President Nana Akufo-Addo’s flagship programme, the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) policy, is faced with a major challenge of feeding the beneficiaries, especially those in boarding schools as food suppliers get ready to withdraw services over a GHC500milion debt owed them.
The New Publisher gathered that though the situation has gotten out of hand, the suppliers have not been able to fully voice out their woes over the fear of victimization as they would be deemed to be painting the government black.
The GHC500 million debt, sources have disclosed, started piling up in 2021 when the government through the Ministry of Education (MOE) faulted in paring the food suppliers who have become cash-starved and unable to repay loans they took from banks to purchase the foodstuffs.
Interests on the unpaid loans continue to accumulate yet the unpaid suppliers are expected to cough out more funds to meet their suppliers so as to get the SHS beneficiaries fed.
Some of the food suppliers in the Ashanti Region, who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity for obvious reasons, lamented that on the very few occasions that the government announced to settle the debt, the monies paid to them were in ridiculously small amounts worth nothing to write home about.
According to the debt-ridden suppliers, the government and the MOEs continuous refusal to settle the colossal debt may push them to either reduce their supply to the schools or just cut it off completely.
School heads in tears
Heads of the schools were reluctant to speak on record though they were ready to give information off-camera,
They expressed their frustration over the imminent food shortage quagmire that is directly starring the face of the various schools across the country.
“There are 18 different commodities of food our suppliers are supposed to give to us. They will give you some and promise to deliver the rest later and even if you do not get these items in their right quantities”,
“So we started asking questions, and we have realized it is because the government has not paid the food suppliers for previous supplies”, a depressed headmaster in the Ashanti Region, lamented in an interview over the weekend.
Another aggrieved headmistress in Koforidua, the capital of the Eastern Region, speaking to the paper on the phone, sternly warned that the country was now sitting on a time bomb, following the food shortage in the various schools.
“We all know food is a security issue and a hungry student is an angry student”, she pointed out, stressing that the problem at hand was gradually escalating into unnecessary tension, fear, and panic in the various schools.
“Due to the poor nature of the food situation, we are always on alert to quell threats of violence, demonstrations, and agitations, which can jeopardize a peaceful environment needed for teaching and learning”, she said.
Food suppliers fears
Meanwhile, the paper’s cheks revealed that Government is aware of the danger ahead so it is working hard to release some amount of money to the National Food Buffer Stock Company to pay suppliers, latest by this week.
But instead of this positive information giving hope to the food suppliers, it has rather sparked concerns among them as they (suppliers) fear that government, as usual, would only pay a little or an insignificant amount to them.
“Government owes us so much but you will be there and receive a call to come for a cheque. When you go, the amount is not what can even offset even 10% of your outstanding bills”, a concerned supplier lamented.
According to the Koforidua-based food supplier they (suppliers) could still not deliver or provide the needed food to the schools as expected of them if the government decides to pay little amounts to them again this time.
CHASS ponders school closure
In a related development, a top official of the Conference of the Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS), has hinted that they were considering taking a decision to close down the schools so the students would not starve.
“We do not know how much government owes the food suppliers but if the Ministry of Education or the Finance Ministry is unable to clear the debt for the suppliers to resume supplying and the situation persists, we will have no choice but to close down the schools”.
Since 2021, the leadership of CHASS, GNAT, CTU, AND NAGRAT raised concerns about the food shortage situation in senior high schools and expressed fears the situation could affect the health of students and make the schools unstable for teaching and learning.
It is yet to be known if the latest threat could compel the government to take urgent necessary actions to help save the clearly hopeless situation.
Meanwhile, strenuous efforts to get reactions from Buffer Stock, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ghana Education Service for their side of the story proved futile.