Feeding Programme Secretariat, the National Coordinator, Gertrude Quarshigah revealed that most of the Caterers are complaining because the current 97 pesewes per head for a day is woefully inadequate considering the increase in prices lately.

She indicated that the Caterers are asking for Ghc 3 per head and can also feel the pain of the Government in the wake of economic crisis across the globe.

She assured the Caterers that all outstanding payments would be made as soon as the Controller releases funds.

The Speaker assured the Heads of the institutions that he will lead the House to make sure that enough funds are allocated to solve the above mentioned challenges.

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