The school feeding programme continues to limp along, as the 87 caterers who are owed millions by the Education Ministry for services provided since May, are yet to be paid.
In addition to not being paid, caterers are facing a fresh challenge, as many of them will not be able to meet today’s deadline for the payment of NIS, Health Surcharge, BIR, and will incur penalties as a result.
One of the affected caterers said the programme was still operating only because the National Schools Dietary Services Ltd, (NSDSL) CEO Stacey Barran, was able to get some suppliers to extend the line of credit for them. NSDSL manages the programme which feeds over 100,000 children in 820 schools. Caterers provide over 40,000 breakfasts and approximately 100,000 lunches. The programme will close off on December 8, one week before the Christmas vacation.
The caterer said they also had to change menus, switching meals on the fixed schedule to suit their supplies.
“For instance, if we are supposed to do rice and peas, we would do bread and boneless chicken instead, because the Kiss Baking Company and Vasha’s have extended their credit. All this talk about using local produce from the farmers have gone out the window, because you have to buy that cash. We have to buy foreign frozen produce and meat because you getting that on credit.
“Miss Barran is trying to get other suppliers to extend their credit but some of them have shortened the line of credit. Whereas we used to pay month end, they now want a cheque every two weeks.
The caterers went public with their financial situation last week, and one of the contractors explained that in an attempt to pacify them, “We got an e-mail from school feeding telling us we would be paid. School feeding said the ministry promised to release funds between last Friday and Monday, but that has not happened.
“Look tomorrow (today) the fifteenth day of the month is deadline for the payment of NIS and BIR and VAT payment is on November 25. Plenty people would not be able to make it, so we would end up paying a penalty.”
NSDSL had written to the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) on behalf of the caterers asking for the penalty to be waived, but the request was not accepted.
“You know what is unfair about the situation, is that we are paying VAT on income we eh get yet. We have not received payment since May, so we paying VAT and we not getting no waiver, is penalty instead. You think that fair.”
The caterer also lashed out at Education Minister Anthony Garcia for his comments about the tons of wastage in the programme.