The 2016 general elections have come and gone. It has added to the history of the nation, as part of its successful organization of elections. While the results were emphatic, the events leading to the election and its outcome is a subject for the everyday experience of the Ghanaian. This is so because the promises that were outlined, the basis upon which the winning party emerged, are those that are expected to be fulfilled in the end.
Indeed, as manifestos of the political parties are presented to the people of Ghana, they eventually become the master documents from which the economic plan of the ruling government is drawn and presented in its budgets over the period of its mandate.
On that basis, it is important to always take a look at what was promised during the campaign and to examine what is being implemented when the power is won. It is against this background that I seek to review some of the promises forcefully presented during the 2016 electioneering campaign and the reality that is being executed, and to draw the link or to reveal the missing link between them.
In the lead up to the elections, the subject on education and how Ghanaian students must be treated by government dominated the political space. Indeed, from basic to tertiary, government had had a responsibility to ensuring that its citizens are given the best at all times.
Indeed, the world over, the emphasis is on how to make education accessible to all, and to proceed to make it cheaper and if possible, universally free for citizens of all countries. As a matter of fact, in Ghana, the Constitution of the Republic is emphatic as part of its directive principles of state policy, on how government must have a clear focus and direction on the education of its citizens.
In the lead up to the 2000 elections, the issue of how to give meaning to the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution was a subject for debate somehow.
This was much intensified in the 2008 election as the presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr. Akufo-Addo, took the mandate as his personal political vision and drummed it home as the solution to all problems facing the people of Ghana. This was presented throughout his subsequent campaigns even into the 2016 elections which eventually won him the mandate of the people.
It is for one to critically begin looking at what was said, and what is being done today. The previous administration of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by John Dramani Mahama was on a path, in an attempt to give meaning to the Constitutional dictates, taking into consideration, the capacity of the state in taking full responsibility over the education of its citizens.
Under his term, some agreements were reached. Indeed, on the matter of Nursing Training Colleges, the proposals to remove their monthly allowances were drafted as far as 2006 when the NPP was in power. The wisdom that informed the policy was that, efforts must be made to ensure that access is opened to all, as government would not be able to pay allowances to all students if the training institutions were to admit to their full capacity.
As a result, government was to allow the institutions to admit to full capacity, while a lot of attention is placed on how to get them facilities that would employ them after they have completed their courses in school. To this end, government is to establish more hospitals and health centers in order to ensure that these students, when they become professionals, have immediate employment from government.
This was kicked against by the then opposition New Patriotic Party. At the time, the campaign was that government could still maintain the payment of allowances to these students while taking all other responsibilities including building hospitals and employing these students immediately after they have completed their courses of study. As a result, some rather forceful campaign got the students who suffered the removal of their allowances, voting for the promise to restore them.
Seven (7) months after winning the elections, the NPP government has gone back on its words with greater skills. Indeed, at the time of the campaign, critics were of the critical view that government would have a difficulty paying all students their allowances if the institutions are able to admit at full capacity. The NPP then in opposition, seeking power, rejected those propositions and presented a possibility in their promise.
Today, the reality is hitting all of us in the face. The government, while attempting to restore the allowances, even lower than the students were taking in the past, has reintroduced the quota system. For those who might not be familiar with what the quota system is about, it is a directive from government, based on the number of students it could contain and pay allowances, where all nursing training schools are given specific number of students to admit, which is sometimes lower than half of their capacity to admit.
This policy automatically reintroduces two critical conditions:
1. It brings back the era of corruption at the table of admissions; and
2. Cuts off the poor and needy, but brilliant students from accessing nursing training colleges.
Elaborating the two points above, immediately schools are given quota (limit) the rich in society who want their children to train as nurses, will immediately flood these institutions to pay the way for their wards. This is possible because, unlike the Senior High School system where students are posted through a computerized system, prospective students make choices of their own institutions and proceed to acquire their specific forms to seek admissions. This opens up the room for corruption.
The second is that the poor, who are qualified to be admitted would have their dreams shut by this rather weak policy of government which is not guaranteeing them any leverage. Indeed, with some of the heads of these institutions and perhaps their admission teams, knowing that any student admitted would benefit from government allowances for the three (3) year period, with the limited admission space at their disposal, would select the highest bidders and cut off those who are unable to offer bribes.
It is important to ensure that, government interventions are geared towards providing equal access while even proceeding further to cushion the poor and marginalized in society. Education is a fundamental way of lifting people out of poverty and any steps that are rather promoting sidelining the poor from accessing higher education, is a clear road map for failure in the tackling of poverty in any nation.
I have also come across a letter dated 9th August, 2017 for the students of Bagabaga College of Education in Tamale, which sought to direct all students to apply with the Students Loan Trust Fund (SLTF), as their allowances would only be paid through that outlet. Immediately, I cringed. This is because, as their counterparts in the nursing training colleges, the NPP then in opposition, opposed the withdrawal of their allowances and promised to restore them, fully.
The sudden U-turn, rather hurts any genuine heart that supported the party in winning power to execute the specific promise given these school children. With the new directive, it beats one’s imagination on how an allowance would be paid through a loan trust fund. You just can’t imagine it. It is like issuing a cheque to your client on a savings account. Simply put, a loan trust fund cannot pay out allowances. In effect, the NPP government is directing students to register on a loan scheme, the very system they condemned and promised do away with.
Unlike their counterparts in the nursing training colleges, there is no directive to them to cut down intake of students. If readers can see the link clearly, it is obvious that educational training colleges, whose students are being directed to register for the ‘allowances with the loan trust’ are not being restricted to the number of students they can admit. As a matter of fact, it appears they are free to admit to full capacity because government is enrolling them on a loan scheme which they will pay at a later day and not allowances which they will not pay back.
It is becoming clear that the NPP, upon assumption of office, had found the policies and programmes of the John Mahama administration to be the best worthy of implementation but without giving credit to whom it is due.
You could not promise to restore allowances to students fully and turn around to direct a cut in admissions. You could not also, pay students allowances while directing them to register with a loan trust fund. Clearly, to borrow the words of the vice president, Dr. Bawumia, “it simply does not add up”.
For the Deputy Minister of health, Hon. Kingsley Aboagye Gyedu to claim that the directive to cut admissions was not due to government’s inability to pay, but rather to decongest the training institutions, can best described as lame and coming out of someone who is ill-informed on the state of the nursing training colleges. You can only decongest where population is over what it should be. For instance, one can claim to decongest the Nsawam Prisons because it has admitted inmates more than the facility is built to contain. These nursing training institutions have only admitted to full capacity and not beyond their capacity. And for a minister to claim they are rather decongesting institutions that have only admitted to full capacity, you would be short of words in describing the understanding and intent.
In concluding this piece, it is important to establish that no one, and I mean no one, under our current educational system, becomes a professional, after completing Senior High School. Here we are, the same government has promised, a promised which has also seen another wonderful backtracking, which would be dealt with later, to provide free senior high education to the people of Ghana. Yet, the same government is placing a great limitation on the institutions that must offer these products the opportunity to become professionals. This is nothing short of confusion in my mind as I struggle to draw a link and to arrive at what the government intends to achieve with this policy directive.
How possible would it be, that government opens up senior high schools for as many students and closes the tertiary institutions that would train them to become professionals? Does this make any meaning? Is the government only interested then, in pouring out senior high school graduates than ensuring full education for them to fit properly in society? I would end the debate on this subject here, and allow you to continue the debate in your homes, and where ever you find appropriate to do so. Thank you!