Personal commitment versus legal obligation, budget statement versus budget speech. . . . . | Features

. . . . . The cathedral, the school feeding program and the issues arising from it.

Monday, June 13 marks the start of the sixth week since caterers under the school feeding program publicly declared their fate to the government over their inability to continue providing services, while government decisions arrogantly continued to erode their meager savings spent to support the program which is affected and reduced by the recorded microeconomic indicators.

These caterers have since embarked on industrial action to show their horror and protest the mistreatment and unfair treatment meted out to them by the government. This action was intended to bring to the attention of relevant ministry and agency officials if the issues raised above had not yet reached them.

To bring it to the attention of the reading public, the aim of the school feeding program hosted by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, is to increase enrolment, attendance and retention. The program also aims to reduce hunger and malnutrition among students in addition to improving national food production, especially in disadvantaged and rural agrarian communities across the country.

Sadly but legitimately, the said caterers hired to provide these services have been on strike for six weeks now. The legitimate claims of these caterers are simple. They require the following:

a) immediate payment for student food for 68 days at the current rate of Ghp 0.97 per child per day; and
b) an increase in the allowance of 0.97 Ghp per child per day in view of the high cost of food.

According to the caterers, they took out loans from various financial institutions, or bought food on credit from suppliers to honor their contract to feed these students. Thus, the immediate payment by the government aims to repay these debts and maintain their solvency. Their situation is exacerbated by their creditors who are on their shoulders day and night. Moreover, at the current rate of 0.97 Ghp per student per day, it is virtually impossible for them to prepare a decent meal under current economic conditions.

As a result, caterers have a legitimate case. What a decent meal can be provided at Ghp 0.97 in Ghana today; with this high cost of living and with galloping inflation, especially the exponential growth of inflation on food products, at these dizzying levels? This is particularly worrying and calls for responsible leadership to respond to these relevant legitimate calls.

The absence of such service providers has affected school attendance; because the absence of these caterers is directly linked to the attendance of students, especially those in the first cycle of primary education, in schools in rural, disadvantaged and poor communities. In other words, many of the 1.69 million student beneficiaries of this program provided by these caterers, who were fed before the reduction caused by the strike, are currently not attending school and may not return if the government does not address the outstanding issues raised by these service providers.

I am beyond imagination how lethargic the government’s attitude seems to be on this pressing issue. Those who share this position cannot be blamed when the government continues to display these harsh traits of insensitivity to the plight of the poor and most vulnerable in our society. Government cannot claim funding is the problem when we now know that huge sums of our tax dollars have been smuggled out for the fulfillment of a private and personal commitment to build a cathedral.

So far, the Akufo-Addo government has illegally and illegally spent GHC 200 million to fund the fulfillment of his personal commitment to his God to build him a cathedral; without the parliamentary authorization and approval required for such disbursement of public funds. In his own words, Akufo-Addo said, “I made a promise to God that if I become president after two failed attempts in the presidential elections of 2016, I will build a cathedral to the glory of God.” During this time, he disowned the use of taxpayers’ money to solve the problems the citizens elected him to power to solve; such as the payment of school canteen caterers to provide decent meals to 1.69 million students in order to continue to keep these children in school.

Although a Christian, it is not acceptable and inappropriate for Akufo-Addo to use public resources in the fulfillment of a personal commitment, such as the construction of a cathedral, when a significant part of the population wallows in blatant abject poverty. As things stood, the narrative was that the construction of the cathedral was not going to burden the public purse. So why did Akufo-Addo stealthily start processes, illegally, using his cousin Ken Ofori-Atta, to do otherwise.

It is a documented fact that at no time did the government forward the cathedral project in a national budget to Parliament with an assigned financial allocation for approval. The first budget and economic policy statement under Akufo-Addo to capture the cathedral project was the 2019 budget, and here is what it said on page 193, paragraph 1001; “meeting the spiritual needs of our people with the promotion of the National Cathedral of Ghana”. It should be noted that the 2017, 2018 and 2022 budget statements never mentioned the cathedral project. In the 2019, 2020 and 2021 budgets although mention is made of the cathedral, no funds have been allocated to it.

Any indication of the state providing the seed capital can instead be traced to the finance minister’s speech, which he read briefly to parliament during the presentation of the 2019 budget and economic policy statement. Budget 2019, paragraphs 156-157, pages 104-105 under National Cathedral, the Minister stated the following:
Mr. President, the state facilitates this process by providing land, secretariat and seed capital for the preparatory phase. Mr President, the President is determined that the construction of
the national cathedral would not impose excessive financial burdens on the state. He therefore proposed a partnership between the State and the Ghanaian Christian community both at home and in the diaspora.

Even so, no particular number was mentioned as seed money. But even if a figure was mentioned in the minister’s speech, Parliament, as it is called, does not debate, consider or approve what the minister says. Parliament debates, reviews and approves the content of a budget and economic policy statement presented on behalf of the President. Parliament does not engage in speculation.

The narrative around the cathedral project exposes Akufo-Addo and his cousin Ken Ofori-Atta as having no respect for our laws, processes and procedures. This capricious use of executive power, illegal and unreasonable, is what enraged the public. No citizen had a problem when it was indicated that the cathedral project should be financed by private resources. Didn’t the government tell the Supreme Court that its contribution is to provide land for the construction of the cathedral? And that the actual construction was to be sponsored and funded by the churches in the judgment of JAMES K. BOMFEH JNR. V. PROSECUTOR GENERAL case?

In fact, the churches were informed in the same way as by the secretary of the Christian Council under whose supervision the cathedral project came into being. According to Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, the government said it would only be a facilitator; while the churches had to finance the project. He added, “The then Minister of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, Hon. government”.

In all humility, it is not right, it is immoral and he is not responsible for Akufo-Addo to cause Ken Ofori-Atta to apply 200 million GHC of public funds to the construction of a cathedral not approved and not budgeted; when school children stay home because school food caterers have their due. Unlike the cathedral project, the budget for the school feeding program was contained in the 2022 budget and economic policy statement, which was debated, reviewed and approved by representatives of the people. The release of public funds for the construction of an unbudgeted and unapproved cathedral at the expense of budgeted and approved programs like school feeding cannot be tolerated in any democracy, and we must not tolerate it.

The government must quickly honor its obligation to pay caterers and increase the cost of food per student as soon as possible. This is what the government has been mandated to execute with the GHC 881m captured in Annex 6, page 272 of the 2022 budget and economic policy statement under the school feeding programme.

In solidarity.

Source: Hon. Dr. Clement Apaak/MP, Builsa South/Deputy Member, Education Committee

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Dorothy H. Lewis