Ghanaians have settled Free SHS: What Next?

The President, Nana Akufo-Addo, during the New Patriotic Party (NPP) 2020 Manifesto Launch in Cape Coast over the weekend, made comments to the effect that the John Mahama administration cannot be trusted with Free Senior High School (Free SHS). He made so many other claims which I think are not really the case and needs to be interrogated further.

The people of Ghana were presented options in the 2008 elections including free SHS. They voted against the proposal for free SHS. The same people were presented options in 2012 which included free SHS. They voted against free SHS yet again. In 2016, the same people were provided options including free SHS, and they voted for free SHS among other promises.

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The people of Ghana were presented options in the 2008 elections including free SHS. They voted against the proposal for free SHS
The people of Ghana were presented options in the 2008 elections including free SHS.

It was about the choices the people made and what they choose their resources to be used for at any given point in time. At the time, between 2008 and 2016, what was the essence of providing free Senior High School education when basic schools were being carried out under trees? When many are without access to quality healthcare? When many are without access to roads? This is not to say that these conditions aren’t prevailing today. But, the reality of the Ghanaian ahead of the 2016 elections was that many schools under trees were removed. Many infrastructure at the Senior High School level were added, with new ones started and some completed, including the building of additional public universities which provided assured quality and affordable cost.

At the time of the 2016 elections, more hospitals have been built with many having access to quality healthcare than was the case between 2008 and 2016. Many CHPS compounds were built bringing healthcare closer to the people. Many roads were constructed, providing some relief in the area of roads to a large extend by the 2016 elections.

All these infrastructure requirements were prevalent, albeit improved ahead of the 2016 elections. Indeed, no matter the choice that the people made in public elections, the choices were not made for the other sectors to be abandoned. When the people made their choices between 2008 and 2012 to ignore free SHS, it wasn’t that they didn’t need education to be free, neither did they opt for quality to be compromised. They however made those choices to include the fact that the various educational infrastructure be improved, and the cost of education as affordable as possible. In living with these silent demands, the then administrations of Atta Mills of blessed memory and John Dramani Mahama, ensured that quality was improved, access was improved, and eventually, progressively free education introduced at the senior high level.

When in 2016 the people wholly opted for the implementation of free SHS, by electing Nana Akufo-Addo, His Excellency, they simply made choice for a wholesale implementation, knowing very well the alternative forgone, as the economists would attribute with opportunity cost. They made a focal decision that should ensure that no cost at all was paid at the senior high level.

They were mindful that schools under trees were largely addressed at the basic level although not completely. They were aware that intake had improved at the senior high level through the addition of infrastructure and new schools by the Mills and Mahama administrations. They were aware that space at the tertiary levels were increased for additional admissions. They made these decisions, mindful of the fact that the population continue to increase.

When they made the choice of free SHS as an alternative to whatever the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was promising in 2016, they were aware that there was need to keep the expansion of water, electricity, roads, hospitals, schools as well, as more and more were needed considering the increasing population. They made those decisions with the greatest faith that those being elected, would remain decorum and sensitive to the other needs of Ghanaians including being accountable and bold to deal with corruption.

As Ghanaians would be presented the opportunity to vote in the 2020 December polls, they would make a total assessment of the performance of the Akufo-Addo administration in all areas of governance including their flagship promises that earned their votes.

While at that there are general policy decisions that Ghanaians would expect are held constant. For instance, Ghanaians never elected a government to assume office and increase the number of ministers from 86 to 125, particularly when their performance hasn’t set them aside as contributing anything significant to the governance of the people. When they voted in 2016 to elect the Akufo-Addo government, they did so without approving the appointment of family members including daughters and the mother of the president’s child, including cousins, nephews, brothers, sisters, in-laws, family and business associates especially that the appointment of one nephew of the former administration was a motivation for a promise by candidate Nana Akufo-Addo never to appoint his family members and friends into his government.

The people, while voting in 2016, never substituted “nepotism” for what is the case today, and never sacrificed the need for accountability. They didn’t know a time would come when a Managing Director of a Port could be appointed when two years after his appointment, the existence of the said port cannot be traced, yet the Managing Director would keep drawing salary over his position. They never elected that corrupt conducts such as Ameri, PDS, Australia Visa scandal, BOST evaporated oil, among others, would not be investigated and punished. They never opted that a managing director of a state organization would spend 1 million Ghana Cedis ($173,000) to expand a two bedroom house into a four bedroom house, with 11 air-conditioners for these 4 bedroom house.

The people of Ghana, while making that choice in 2016, never expected that their demands for standards and proper execution of decisions, would be disregarded. They never expected that the state power would be used to abuse innocent citizens on an election day with impunity without any efforts at punishing anyone as seen during the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election of 31st January 2019. They never ceded their rights to their mineral royalties in an opaque contractual agreement as we are seeing today.

While they assess government on their big tickets, they would measure the dignity that has been brought to the seat of government. They would measure the Akufo-Addo administration to the extent that they lived their words preached while in opposition, and not based only on what it has done in government. For instance, some of the promises were that they would move the country from taxation to production. The Ghanaian people are in a position to tell how far they lived that promise.

They promised to protect the public purse. The scandals that broke out, the monies that have been lost, the large size of government, among others, would be assessed to evaluate how these protected the public purse particularly how government acted to safeguard the interest of the state in such efforts to fleece the state. For example, when ECG, an organization with assets valued at 20 billion Ghana Cedis ($3.5 billion) was handed over to PDS based on what government described as fraudulent representation, with its attendant loss of USD190 million based on the withdrawn Compact II agreement, the Ghanaian people would hold accountable government decision not to pursue any individual(s) whose actions and inactions resulted in such a loss to the state.

As the people go to the polls in December on who gets the nod to govern for the next four years, some decisions are settled. There is no way Ghanaians or any leader can reverse the free Senior High School policy under implementation. That debate is settled. The only way that would be up for debate is if any of the two major parties were promising a withdrawal of the policy while the other advances arguments of maintaining it. As a result, the discussion must shift to how best that policy can be improved not to compromise on the quality of the future of our children.

As we speak, even government would agree that the free SHS requires a second look. The government agrees more infrastructure is needed to end the obnoxious double track system which has cut down on the contact hours of school children. Government would agree that increased intake means increased need for text books, among others from government at a time that parents are expected to pay nothing. The results of what we saw on our social media and television screens from some senior high schools soon after the commencement of the West African Senior Schools Certificate Examinations (WASSCE), with the braving show of high sense of entitlement, wouldn’t be endorsed by any parents, let alone government.

The decision by a government to opt for the investment of public funds into past questions, examiners report and marking schemes and training of teachers in same, instead of ensuring the total completion of the academic syllabus, would be measured as to be either good or bad by the people. Merely implementing free SHS without recourse to ensuring the highest quality, I am not sure is what parents opted for in the 2016 elections when they voted for a decision for the NPP government to come take over the rings of power and to implement it.

I am sure that an assessment of a decision into the next four years, would include how best this whole free SHS enterprise can provide parents the comfort that their children’s future wouldn’t be compromised. They would expect the two major political parties to make commitments to that and I have no doubt that if the people do not see that in the ruling government that implemented the policy, they would not remain “blinded” to an alternative that gives them that assurance. I would rather suggest, that, instead of wasting efforts at creating fears about what the NDC and John Mahama bring to the free SHS table, irrespective of their position in the past, the NPP and Nana Akufo-Addo must spend time promising on what it would do to prevent the scenes that occurred recently that many Ghanaians condemned including the blatant insults on the person of the president by beneficiaries of this free SHS.

Yes, it is true that the NDC and John Mahama, even though evidence abounds that began the progressively free education, were not for the wholesale implementation of free SHS with reasons that include the lack of adequate infrastructure. That notwithstanding, the people of Ghana have opted for it. The next administration wouldn’t rely on the personal funds of the president to fund free SHS. The people have chosen the use of part of their resources for the total expenditure on free SHS. Which president cannot commit the people’s resources to what they chose it to be spent on? For this, anyone can do. What would be exceptional is the details of that exercise on how best it would inure to the benefit of the people.

Free SHS has come to stay. Not Nana Akufo-Addo or John Mahama, with the greatest of respect, can cancel it without the total national debate on this whole enterprise. As a result, enough of the threats and fear mongering on this policy. We demand cogent and adequately measurable measures that would assure us quality. Aside free SHS, there are numerous teething problems facing the people. Access and coverage of quality water has dropped from the 76% in 2016 to some 68% in 2019 as a result of increased population without commensurate investment in water infrastructure. Access to electricity is reducing in percentage terms as the rate of expansion has slowed while target for universal access to electricity has been extended.

So much faces the people of Ghana including their roads, schools (beyond the freebies), hospitals, jobs (which remain a challenge to the youth), among others. For instance, during the launch of the NPP manifesto of Saturday 22nd August, no further plan has been laid out on the fate of NaBCo trainees into a next Akufo-Addo administration as their 3 years contracts are due to end in 2021 thereabouts. These ad hoc measures, though addressed a certain need, have failed to tackle them fully, and we should be concerned over how we can solve some of these challenges for good.

I wish to conclude, that, Ghanaians must be respected ahead of this campaign to have the sophistication to discern. The same people who made choices in the 1950s have made their choices into the 2016 elections, and have what it takes to make decisions into the 2020 elections. Fortunately for the Ghanaian people, the two front runners have served one term each and they are in a position to determine their sincerity towards the people. They can measure Nana Akufo-Addo on his delivery regarding the things he projected as wrong under the Mahama regime. They can also measure how the Mahama administration handled similar instances of issues they have witnessed since 2016 and can best judge for themselves who is more sincere and sensitive to their needs.

By Stephen Kwabena Attuh (ASK) 

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