Ghana: Ghana media report controversy over funding of free second cycle education

Accra, Ghana (PANA) – A loud controversy over the source of funding for the government’s flagship free public Senior High School (SHS) education was highlighted by the media this week.

The free SHS promise was the key campaign message of then candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in the 2012 election, which he lost to President John Dramani Mahama.

But with victory at the polls in 2016, President Akufo-Addo wants to roll it out during his first term and he indicated last weekend that his government would begin its implementation from the 2017/2018 academic year.

The state-owned Graphic, in a story under the headline 'Free SHS begins September - Prez Akufo-Addo', quoted the president as saying that this was aimed at building an educated populace for speedy national development and progress.

“By free SHS, we mean that in addition to tuition, which is already free, there will be no admission fees, no library fees, no science centre fees, no computer laboratory fees, no examination fees, no utility fees.

“There will be free text-books, free boarding and free meals and day students will get a meal at school for free. Free SHS will also cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the high school level,” the President said.

He argued that the inability of the country to give all its citizens the kind of education that enabled Western and Asian countries to thrive was the missing link in Ghana’s economic development.

But it is the source of funding of the free SHS, which was raised as far back as 2012, that triggered controversy this week.

This was after Senior Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo, was quoted as saying the government would review the Petroleum Act to enable it use part of the Heritage Fund to finance the free SHS policy. The Heritage Fund is part of the petroleum revenue set aside to support future generations when the oil reserves are depleted.

He said the decision had become necessary because the government wanted to invest significant revenue generated from the oil industry to fund major sectors like education, since it had the potential of building a good foundation for the country.

However, politicians, civil society organisations and think-tanks have kicked against the suggestion describing it as a “lazy man’s option”.

Policy think-tank, Imani, said Ghana needed about US$600 million per annum to fund and implement the free SHS policy and given that the fund had just about US$300 million today, “clearly it still doesn’t fix your entire financing problem”.

A coalition of civil society groups also pointed out that at the current production levels and world market prices, the Heritage Fund was not likely to yield more than US$25 million a year, and so, once the accumulated fund was exhausted in the first year, the annual Heritage streams would be woefully inadequate in meeting the free SHS expenditure.

A policy analyst at the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), Dr. Steve Manteaw, argued that it was “unwise” to spend the Heritage Fund on recurrent expenditure saying that “won’t yield the benefits that we want”.

He said attempts to use Heritage Fund was worrying and must not be countenanced, adding “it is a lazy man’s option to a difficult task”.

In a story under the headline 'Using heritage fund for free SHS ludicrous idea – PIAC Vice Chair', Accra-based radio station Joy FM quoted the vice chairman of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), Kwame Jantuah, as saying the proposal was “preposterous”.

He said the fund was set up to support the country when its oil reserves were depleted, hence using it for anything apart from what the law provided would not inure to the benefit of the country.

Mr Jantuah said: “I thought it was a ludicrous idea to do that. The Heritage Fund is there primarily to be able to have money when the oil resources have been depleted.”

He added that inasmuch as the free education policy was a good idea, its sustainability was uncertain.

Energy think-tank, Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), said the government must stay off using the Heritage Fund to finance the free Senior High School policy.

On Thursday, the Minority in Parliament joined the debate saying it would resist the use of the Heritage Fund for the programme.

“We join the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians and civil society groups to register our strongest disapproval and objection to this idea,” former deputy finance minister Cassiel Ato Forson told journalists.  

“We wish to state emphatically that we shall resist any attempt to amend the Petroleum Revenue Management Act,” he added.

On Friday, Joy FM quoted Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta as saying the government had no intention of touching the Heritage Fund to bankroll the Free Senior High School policy.

“We are not going to touch the Heritage Fund to be able to support the free SHS education,” Ofori-Atta said.

The sources of funding the policy are expected to be announced in the government’s budget to be presented to parliament in a couple of weeks.
-0- PANA MA/AR 18Feb2017

18 february 2017 07:18:00

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