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Feature Article of Friday, 30 November 2012

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi

Akufo-Addo: Time To Honour BBC Hardtalk Interview Promise

Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo: Time To Honour BBC Hardtalk Interview Promise

By Kofi Thompson

Commenting on what he said was the probable victory of the New Patriotic Party's presidential candidate, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo, in the December 7th election, a young university student acquaintance of mine, made a rather interesting comment.

He observed that in no other country in the world but Ghana, would an idea from a hired foreign political strategist be adopted by those who hired his services; become their party's main campaign message, without it ever undergoing any in-depth scrutiny by either the media or civil society groups: even when their party is supposedly poised to win power.

In his view, it was extraordinary that a political party "led mainly by wealthy elitist-politicians, many from privileged backgrounds - and some of whom can either easily afford, or have already provided their wards with, an expensive overseas education - could be heading for victory in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, without once facing any serious questioning about the practicality (from a state-funding perspective) of its main campaign policy proposal to provide free secondary education, now."

Yet, we are all aware, dear reader, that over the years various Ghanaian Governments have, at certain points in time, not been able to provide funds in timely fashion, to keep the machinery of government functioning effectively.

There are many employees of ministries, departments and agencies of the Ghanaian nation-state, for example, whose salaries have remained unpaid on occasion - sometimes for months on end: simply because projected revenue outlined in the budget for a particular year, has not materialised.

(Is that perpetual lack of funding not the reason why the Tema Oil Refinery and so many state-owned business entities - such as the public utilities providing electricity and water - are basket-cases financially, I ask, dear reader? And was that not the driving force for the law-defying fire-sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone? But I digress.)

Then there are the unavoidable facts on the ground: Secondary schools need to feed their boarding students daily. They also need to pay for water and electricity, as well as pay for other goods and services needed to keep them functioning during the school term.

One shudders to think of the disruption that secondary schools suddenly facing a loss of the relatively reliable source of funds that fees paid by parents represents, will experience, when expected funds from central government fail to materialise at the right time.

Some might even be forced by circumstances to close down temporarily, in such situations - with the attendant disruption to the academic calender that that would entail.

It is unfortunate that those questioning the feasibility of a free secondary education policy being implemented without it destroying secondary education in Ghana, at this stage in our nation's development, have somehow been made out to be retrogrades against a "pro-poor policy" (to quote a patronising female serial-caller to radio phone-in programmes, who prospered mightily from her political connections, once upon a time, when the New Patriotic Party was in power).

Yet, some of us have insisted for decades, that a poor developing nation with aspirations, cannot afford not to provide free education from kindergarten to tertiary level, for its citizens.

And that was long before many of the "Latter-day-converts now trumpeting it took it up for opportunistic reasons - because a clever hired-foreigner, discovered that it was a sure-fire vote-winner with the gullible", to quote my young university student acquaintance.

The tragedy for Mother Ghana, is that many of those championing it today, do so not because they actually care about the well-being and future of our nation's younger generation, but simply because it will enable them win political power again. And damn the consequences, for all they care.

Otherwise why have they not thought of some of the most practical means of enabling poor Ghanaian families to educate their offspring, who have the aptitude to study, as alternatives that will not endanger the secondary educational system: a well-endowed scholarship fund, for example - replenished regularly from an agreed proportion of value-added tax on goods and services - that those with given aggregates will be awarded full scholarships from, and all other students can compete to be awarded funding from, year-round, in written national examinations for that purpose?

As things currently stand, it is difficult not to concur with those who accuse the New Patriotic Party of cynically exploiting the desperation felt by many financially-challenged families, who regularly need to find money to pay for the education of their offspring, in order to win their votes.

Many such individuals also insist that the New Patriotic Party knows perfectly well that as things currently stand, it will be next to impossible to implement a free secondary education policy proposal in Ghana, within a 4-year tenure, without destroying secondary education as we know it - and possibly dislocating our national economy into the bargain too.

Ordinary people in Ghana need to be fully informed about the total cost of implementing a free secondary education policy proposal over a future government's 4-year tenure - and the source of those funds: with sustainability being the operative word there, for every single government-funded secondary school in Ghana.

There are many independent-minded patriots in Ghana, who feel that the New Patriotic Party does not deserve to win power if it fails to be transparent and sincere in this particular matter.

There are also many of those selfsame independent-minded and patriotic Ghanaians - whose crucial swing-votes now decide who wins presidential elections in Ghana - who still remember that Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo-Addo told the world, when asked how much the free secondary education policy would cost, in a BBC Hardtalk interview not too long ago, that he would rather it was the Ghanaian people, who were the first to be told exactly what the NPP's free secondary school policy proposal would cost to be implemented.

Surely, he must honour that promise now - before the good people of Ghana cast their votes on the 7th of December, to elect a new President of the Republic of Ghana?

Let him outline, in a detailed breakdown of the total cost, what each public secondary school in Ghana will receive in the 4 years he will be president, if elected on 7th December 2012.

Nothing short of that will do - and his party must stop mentioning President Nkrumah's name in connection with this matter. With respect, none of them possesses Nkrumah's nation-building genius - and in any case Kwame Nkrumah's equal has not yet been born.

Simply put, dear reader, the time has now come for Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo to honour his BBC Hardtalk interview promise - to tell Ghanaians the cost of implementing his "free secondary education, now" policy proposal. A word to the wise...

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Email: peakofi.thompson@gmail.com.

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