Ghana: Akufo-Addo now has a new name—Mr. FREEMAN

By IndepthAfrica
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Nov 1st, 2012
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By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

He is all over the place, promising everything that comes to his mind as if that’s all politicking for the December elections is about. Indeed, giving him the politically motivated name “FREEMAN” won’t be out of place; will it?

“I will provide free this, free that, free everything” has become his buzz campaign message.

Out of the whole lot, his promise on free Senior High School education has stoked so much fire as to become the double-edged sword to cut him to size.

We are still waiting for Akufo-Addo to provide specifics on this promise so we can debate it with substance. We want to go beyond the surface to see what this promise entails. Without specifics, the promise will remain to us as a dangerous figment of Mr. FREEMAN Akufo-Addo’s imagination.

We have remained particularly unconvinced that he properly diagnosed the problems facing our education sector before coming out with this promise. He comes across as lacking sufficient knowledge about the remote and immediate causes of those problems. What he has put forward as a solution is no solution at all. It is too sweeping a cosmetic measure that frightens instead of appeasing us.

Despite his followers’ desperate attempts to highlight it as the best measure for addressing the high cost of SHS education—or for upholding it as the solution to the country’s human resource problems—indications are clear that their efforts are still short of the mark. There is still stiff opposition to Akufo-Addo’s promise because critics feel it is unfeasible or just made on the spur-of-the-moment for cheap political capital. No foundation exists for such a promise to be fulfilled, and Akufo-Addo can’t lay it all too soon.

Many of us consider that promise as a mere political gimmick aimed at deceiving the electorate for votes. We have given several reasons to support our stance and challenged proponents of Akufo-Addo’s promise to provide substance to facilitate the discourse. They are yet to do so.

The main bone of contention is funding. We are not convinced that Akufo-Addo knows exactly where funding for his promise will come from. There is speculation that an NPP government under him will raise VAT to 20% to mobilize resources for fulfilling that promise. Anything of the sort will have dire consequences on an already-sagging economy.

Another area being eyed by Akufo-Addo is known. He has dropped hints concerning the sources of revenue to support his fee-free education, which he repeated on Tuesday during the Presidential Debate organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Tamale.

He said that a government under his leadership would use oil proceeds to improve education, health, and other sectors of the economy.

His eyes are solely fixed on the oil money, which raises eyebrows. It opens to question what is happening in the petroleum sector under this government. How much money is Ghana making from the oil industry and how is that money being used? We want to know now before we even begin imagining how Akufo-Addo will turn to the oil revenue for funding his free SHS agenda.

By now, the government should have told Ghanaians how much it has generated from the oil industry since its commissioning and how much is projected to be earned over the next few years; but as is characteristic of regimes that delight in keeping their citizens in the dark about such issues of public interest, no one is telling Ghanaians anything to keep them informed about happenings.

What happens if Akufo-Addo gets to know that what he has set his eyes on isn’t after all the windfall that can fund his dream? Turn to the international donor community for resources (as is already the case of the Schools Feeding Programme institutionalized by Kufuor with support from the Danish government)? Will such a programme be self-supporting?

In any case, it is preposterous for Akufo-Addo to trust revenue from the oil industry as the sole source of funding for his grandiose promise. Or does he know more than we do about the oil industry? I am not sure.

Yet another issue that is not being raised by Akufo-Addo. What will be the fate of all existing scholarship schemes already supporting SHS students? We know how the Ghana Cocoa Board supports students. Will Akufo-Addo abolish the Cocoa Board’s scholarship scheme and divert the funds into the pool that his government might create for a fee-free SHS education? What about other scholarship schemes established by various personalities and institutions all over the country (e.g., the Asantehene’s Education Endowment Fund)?

Handling these scholarship schemes could be problematic unless Akufo-Addo’s intentions dovetail with what is already being successfully implemented. As of now, there is no signal, and we are all the more alarmed.

Those with a herd mentality supporting Akufo-Addo to spread this malicious promise had better take caution. There are more questions to ask about this promise than any answer that has been given so far by these proponents.

We appreciate the candid opinion expressed in a recent JoyFm interview by Paapa Owusu Ankoma, a former Education Minister in the erstwhile Kufuor regime, that the implementation of the free SHS education policy would be tough.

His position reflects widespread doubts over this promise by Akufo-Addo more so when nothing concrete has been given us to know how that promise could be implemented against the background of an ailing economy. At least, it can’t begin being implemented as soon as Akufo-Addo enters office.

The truth behind Owusu Ankoma’s opinion is clear: the party would need 10 years or more to make teaching attractive enough for a mass body of teachers that would be required for the implementation of free education policy. Improving SHS education entails more than what Akufo-Addo imagines.

Of course, Owusu Ankoma’s candid opinion will definitely annoy some in the NPP who will see it as a betrayal; but they need to be reminded that their own Senior Minister, J.H. Mensah has already echoed such pessimism.

Such opinions are a clear pointer to the fact that there is a lot wrong with the promise itself, let alone how it will be fulfilled without compounding existing problems.

We expect well-meaning and conscientious functionaries in the NPP to come out with opinions that will throw more light on this promise. Otherwise, they will not be helping Akufo-Addo’s cause at all. They will leave him in the lurch to be bombarded as we are doing.

We shall return.