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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Columnist: Gakpo, Amy

Feeding Our School Children: Telling The Bitter Truths

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of brouhaha concerning the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) throwing the programme into a crisis across the country. Once again, the various political divides have gotten into the argument each taking very staunch stance without compromise. Those in the opposition believe that all that has gone on with the programme since the NDC took power in December 2009 is bad and those of us within the NDC also seem to be saying that we have done no wrong on the issue of School Feeding since we won power.

For me it is a sad reflection on our country that we seem to politicize every single issue, there is always the NPP side and the NDC side but never the GHANA side. Immediately an issue arises we all get bogged into our various corners failing to look at the objective side. However and for once I should be permitted to offer my objective look at the whole issue. This I know would not go down well with many of my colleagues in the NDC. But let no one question my loyalty to our great party, the NDC, for no one can claim affection to the NDC than me. Indeed it is because of my loyalty and my belief that certain actions while in power could easily destroy our chances of reclaiming power in 2012. Again, I also believe that it is better to tell ourselves the bitter necessary truths and do the right things in order that we can reclaim power than to continue lying to ourselves and lose 2012.

Objectively speaking I think we could have handled the School Feeding issue better than we have done so far. We should bear in mind that the programme affects millions of Ghanaians either as students, parents or caterers. Therefore any action affects all these millions, as a party that won with approximately 40,000 votes out of over 10million, the last thing we should do is to alienate a substantial population like those affected by the Programme. Indeed we should do everything possible to win people to our side while consolidating our support base. This is the mere reason why I thought that our government would find ways to quickly expand the process to the Schools not yet covered.

I believe that expanding the programme would have created instant goodwill for the NDC across the nation at once. With this we would have had the opportunity of appeasing our supporters by awarding those who met standards the contracts for the new schools. Again we could have won new faithfuls had we proven to the old caterers that contrary to popular believe we are not in to do witch hunting or to destroy their livelihoods. Instead what we have done is to give the vicious NPP the licence to brand us as a very wicked, uncaring and lawless government confirming the many lies they told about us before December 2008. We have given them the right ammunition and they have and would continue to use it on us.

Also through the actions of many of our MMDCE’s we have instantly alienated almost all of the caterers and their workers, we have made them our enemies our default and surely they would await to punish us when they have the opportunity to do so. As someone who had the opportunity to interact with numerous people before the December 2008 elections, I can state confidently that most of these women were not so concerned about the fortunes of the NPP and most of them shared similar sentiments about the NPP like we all did. However, what we have done today is to point to them that their welfare lies with the NPP and that the course of the NPP should be their course.

Even if we wanted to take the contracts, we should have taken our time and done it in a more civil and legal manner than the mess we ended up creating. I would also be quick to add that though some of the decisions related to the GSFP was taken from the very top, much of the mess was also created by assembly officials who saw the GSFP as a means of instantly getting back at others and rewarding their people.

While this crisis has been brewing I also believe that our communicators have failed us miserably especially personalities like Elvis Afriyie Ankrah and Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa. Our communicators especially those mentioned, when presented with the opportunity do not handle the issue upfront. What I sense every time I listen to them however is a desperate attempt to shift the goal posts to issues of mismanagement of the secretariat etc. For example, I recently heard Okudzeto Ablakwa on Metro TV claim that caterers were feeding the children with rotten foodstuffs and maggot infested ones. This statement in particular made many women very enraged as they thought that it was an indictment on the Ghanaian woman. Thinking about the issue I could not have agreed with them more because it is highly unthinkable to imagine a Ghanaian woman feeding Children with maggot infested foods, it is highly un-Ghanaian. What makes such arguments worse is that it cannot be substantiated with any fact and when challenged, our people are found wanting immediately as they can even not point to one school where children were fed with such unwholesome foods. This is a serious indictment on the Ghanaian woman and it would serve the NDC better if we desist from such behaviour and I seriously believe that Okudzeto Ablakwa should immediately apologise to the women who feel badly bad-mouthed. It is also a fact that you do not need a PHD in catering to receive a contract from the Ghana School Feeding Programme. Let’s not set a standard that can even affect the membership of our party from getting contracts with the School Feeding Programme. Putting the blame on Dr. Amoako-Tuffuor or Mr. Michael Nsowah would not wash now because they are not cooks.

One thing the government should also look at is to investigate some key personalities still at the Secretariat who have been part of the rot at School Feeding as established by the Forensic Audit Report and their allies at the Local Government Ministry. Our Deputy Minister for Information’s consistent referral to the PriceWaterHouseCoopers Audit Report which was not forensic and the recent committee set up by the Minster for Local Government to look into the operations of the School Feeding Programme should be buttressed with the Forensic Audit Report conducted by the Auditor-General.

Lastly, I would suggest to the government that we should immediately get people like Dr. Amoako-Tuffuor, the initiator of the scheme and first Executive Director who was recently exonerated by the forensic audit report and cleared of financial malfeasance on board, that is if he is willing, and get him to help us solve some of the issues rearing their heads. I read a press release from him and it was devoid of the numerous NPP pettinesses we hear. The article was embedded with numerous suggestions on how to sustain and expand the programme which was very instructive and I strongly believe that he can be of much help.

Amy Gakpo

Jasikan, Volta Region