Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Speaker of Parliament, has directed five Committees of the House to investigate the activities of the School Feeding Programme and the National Food Buffer Stock Company.
The Committees include Education, Gender, Children and Social Protection; Health; Food and Agriculture; and Finance.
The Speaker, who gave the directive in a formal communication to the House on Tuesday, said the Committee was to report back to Parliament its findings and recommendations on the feasibility, sustainability of the two programmes before the end of October this year.
He said a matter of concern and of public interest had been brought to his attention in the aftermath of the caterers of the School Feeding Programme’s recent protest and strike.
He said this necessitated some light shedding on the issues raised by the caterers to ensure that food, an essential requirement for life itself, was made readily available to the vulnerable school going children in the country.
Mr Bagbin said the caterers, who ceased operations in May of this year, were requesting that their grants be increased from 0.97 pesewas to GHC3.00 per child per meal, adding that a few of them had also threatened to terminate their contracts entirely due to months of non-payment of arrears by the Government.
“I am aware of the extent to which the non-payment of these arrears is affecting school enrolment and attendance, particularly in rural communities,” he said.
“We have all accepted the truism children and youth are the wealth of a nation. The situation we are in now affects the vulnerable school children and future leaders of this country.”
He said as political leaders, they were prioritizing political development over economic growth.
“We are neglecting a significant resource of development; the people. As MPs (Member of Parliament), we cannot fold our arms or follow partisan lines and positions whilst Rome burns. As you are all aware, Parliament is the primary democratic institution which represents the people of this country,” Mr Bagbin said.
“Parliament is the only constitutionally legitimate authority to call government to put things right. We must resolve, here and now, to act quickly and decisively on this matter.”
He said it was for this reason, that on the 23rd of June, as part of Parliament’s oversight responsibility, specifically post legislative scrutiny function, he paid a surprise visit to the National Food Buffer Stock Company and the School Feeding Programme Secretariat to understand and obtain first-hand information on the situation, as well as assess the situation on the ground.
“I needed empirical prima facie evidence, to guide the House on a proper response to this challenge.”
He said during the tour, his first stop was at the National Food Buffer Stock Company, where he met Alhaji Hannan Abdul Wahab, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Management and Staff of the Company.
He noted that the CEO gave a detailed brief of the operations and highlighted the company’s challenges in areas such as stocking for government use, recent price increases in food items, which had stalled the government’s initiative to roll out plans for price stabilization of goods and services, and the inability of the Company to stock at the peak of harvest, to name a few.
The Speaker said the CEO was not happy the viability and efficacy of such a laudable programme were being affected by lack of funding, thus compelling management to assess funding from commercial sources such as ADB Ltd.
Concerning the Ghana School Feeding Programme, the Speaker said the story was similar at the Ghana School Feeding Programme Secretariat (GFSP).
He said during his interaction with Mrs Gertrude Quashigah, the National Coordinator, in the presence of her management team, she bemoaned the Ministry of Finance’s inability to pay the caterers on time.
“But forcefully insisted that the information in the public domain about the non-payment of caterers for a period of time was not accurate.”
Speaker Bagbin also stated that there existed obvious gaps between what the National Food Buffer Stock Company claimed to supply and the realities that were unfolding in the education sector, particularly in relation to Senior High Schools.