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Opinions of Saturday, 19 November 2011

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

The Tragedies of African Democracies – XXI

The nexus between migration and remittance from aboard

“Why the poor doesn’t benefit from remittance from abroad.”
It is important to point out why the poor does not necessarily benefit from remittances abroad, using the case of the most brilliant and the most talented or, better still, the most educated.
In Ghana, due to the disparities in rural-urban plus northern-southern educational systems, access to better education and other social amenities benefit the urban and southern populations. For the poor in Ghana, 70% of who live in the rural areas, to attain tertiary level education, let alone pursuing top-notch programs such as medicine and law is like the proverbial Biblical camel going through the eye of a needle. The implication, therefore, is that though the poor, through their de rigueur contributions fund education in Ghana, they benefit the least in terms of direct benefits derived from education. Their predicament is further compounded by the fact that they are the ones in the $1 per capita or less a day bracket and unable to sponsor their progenies to seek greener pastures overseas. As a result, remittances, again, only trickle down to the urban-middle-class and the rich without reaching the rural poor. There is no doubt that the poor in rural Ghana and elsewhere on the African continent are not the recipients of these remittances. However, they pay the highest price for the departure of the health workers and other professionals.
For a country like Ghana, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the exodus of the highly-skilled is impacting negatively on the quality of rural life in its entirety than in the urban communities. Underlying this inequalities are disparities in the delivery of quality education, health and other important social services. Copious reports bespeak of these disparities, plummeting the rural communities into a vicious-cycle of chronic shortages in essential human capital needed for health, education and other social deliveries. Therefore, as the gap between the so-called global North-South divide in terms of human capital availability widens, its parallel disparities in the availability of urban-rural human capital is compelling within the global south countries like Ghana. In the corollary scenario in a country like Ghana, upward social mobility for those at the lower strata of the economic rung, particularly the rural poor and the Northern sector of the country - the three Northern Regions – become difficult, as the disparities in rural communities entrench rural dwellers in their situation, preventing them from climbing the socio-economic ladder.
Over the last half century, Ghana had expended between 28% and 40% of her recurrent national budgetary allocation on education - the educational sector is the single largest recipient of the annual budgetary allocation. This has, in recent years, been augmented by 2.5% deduction out of the prevailing rate of the Value Added Tax (VAT) to be paid by the revenues service into a fund, dubbed The Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund), established by an Act of Parliament (GETFund Act, 2001 Act 581). By these significant allocations, education in Ghana is funded from the basic schools through to the tertiary level, but with a fee paying component at the tertiary level which is referred to as cost-sharing, whereby the beneficiary of education at the tertiary level pay for part of the cost of his/her education.
The inferences are that both the rich and the poor contribute to the funding of education in Ghana in similar ways. Indeed, the de rigueur contribution of both the rich and the poor, through the various forms of direct and indirect taxes cumulatively make funding consistently available to the educational sector in Ghana from which every educated Ghanaian has benefited over the years and continues to benefit even in the face of cost-sharing at the tertiary level. It is by reason of this that the corporate investment in the socio-human capital is jeopardized and skewed to the advantage of the urban communities and the affluent, when the highly-skilled Ghanaian migrates. Evidently, it unleashes, in a concatenation of backlashes, in its aftermath, unequal access to quality education, inequalities in health delivery and other social services to the disadvantage of the rural poor.
For the millions of the underprivileged and the rural poor in Ghana, higher education is certainly a clear-cut route out of poverty and deprivation. Rightly so, education and particular professional programs are seen as reliable tools for entering the job market and certainly a means to socio-economic empowerment, which conveys status, pride and puts food on the table. In light of this, upward social mobility may come with one’s level of educational and professional achievements as the case usually is. This makes tertiary education and particular programs, for example, medicine and other allied health programs, law, and some engineering programs, exceptionally popular among prospective students and their families.
This assertion was highlighted by the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Ivan Addae-Mensah, in a TV discussion (TV 3, Ghana. August 2002). He pointed out how particular well-endowed or well-resourced second cycle schools in the cities are dominating admissions to Ghana’s medical schools, the law schools and other so-called top-notch programs in Ghanaian universities. A development he described, then, as “quite alarming.”
Incontrovertibly, there are functionally correlated semblances of this development within the lower stratums of the Ghanaian educational system, with the higher level replicating what is ubiquitous at the substrata - basic level of education - in succession. Though there are exceptions, the long established trend is that it is generally easier for students from top private schools to gain admissions to the top secondary schools across the country than students from poorly equipped public schools in the rural areas. Even with the computerization of selection of students, human manipulations have not abated. Same could be said of admissions to the tertiary institutions and to particular programs.
The reasons are not far-fetched. At one level, while rural communities in Ghana do not have access to privately-run educational institution from the lower levels of the academic ladder to the tertiary levels, these amenities are relatively available in urban communities, proffering alternative conduits for quality education to most urban communities. Therefore, total dependence on state-run schools, considered inferior in most cases, is categorical without alternatives available in the rural and the northern regions.
At another level, due to the persistent refusal of teachers to accept postings to the rural areas as a result of lack of availability of social amenities, it is not uncommon to come across schools in the rural areas of the country where one teacher man’s two or more classes (1 teacher teaching 120 pupils in a class) concurrently. The overall effect is that, while in some cases, some basic schools are overstaffed with trained teachers in the urban centers, rural schools are understaffed and in most cases with untrained hands. This trend is also noticeable across the so-called northern-southern divide of the country with the most deprived areas being the three northern regions of Ghana.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that the situation is rather getting worse with the rapid increase in out-migration of the highly-skilled. Ghanaian graduates and other highly trained professionals educated at the tax payers’ expense who, hitherto, braved the odds by filling these vacancies, but now disillusioned by poor economic prospects at home, have discovered new routes to a phantasmal new life; leaving in their droves to join the bandwagon.
In 2006, some vital divisions of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) - the only oil refinery in Ghana - had to be closed down, which concomitantly affected the output of petroleum products on the Ghanaian market due to the poaching of its vital personnel by a refinery in the Persian Gulf. To a very large extent, this also illustrates how other areas of the economy are also struggling to cope with the departure of their vital staff. But in all this, remittances from abroad reduces poverty is an excuse not to take steps to reverse the adverse trend.
The watershed is that whereas most countries of immigration (or recipient countries) - North American and European destinations - already have more than enough doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, accountants and a host of other professionals, those on the continent abnegate duty, especially in fields where their expertise are most needed, to join the bandwagon of the exodus. With the easing of travel restrictions for the highly-skilled, they are cherry-picked but most end up in menial jobs.
A catalogue of human resource related reports on Ghana in recent times indicate a desperate situation calling for desperate measures. In 2006, as a result of shortfalls in the educational sector, government, in its usual ad hoc approach, decided to recruit unemployed youth who were unsuccessful at berthing a place in the various tertiary institutions to hold the fort vis-à-vis attempts to engage other retired teachers to fill the colossal shortfalls. It is estimated that Ghana needs over 10,000 teachers to fill vacancies in basics schools in her rural communities alone. But the questions as to what has happened to the thousands of trained teachers that graduate from her training institutions are left unanswered.
While on the one hand, remittances from migrants abroad and the anticipated brain gain from the probable return of migrants in future are making the headlines, chronic understaffing and its chain effects on sustainable development, ‘brain waste’ in countries of immigration and cumbersome integration processes cannot be underestimated.
The summation is that for any single highly-skilled African and, for that matter, a Ghanaian in employment on the continent who abnegates duty and joins the exodus, displacement of knowledge and technical expertise follow as a result, especially when they end up in performing menial task not even the uneducated and the unskilled in their host countries will perform.
What is even more pathetic and baffling, especially for the health sector in Ghana, is that as the departing professionals are absorbed in the developed countries, Cuban health professionals, on humanitarian adventures, take up their places, including postings to the remote areas of the country; areas where even the locally trained professionals would normally decline to accept postings to. I have tried to understand the logic of this humanitarian effort, but was completely lost in the process. I thought countries extend such forms of support to other countries that lack the resources on humanitarian grounds, or as a result of special exchange arrangements that might exist between the two countries. But in the case of Ghana, it is unfortunate that while there are ways to ensure that we are responsible and accountable to ourselves first, we have thrown all reason to the market forces – it is all about better wages and remittances – while still believing others can shoulder our responsibilities for us as a country.

Keep tuned in as we head to the apogee of the series – corruption !!!
The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, migration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata