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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Columnist: Mustapha Ussif

When duty calls: My time at NSS as the Executive Director

Mustapha Ussif on the right Mustapha Ussif on the right

On Monday, February 6, 2017, I was called upon by the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to serve as the Executive Director of the Ghana National Service Scheme (NSS).

After informing my wife Zulfawu, we both prayed about it and decided I accept the appointment with a determination to serve wholeheartedly for the betterment of our beloved motherland.

The public affection for the scheme was low due to its history. While some saw it as an avenue to punish graduates from the various tertiary institutions, others described it as a haven for scandals and corruption.

Together with my deputies, Gifty Oware-Aboagye (Finance and Administration) and Henry Nana Boakye Nana-B (Operations), a plan was hatched to transform the Scheme to the satisfaction of the people of Ghana.

We knew we had a herculean task ahead, but one thing remained resolute to us, and that was to deliver on our promise to the President and save the scheme.

Work started immediately. To get a better understanding of the scheme’s mandate, we organised series of meetings and tours.

This equipped us with first-hand information about the happening of the scheme and the direction we had to go.

Along the line, Henry Nana Boakye departed after he won the National Youth Organiser position of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

He was subsequently replaced by another hardworking fellow, Mr. Kwaku Ohene Djan.

In recognizing the instrumental role the Scheme plays in brokering graduates employment between different sectors of the economy, we were on a quest to evolve it to become more sensitive to the needs of its major stakeholder, i.e. graduates from all the tertiary institutions in Ghana.

The Scheme under this regime therefore endeavoured to ensure national service personnel became job creators and not seekers.

This was achieved through the various programs that were implemented by the leadership of NSS, since our appointment.

DIGITIZATION

1. The Appointment and Paperless Registration System:
In response to the stampede that usually mars NSS registration annually, the Scheme deployed the paperless registration system which features an online booking process that allows personnel to book an appointment following acceptance by the user agency. A definite date, time, and registration centre is then allocated to the registrants.

The introduction of this self-managed and automated process decreased long queues at registration centres.

This further reduced the frequency of human involvement and the margin of human errors committed during registration. The new system proved efficient.

2. Online Certificate Delivery System:
Immediately after we took office in 2017, we ran an audit and realized that over 500,000 certificates were left uncollected after service. Over 10% of the certificates printed had errors; making it impossible for graduates to present as evidence of service.

We, therefore, introduced a system to digitize the issuance of certificates where the data for certificate printing was derived from the identification cards provided during registration.

We also provided a dedicated online system for delivery of certificates to national service personnel in collaboration with some courier services.

This platform also enabled the scheme to print and deliver certificates to personnel shortly after completion of their compulsory one-year service.

3. Online User Agency Request:
The scheme which deploys personnel to various sectors of the economy based on their requests needed to create a convenient and efficient platform to achieve this objective.

In view of this, another online platform which allows user agencies to request for service personnel based on their pre-determined criteria was set up.

This greatly improved service delivery and relations with user agencies.

4. Authentication of Identity:
Among the major problems we inherited was the issue of stolen identity.

Day in day out, we received complaints of unscrupulous persons using the identity of others to register for national service.

Through digitization, we synchronized our system with that of the National Identification Authority, Ghana Passport, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

Personnel were then required to provide one of these forms of identification so the system can match it with their picture and details.

It was when a person had been verified that the registration process is completed.
However, those who could not meet this requirement were asked to undergo a physical authentication process where they had to present themselves to the Scheme for approval.

This undoubtedly eliminated fraud and the issue of stolen identity.

5. Online E-zwich Verification and Authenticity:
As indicated above, we had various reports of fraud that predates our regime.

In order to protect the public purse, we strengthened authenticity by ensuring personnel upload their e-zwich data on their portal.

The system then goes through to ensure the e-ewich number provided is that of the personnel or has never been used to receive an allowance in violation of our protocols.

If any issue is detected, the system rejects the card and places the registration of the personnel on hold.

The personnel will then have to visit our offices to help address the issue before any further action can be taken.

6. Digitization of Monthly and Annual Evaluation:
Before we took office, service personnel had to manually complete their monthly and annual forms which are used for allowance payment and also the printing of service certificates.

This manual process resulted in numerous errors with names, sex, courses, institution attended etc.

In order to eliminate that, the forms were generated automatically on their dashboards with the data provided during registration.

Service personnel are currently required to print the automatically generated form for completion by their supervisor.

7. Online Registration Payment:
Hitherto, all service personnel were required to pay for their registration at the ADB bank before they could initiate the registration process.

This made it difficult for personnel as some had to travel or queue in banking halls to make payment.

The new management introduced new payment platforms like mobile money and other online payment systems.

This eliminated some of the challenges with the registration process.

8. Creating of Personnel Dashboard:
The service personnel dashboard was also introduced to enable our service personnel have a unique online account on our website.

This enables the personnel to have access to all online services of the Scheme and for the Scheme to monitor the activities of the personnel.

PROJECTS:

Agriculture

1. Crops:
Before we took office as a new administration, most of our farms had been abandoned due to the low interest shown by our predecessors.

With support from the Minister for Agriculture, Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the scheme positioned itself to benefit fully from the government’s flagship program, Planting for Food and Jobs.

Leadership was able to revive and revamp all the crop farms situated at Dawhenya, Komenda, Damango, Abotia-Kpoeta, Ejura and Brenam.

We also established the Yizesi and Tantala farms for maize production.

2. Animals:
The scheme through its various farms engaged in the production of animals.

We successfully revamped and increased the capacity of Papao farms which was mainly into poultry and pig farming.

We added fish, rabbit, and mango farming.

At the Nungua farms, the capacity was increased from a little of over 1000 birds when we took over to 12,000 birds.

We also added guinea fowl and sheep production.

The Nungua farms had a dormant processing unit, which was also revived. The scheme then established a marketing department to ensure the products were processed and properly marketed.

The Zuarungu farms were abandoned for over 4years before we took office.

We revamped it and stocked it with guinea fowls.

Today, we can boast of over 2,000 guinea fowls on the renovated Zuarungu farms.

The Assin Nsuem farms currently have over 130 pigs being reared for commercial purposes with plans already in place to restart crop production on some 150 acres of farmland.

We recently renovated the dilapidated Ohiamadwen farm situated in the Western Region.

The facility now has two poultry houses stocked with about 3,500 lohmann-brown day old-chicks for commercial egg production.

Plans are also in place to revive pig farming on the farm.

Pending agriculture projects in the pipeline

The Scheme is currently working on the following projects:

1. To establish and include a poultry farm at the existing maize farm at Ejura in the Ashanti Region by 2021.

This will accommodate about 10,000 birds and create about 1,000 direct and indirect new job opportunities for the youth.

2. To establish a vegetable farm at Abotia Kpoeta and Dawhenya in 2021.

3. Production of maize on a full scale at the newly acquired land at Kwamose and Ankaful.

Production is expected to commence in the 2021 major season.

4. Agreement has been reached with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture for the supply of five (5) new Holland tractors with accessories and five (5) Valtra tractors with accessories.

The Scheme will take delivery of the first consignment in 2021. This will aid in effective farm operations across the entire project sites and also increase the production capacity of the schemes’ farms.

5. Plans are underway to help establish farms at selected senior high schools across the country in 2021. This is a conscious effort to support the government’s social intervention program dubbed, “Planting for food and jobs”.

5. Again, there are plans in place to commence commercial soya bean cultivation at DafiamaIssal, Duwei, and Wechiau in the Upper West Region.

Sizeable parcels of farmland have been secured for these projects.

Full-scale production is expected to take off in mid-2021.

Boreholes

Though the scheme had a borehole department, the only rig the scheme had was auctioned by our predecessor.

The department was collapsed until our administration decided to breathe some life into it.

With the approval of our board and support from the Minister of Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, we successfully purchased a rig.

The Scheme has so far drilled over 500 boreholes both commercially and as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility.

Due to the success this department has achieved within a short time, a case was presented to the board for approval of the purchase of a second rig.

Although it has been approved, the Scheme is yet to purchase it.

I am, therefore, hopeful that my successor will go ahead with the plan to purchase the rig.

Medie Water Project

Construction works at the Medie Water Bottling unit was halted for some years before we took over.

However, work has steadily resumed under my watch and about 90% of all construction works including procurement of equipment, installation of fixtures, and fittings have been completed awaiting final installation of the production plant.

The unit is expected to commence full-time water bottling production once installation is complete.

The Scheme has sought for partnership with the One District One Factory (1D1F) secretariat to commence full-scale production of bottled water in 2021.

The School Farm Project

In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service, the scheme through the various schools has supported the establishment of school farms on a large scale.

These are mostly in the second cycle institutions.

Drones Technology

In a quest to improve efficiency on our farms, we procured a drone technology system.

The technology is currently being used to check pests, weeds and also improve upon the security on the farms.

ADMINISTRATION AT THE SCHEME

1. Staff Recruitment:
The Scheme under this administration has drastically increased the staff capacity by successfully recruiting over 200 qualified persons to man our offices across the newly formed district and also beefed up our staff capacity at our existing district, regional and national headquarters.

2. Marketing Department:
The Scheme has also established a marketing department which oversees the selling of processed products from our farms and also engages user agencies to recover levies due us.

3. Corporate Affairs Department:
The Corporate Affairs office was also established by the current administration to strengthen our relationship with personnel and the general public. The department has since been responsible for managing both internal and external communication of the scheme, develop content for the scheme, and also manage the image of the scheme. This I can boldly say has been very beneficial to the Scheme. The public perception about the Scheme before our administration has greatly improved.

4. Conditions of Service:
The Scheme for many years had no condition of service package for employees. In order to get the best out of our staff, we decided to prioritize their welfare by drafting a condition of service agreement for the scheme. The document was sent to the Public Service Commission for the needed approval and is currently being implemented.

NEW MODULES

Having been privy to a survey by the Ghana Statistical Service that only 10% of personnel deployed annually gain employment after their 12 months mandatory service, our administration took a decision to develop innovative solutions to the problem. Together with my able deputies, we decided to develop modules that will help personnel become job creators and not seekers. We partnered with some strategic private-sector agencies to help galvanize the effort towards developing and empowering service personnel who can create jobs and compete globally.

Below are the modules introduced;

1. Entrepreneurship and Innovative Module (EIM):
Graduates under this module are trained in the various value chain of poultry production. Subsequently, successful beneficiaries of this program were resourced financially and provided with the needed logistics to enable them to set up a business after service.

The Scheme also in collaboration with financial agencies helped personnel under this module to acquire the needed financial capital and required resources from the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC), National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP), Venture Capital, and other agencies to enable them to start their enterprises. This has helped in creating jobs to absorb other unemployed graduates and non-graduates and will go a long way to reduce the unemployment rate in the country.

2. Training Hub:
My administration entered into a strategic partnership with an entity called Songhai Group to establish a training hub, where ten (10) personnel were trained and vetted by consultants on how to develop next-generation digital tools. Their mandate is to come up with solutions to the many challenges we face as a country through technology.

3. COVID-19 Resilient Programme:
We successfully signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Springboard Road Show to train personnel in relevant workplace skills and job readiness, wellness, and safety at the workplace and health awareness in general. This was to ensure personnel bounced back fully and readily from the impact of Covid-19.

4. NSS Global Practice Initiative:
This module was designed to mould our Ghanaian youth into globally-exposed youth leaders with universal experience, ideas, and best practices to contribute to the development of their local communities. The initiative which formed part of our strategic plans to prepare personnel adequately for the job market was to ensure graduates travel outside the country for 2-3 months to gain firsthand experience and exposure to certain practices outside the country. They were supposed to embark on an internship program in globally recognized industries and also attend workshops that will enable them to adapt the required practices and skills to succeed in their various fields after returning. The program was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These and many other programs were put in place to restructure the Scheme and position it in line with the transformational vision of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

As I prepare to vacate my position as the Executive Director of the scheme and head to Parliament to serve the good people of Yagaba-Kubori, I would first like to thank the Almighty Allah for His continuous mercies, blessings and for guiding me throughout my four-year service at NSS.

I also thank the President for the opportunity to serve in his government and for all the needed support I received from his outfit before and during my tenure as the Executive Director of the Scheme.

My Sector Minister, the hardworking Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh has also been phenomenal.

His unflinching support played a critical role in all that the scheme has been able to achieve.
He has been an important pillar in this transformational agenda chalked by the scheme within these 4 years.

To my able and affable deputies, Gifty Oware-Aboagye and Kwaku Ohene Djan, the resilient Board led by a man who took me as his son, Prof. Kofi Osei Akuoko, the Directors and entire staff, I say a big thank you for the dedication, understanding, and corporation throughout my tenure.

We wouldn't have been able to achieve any of these without teamwork.

To all personnel who leave their homes to serve the nation in various sectors of the economy across the country, may the Almighty Allah bless you abundantly and continue to strengthen the spirit of patriotism in your heart.

May the Almighty Allah guide and support my successor and enable him/her achieve far more than what we've been able to do within 4 years.

I am extremely grateful for the love and support I received throughout my journey as an Executive Director of the National Service Scheme. It was indeed an honour serving our beloved motherland as the Executive Director of the Scheme.

Thank you and God richly bless you all abundantly.