Feature Article of Thursday, 6 December 2012
Columnist: Boafo, Eric
With just days to the 2012 elections the debate has come to this, which of the two leading parties has the requisite big ideas needed to leapfrog our country to the next stage of development. It is both fortunate and unfortunate that Education has become a deserving centerpiece in the mostly noisy and political airwaves. It is fortunate in the sense that it is at least getting the attention it deserves, but unfortunate because it has been turned into a football being kicked around by both parties just to win elections. In 2008 NDC openly campaigned on cutting the then just implemented 4 year SHS system by the NPP to 3 years. Now in 2012, NPP is promising to go all out and make SHS free much to the surprise of the ruling government.
If political ideologies matter in Ghana, how is it that the so called left leaning Social Democratic NDC is the party vehemently opposed to free education? Isn’t it ironic that the right leaning Property Owning NPP is rather the party hoisting free education as its flagship program for the campaign? Is NDC’s opposition to free education perhaps because it feels ashamed that NPP has stolen its thunder once again by jumping on a social program that they failed to even dream of? First NPP implements National Health Insurance Scheme, School feeding program, Youth employment, Capitation grant and a Mass Transit program. NDC’s response to Kuffour’s social programs was to provide free everything till they run out of things they could give out for free: free text books, free uniforms and free laptops. How hard is that to do?
Before NDC could start spelling the next free, NPP had once again jumped into the socialist arena by promising free SHS education should it win the elections. So was Akufo Addo just being opportunistic or was the provision of free SHS just beyond NDC’s intellectual capability? Nobody denies the fact that NDC’s achievements over the last four years, but what those achievements show is the party is not intellectually ready to engage in the kind of bold ideas that is needed to take Ghana to the next level. If development is all about delivering free goodies then let’s all rally behind Ayariga to provide free sanitary pads to our women. While we’re at it, let’s add free boxers for men for the sake of equality.
When the ruling NDC tells voters to be cautious of politicians who over promise we should pay attention because they have firsthand experience in that regards. What happened to the one-time NHIS premium promise they made in 2008? Was it perhaps too intellectually engaging for them? Did the math just not add up for them after they won the elections? In any case, Ghanaians should have seen the lazy man approach to solving our developmental challenges coming when the first order of the newly elected President in 2009 was to declare a national holiday in the name of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. How could declaring a holiday be the first priority of a newly elected government? I am almost certain Kwame Nkrumah rolled in his grave upon hearing that order, yawning, “Enough holidays my people, get down to work”.
If the NDC is against free education, it behooves them to provide an alternative path rather than demonizing and ridiculing a concept that their candidate was once a beneficiary. If President Mahama believes free education is a constitutional mandate and not an Akufo Addo agenda then why hasn’t his party laid down their plan on how we attain that mandate? If the President says we should not implement free SHS because others like Kenya and Uganda failed then going by that same logic we should not have explored oil on our shores because it’s not succeeded in bringing development to Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Angola and so on. What is so unique about Nana Addo’s proposal is that for the first time in Ghana’s presidential campaign history, a candidate not only made a promise but he also provided data on how much it’s going to cost and how he’s going to pay for it. That is indeed unprecedented.
Although quality should come before quantity in educational delivery, it’s about time we acknowledge that our developmental efforts will yield very little results if it is not anchored around a well educated workforce. It is simply unacceptable for an educational system to sieve out thousands of children after Junior High School just because their parents can’t afford High School. If we can afford to pay millions of cedis to political cronies, then we can certainly afford to enroll every child in school even if it means letting a few Woyomes go broke.
Should free SHS be implemented in Ghana, I hope it won’t be a blanket free program. There should be ways to determine families that can afford to pay their wards way through school. For instance, why should the likes of President Mahama whose father was a well to do minister of state as he stated in his own book and capable of paying his fees send him to the north just so he can get free education? In a country where only a minority of the working population pay taxes, this could be an opportunity to document the working population and rein in more tax payers from the informal sector. This can be achieved by requiring parents and guardians to provide certification from the Ghana Revenue Authority on their tax records. Providing benefits like free education will give Ghanaians a more reason why they should pay their taxes.
In the absence of any credible polls, the 2012 presidential elections seem to be a tossup heading to a definite second round. Free education will not determine who wins the elections. In 2008 NDC lost the first round and barely won the second round with 40,000 votes. Conversely, in 2000, NPP won the first round and handedly won the second round. The question is, has NDC done enough in the last four years do hand NPP a first round knock out? The Mills/Mahama leadership has been chaotic at best, marked by infighting and petty bickering throughout their tenure. Ghanaians have an opportunity to change the course of politics in the country by throwing out the politics of fear and character assignation and proving that issues and promises when fulfilled as well as unfulfilled do matter.
By, Eric Boafo