The Executive Director of Africa Education Watch, Kofi Asare, has faulted the leadership of the Gender, Children and Social Protection Ministry for the delay in paying caterers under the School Feeding Programme what is due them.

According to him, the lack of a substantive minister at the Ministry has affected the programme delivery and if not managed properly could lead to the total collapse of the initiative.

His comment was in relation to the withdrawal of services by caterers under the School Feeding Programme who say they have not been paid for two terms.

They are also demanding an increase in the monies paid them from 98 pesewas per child to 3 cedis citing the soaring cost of food prices on the market.

Kofi Asare noted that the issue with the non-payment of funds is not rooted in the seeming abandonment of the basic education system for the free secondary school system by the ruling government as some have suggested, but instead the lack of a leader at the Gender Ministry to advocate for the release of funds to pay the caterers.

“Of course, you cannot compare the school feeding programme to the free senior high school feeding because one is a flagship of the government of the day, the other isn’t. A flagship is called a flagship for a purpose so it enjoys the priority attention you wouldn’t the school feeding programme to get whether it’s justified or not.

“The leadership of the school feeding programme has left much to be desired. We’ve gone about a year without a substantive minister managing the programme. And let me just remind you that the school feeding programme accounts for close to 80% of the budget of the Ministry of Gender if not more than that.

“The budget of the Ministry of Gender is a little above 1billion and school feeding programme this year, the allocation was about 800million Ghana cedis, so it tells you that the school feeding programme is virtually the main deal at the Ministry of Gender.

“Now if there’s no minister or substantive minister there and the absence of a substantive minister affects programme delivery then it will affect most the school feeding programme because that is the biggest programme of that Ministry,” he explained on JoyNews’ PM Express.

He further stated that the absence of the substantive minister, who is also a cabinet minister, to advocate against the cutting of the Ministry’s budget as part of the government’s austerity measures in the wake of the economic downturn was also a major contributory factor to the current challenge.

“You know after the Minister of Finance announced an increase in the school feeding allocation from 488 million last year to about 860million this year which represented about 90% increment, and went ahead to announce that government was increasing the number of students benefitting from 3.4 to 4 million …hence that budgetary allocation.

“What happened 3 months after the budget was read was that the caretaker minister goes to parliament, just on the eve of the Minister of Finance indicating that because of the austerity measures budgets would have to be cut by 20% then the caretaker minister goes to parliament and says that the expansion of the school feeding programme, the purpose for which the allocation was increased for this year have been put on hold,” he said.

He added that “So it came as an impression that perhaps that budget has been cut because the 20% cuts were announced. Since then we haven’t seen any decisive leadership in terms of assuring caterers that the allocation that were made by the Minister of Finance in his budget have been disbursed, for that matter, the arrears are being paid, or the agitations for increment which started about 3 years or 2 years ago you know has been approved.

“So you see that if there was a substantive minister who in this case was a cabinet minister I’m not sure if that minister wouldn’t have advocated at that level for her budget not to be cut. And I’m talking about a social inclusion budget, a budget meant for the poor in our society. That is why I see that the school feeding issue first a leadership issue from the Ministry of Gender. It could have been managed properly, but its first a leadership issue.”

Kofi Asare further added that the second contributory factor to the school feeding challenge is the failure of the Finance Minister to release the funds to the Gender Ministry.

“If the Ministry of Finance has released the funds that the caterers are asking for to the Ministry of Gender, the Ministry of Gender wouldn’t have waited all this while for caterers to besiege their premise and be demonstrating,” he said.