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General News of Monday, 25 May 2020

Source: Business 24

CDD joins opposition to Public Universities Bill

The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), a governance think tank, has written to Parliament to express why the legislature should not pass the Public Universities Bill into law, a move they say will give the executive too much power in the management of public universities in the country.

“It is the considered view of CDD that government has not made a case for this bill. If there are concerns about the governance of public universities, there are existing structures for dealing with them.

The autonomy of public universities must be guarded to enable them meet their objectives and adapt to the ever-changing environment of learning,” the CDD said in a memorandum it submitted to the parliamentary committee on education.

The controversial bill, according to government, seeks to harmonise the governance, administration, and accountability structures of public universities.

The think tank said the justification for the bill that the Auditor-General has cited public universities for grave improprieties in the utilisation of resources almost every year is hardly supported with evidence.

“It is also hardly enough basis for the enactment of a new law to regulate public universities. Assuming without admitting that this claim is true, there is sufficient existing law to punish or deter the offending officials who have mismanaged public funds or continue to perpetrate same,” it said.

The think tank cited the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29), which contains a number of offences including causing financial loss to the state. It also argued that the Attorney-General under Article 88(3) of the 1992 Constitution is vested with prosecutorial powers to prosecute persons for stated financial impropriety.

It added that the Auditor-General is also clothed with powers under Article 187(7) of the Constitution to disallow expenditure which is contrary to law and surcharge persons responsible for incurring or authorising the expenditure.

It said the solution to the alleged grave improprieties in the utilisation of resources is to enforce existing laws and make the prosecutorial and accountability systems work.

“If any of these existing laws—including those establishing the various public universities—are problematic, the relevant sections must be amended. The availability of the aforementioned existing laws practically renders the objective of this bill redundant.”

The CDD said government has supplied no justification or evidence to support the claim that public universities have “veered away” from their roles or objectives.

“Assuming without admitting that this claim is true, it speaks to the abdication of the responsibility of the regulators in ensuring that public universities stick to their objectives and roles. There is no indication that the existing law establishing various public universities is the root cause of this to justify the need for a new law. If the existing law is not the problem, there is no need to replace it,” it added.

It said the regulators in the education sector must therefore perform their mandate instead of seeking to enact a new law which vests excessive powers in the management of universities in the executive arm of government.

The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), also in a memorandum to the education committee, stated that the bill has the potential to stifle individual freedom by preventing individuals from speaking or acting without fear or favour if their appointments are to be regulated by the President through the University Council.