The official, who did not want to be named, was responding to recent claims by Dean Jonas, the Antigua Labour Party’s PRO and spokesman on education that some businesses are refusing to accept the vouchers this year.
According to Jonas, this is because government is yet to pay the suppliers for past purchases of uniforms under the voucher scheme.
Efforts to contact the education ministry officer in charge of the voucher programme, Leonie Martin, have been unsuccessful. She was not present when this reporter visited the voucher disbursement office at the Perry Bay Multipurpose Centre yesterday, and messages left for her failed to elicit any reply or even acknowledgment.
The ministry source, who did not want to go on the record, conceded that tardiness in receiving payment was among reasons why the two uniform suppliers decided to opt out of the programme.
She, however, either refused to disclose, or did not know, how many suppliers are currently taking part in the programme, and would only say “there are quite a few.”
Asked how much money remains outstanding to the businesses for uniform supplies prior to this year, the official, who requested anonymity, said she did not consider this information to be any business of the media or public.
She said the other suppliers have stayed on board because they know that although government payments can take a long time, those who are owed know with certainty that they will eventually be paid.
One of the suppliers who opted out said his business is owed almost half-a-million dollars from last year. Apart from the cash flow problems this is already causing, he said, his business cannot afford to invest more money in sourcing fresh batches of uniforms, only to wait even longer for payment of a now greatly increased amount.
Another supplier said her business is owed a significant amount on vouchers from last year, but she refused to disclose the exact sum. She said the government has been making partial payments, but the amount settled to date is not enough to enable her continued participation in the voucher programme.
She also said her business has refused to sign the vouchers contract for this year, because the government has refused to grant an increase on the prices that the suppliers are allowed to charge for the uniforms.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)