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School feeding caterers still waiting for $$

Published: 
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

National School Dietary Services (NSDSL) School Feeding Programme caterers are once again warning that many of them may have no choice but to stop providing meals to schools due to non-payment of millions owed by the Ministry of Education.

There are about 87 approved caterers in the programme and many of them said yesterday that since they went public with their plight recently they have received a payment of just $20,000 although the ministry had promised the millions owed collectively would be paid. The programme currently provides 55,000 breakfast meals and 88,000 lunches on a daily basis.

Caterers told the T&T Guardian they have continued to supply the meals as is required “because there are some children out there who really need it.” They lamented that instead of trying to settle the debt Education Minister Anthony Garcia has been speaking about reviewing the programme to “eliminate waste.”

“We have suppliers and staff to pay. Another month is coming to an end and very soon schools will close and we will be in a position where we will go into the new year with huge debts to suppliers and no way to pay them,” caterers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

They said it seems “no provision was made to pay the people who provide the meals for schools even though the Government kept insisting that the programme will not be affected by the financial problems in the country.”

But Garcia yesterday reassured the caterers Government “is committed to settling the debt owed to them.”

He said, “At this time of the year there is always that crunch. With the budget just passed we are waiting on releases from the Ministry of Finance. We are working on it.”

He that they had made “two payments so far and we know it is not sufficient.”

He could not say, however, if the full debt owed to the caterers will be paid but assured “we are doing everything to ensure they get payments and the money owed to them will be paid.”

But former minister Devant Maharaj yesterday said he found it ironic that “the Government can find funds for a discussion on the budget of over $200,000 that included make-up for ministers, $3 million for “grooming” a golf course, the many unnecessary trips of the Prime Minister, $400 million for the Manzanilla highway, $50 million on audits, and a host of other expenditure that could have been easily re-prioritised and the caterers paid.”