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Opinions of Sunday, 1 July 2012

Columnist: Attetey, Kwesi

Stop The Joke Mr. Politician - This is Serious Business

The health of the economy of Ghana has been given different prognosis by different people depending on the side of the political divide one happens to find himself/herself. Pro-governing party sympathizers always give very optimistic prognosis of the economy and opposition party sympathizers always give very bleak prognosis of the economy. Under normal circumstances statistics, hard numbers should clarify the issue of the health of the economy but ironically those figures themselves have become a matter of dispute between the two sides of the political divide.

Unfortunately politics in this country seems to be gradually turning into gang war akin to those in major American cities, where people are identified by their gang colors (Los Angeles: Red for the gang called ‘Blood’ and Blue or Black for the opposing faction ‘Crips’). In Ghana we are identified by our party colors; just as in the case of the gangs, one party never sees anything right about the opposing party. In both scenarios it is the bystanders, the independent, the non aligned people that tend to suffer serious and sometimes irreparable damages (collateral damage) while a few party faithful and their families enjoy. Why can’t a bad policy be just what it is – a bad policy and good policy be a good policy regardless of who is proposing the policy?

Coming back to the economy, it appears politicians are joking with the management of the economy of our dear country and they expect us to laugh at their jokes. Mr. Politician your jokes are not funny anymore! We all agree that Ghana has gargantuan (sorry I can’t resist it) needs and yet very little resources to address those needs. Hence the taxpayers’ Cedi must be put to best use possible if we are to develop as a nation. Two policy proposals that appear not to be in the larger interest of Ghanaians in light of our current needs as a country are:

• Free Senior High School (SHS) Education

• Onetime National Health Insurance (NHI) Payment

Proponents of these policies see their proposals as positive social intervention programs; yes they may appear to that way. Are these programs of immediate priorities considering current economic realities? Ironically when you interview 100 Ghanaians either in the cities or villages free SHS or onetime NHI premium will hardly feature in their list of top 5 priority area that they hope Government will address. What then is the rush to implement these policies?

Of what use is free SHS education to a community that for the past several years has consistently scored 0% (Zero Percent) on the BECE examination? Which is more important, providing classrooms for the Basic Schools under trees right here in the Greater Accra Region or making SHS free? Of what use is free SHS policy when basic schools do not have trained teachers? Should we invest in resourcing our basic schools with books, computer labs and well trained teachers or invest in free SHS while our basic schools remain ill equipped, with NYEP youth teaching and in some cases even heading the schools?

Mr. Politician stop tickling us, this is serious business. The last time I checked basic education was supposed to be free and compulsory in Ghana. I will not attempt to address the compulsory part of that policy because I know we do not enforce laws in this country. We can all attest to how ‘free’ the free basic education has been over the years. We all know how much fees we pay for our wards in public basic schools in this country. We all know how much we pay as PTA dues towards development projects in schools – projects that should have been undertaken with our tax money. What then is free about the current free basic education? Mr. Politician please fix the current system before tickling us with your free SHS policy.

Mr. Politician, what do you intend to achieve with your onetime NHI premium policy? Of what use is a onetime premium to the people in my village if they do not have a well resourced clinic? Does it matter whether we have onetime premium or not if nurses and doctors will not stay and work in the village or even district capitals because bad conditions of service? Truth is that the poorest Ghanaian who owns a phone spends at least GH? 60 per annum (a little over GH? 1.00 per week) on airtime, it is therefore safe to conjecture that paying GH? 20 per annum for NHI premium will not and should not be a problem to Ghanaians. By the way we are not complaining about the current NHI premium so what then is your problem, Mr. Politician? Why the haste to implement a onetime premium?

Mr. Politician, just as it is the situation with our basic education system, please fix the problems confronting the NHI and don’t introduce additional complications. Instead of implementing a onetime premium please fix the client abuses in the current system. Fix the abuses by service providers and fix all the abuses in the claims system. Address issues related to capitation, pregnant women with NHI cards being made to pay for services and also fix the rates being paid to service providers. It is obvious that if we believe people are unable or find it difficult to pay the current premiums of about GH? 20 then one wonders if they will be able to pay a onetime premium of GH? 100, GH? 150 or whatever amount that will be charged.

It is high time we stopped politicizing every single policy. We need to be able to look at Ghanaians in the eyes and tell them even though a policy is in our political manifesto we’ve come to realize that there are other much more pressing needs that must be addressed first. Under normal circumstances free SHS and onetime NHI premium could be very good policies but at the moment we have other much more pressing priorities.

Mr. Politician stop joking with the little resources that we have. Your policies should not be clothed in party colors but rather national colors. Your view of the country’s economy should not be influenced by the party colors you are wearing. Ghana and Ghanaians are too precious to be toyed with.

By Kwesi Attetey

Business & Financial Analyst,

Member of Volta Advocacy Forum