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Opinions of Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Columnist: Tse, Frederick K. Kofi

Provocative Conscience: The Heritage Fund and the solemn promise

Frederick K. Kofi Tse Frederick K. Kofi Tse

By Frederick K. Kofi Tse

“Our political class introduced something they call free education that is free indeed?free of knowledge. It is because they are so suspicious of those institutions that the typical African politicians will not dare take their children to those schools”?P.L.O. Lumumba

The debate about the appropriate funding model for the much-marketed education policy, fee free education, continues even days after the Finance minister, Mr. Ken Ofori Atta, has come out that the government wouldn’t fund the policy with the Heritage Fund contrary to comments made by the senior minister, Yaw Osafo Mafo. Others like Nana Akomea thinks the chatty senior minister ‘was thinking aloud’?whatever that means.

Attempts to dispel the use of Heritage Fund did not end the debate, it rather reminds us of two famous and fateful questions from Stephen Sackur of BBC’s HARDtalk program—‘where exactly is the money going to come from…have you costed it’? In answering, the then leader of opposition NPP did not actually mention the cost but mentioned that oil revenue was going to fund his promises. He also stated that it was a solemn promise and it was going to be solemnly kept. I am amazed the old man has kept his promise and I am sure his doubters must be very uncomfortable that the old man is unfolding as a man of his words.

Honest Discussions

The policy is a good one especially for many poor children whose parents struggle with three square meals, not to talk of school fees. When, for instance, I completed Junior Secondary School in 2003, I had to stay home for one academic year even though I was qualified for Senior Secondary School because my single mother could not afford the admission fee. The options for me were to either learn automobile mechanics or work for a year, save money and go to school the following year. Indeed, I chose the latter since I like education. I had worked and saved money for one year which was used to pay my admission fee the following year.

Indeed, it is not a comfortable experience when you are the only one sacked for school fees even though you may be in ‘a comfortable lead’ in your class. But such, unfortunately, is the fate of many poor children who lack financial support to pursue their dream of education.

There are other friends who couldn’t make it to school at all because of poverty and the result of this is predictable.

So let the Free SHS policy be rolled out. If the politician can find money to backdate his salary increment to 2013 in addition to his GH? 300,000 ex gratia for engaging in partisan debates, we also deserve our share of the national ‘booty’! I believe we can fund this policy if we are committed to it and it shouldn’t matter whether it is from taxes or Heritage Fund.
Why keep money in an investment instrument that is doing 2% in interests and call it an investment for the next generation? Is there any father who would keep money in an investment fund while his children need money for education?... Tso how?

Nevertheless, I still do not think it should be free for all students. The National Health Insurance Scheme is currently reeling under the curse of its ‘whole sale’ implementation and I am worried about how government intends to reduce corruption that might be associated with the implementation, knowing how every social intervention program becomes a vehicle for corruption.

Currently, there are government and private scholarship schemes that fund the education of some brilliant-but-needy students. What will be the fate of such schemes especially the ones that are provided by private and multinational firms as part of their corporate social responsibility?
Honest Discussions
We should move the ‘Free SHS’ debate from the door step of political expediency and assume different and honest discussions that would consider and exhaust all arguments about funding and sustainability while taking into account structural reforms and quality of products.
A government which boasts of having the men should be bold enough to do some segregation: it should have no business paying the fees of children whose parents are able to pay not less than GH2000 as bribes in order to gain admission into schools like, Wesley Girls, St. Augustine’s and so on. The argument that rich parents pay more in taxes is pedestrian because, when government uses monies that would go into funding the education of rich children for job creation, the rich benefit.
Policy Options
There are many progressive policy options that government can take in order to have its cake and eat it: the introduction of new taxes to cater for the free SHS policy as suggested by other Civil Society Organizations and AFAG are just in place.
Just as President Akufo Addo has been bold in announcing Free SHS, he should also boldly scrap the now defunct National Service Scheme (NSS) and invest the NSS recurrent expenditure in education. The NSS is a cash cow for corrupt officials and the cost of its existence outweighs the benefits.

Also, government can, for the start, make technical and vocational education as well as STEM and its related programs free, while subsidizing fees for mainstream Senior High Schools and programs. This would increase enrollment into vocational and STEM related programs and prepare the youth for the government’s industrialization agenda and towards solving real problems.

Feeding and boarding for instance, should be the concern of parents. Ghana needs ‘Free SHS’ but not one that would be ‘free of knowledge’ or would cripple the national economy.