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Free SHS review: Tracking the conversation so far

In the past few days, government has been detailing plans to review all its flagship programmes including the Free Senior High School policy.

This is coming at a time the Akufo-Addo-led administration has secured about $600 million as part of a $3 billion IMF bailout package.

According to government, “the decision for rationalisation will depend on the assessment of efficiency, effectiveness, and value for money for each programme” and for social programmes, it will rationalise and align the spending envelope with SDG targets.

“Flagship programmes including 1 Village 1 Dam, 1 District 1 Warehouse, and Infrastructure for Poverty Eradication Project (IPEP) will also be reviewed and streamlined.”

Earlier this year, Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, indicated that the government was taking steps to assess the programmes.

The decision is said to have been taken during a three-day cabinet retreat at the Peduase Lodge in the Eastern Region to mitigate the economic difficulties in the country.

The government had earlier rejected calls for a review of the policies, especially, the Free SHS programme which cost the country more than GH₵5 billion cedes between 2017 and 2021.

In March 2023, Education Minister Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum told Parliament that the total expenditure on government’s flagship Free SHS from 2017 to 2021 was GHs5,119,794,501.22.

He said the ministry’s approved budget for the full implementation of the Free SHS programme amounted to GHC 7,623,783,456.00.

“Mr. Speaker, the government of H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo introduced the Free Senior High School program to improve access and quality of secondary education in Ghana. The programme since its inception, has contributed to improving learning outcomes in our Senior High Schools,” he said.

Rejecting a review

Prior to its March 2023 announcement, the government had rejected calls for a review of the policy.

Civil society groups and experts had proposed that the government reviewed the programmes to ensure the efficient use of resources.

The issue also became a subject of political campaigning. The flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the 2020 elections, John Dramani Mahama, launched scathing attacks on the Akufo-Addo government on how it had implemented the programme. He also promised to review the programme.

Mr. Mahama said this was going to be done within his first 90 days in office if was elected in the 2020 general elections.

He noted that he will engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the policy is bettered.

According to him, the current government did not heed his call for consultative and stakeholders meeting to fashion out how best and efficiently to implement the initiative.

However, President Akufo-Addo speaking to the management and students of St. Mary’s Senior High School in the Ablekuma South Constituency on Wednesday, December 4, 2019, said it was important the final-year students passed their exams well so as to shame the Free SHS detractors who were bent on scrapping it.

“It is not everyone in this country that is happy about this Free Senior High School policy that the NPP government and I are pursuing”, the President told the teachers and students, explaining: “There are political forces in our country that are strongly opposed to the policy”, adding: “They began by saying that it was a gimmick; they then said that it could not be done for another twenty years”.

“They then said it was too expensive and now they are telling us that when they come back to power, only God knows when they are going to review it”, the President said, noting: “The word review means cancel.”

Again, Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia also fired shots at Mr. Mahama over his comments. 

In his response, Vice President Dr. Bawumia has described former President Mahama’s statement as “senseless”.

To him, it would be better for the former President to outline precisely what he will do with regard to his “review” of the free SHS programme but not make a general statement.

“You say you’ll review it. It doesn’t make sense,” he said in an exclusive interview with Kwami Sefa Kayi on Peace FM’s ‘Kokrokoo’.

Fast forward, The Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, at a media encounter in Accra on December 13, 2022, disclosed that the programme and other social intervention policies of the government were not going to be affected by the IMF bailout. 

However, he said the government would be reviewing these programmes to ensure that they were run efficiently.

“On the issue of various programmes including free education. I think if you listen to Stéphane (IMF lead), there was a clarity on the issue of preservation and enhancing, actually, social interventions and free education fall under that.

“I think we are doing a review to look at the efficiency of all of these programmes and that has already kicked off and as we then continue, we make sure these are run efficiently,” he said. 

But now that the government has told the International Monetary Fund that it will have to review the policy and others, critics have taken on the government for being intransigent earlier. 

For instance, an Associate Professor of Finance at Andrews University, William Preprah, has voiced his concerns about the current implementation of the policy.

Speaking on JoyNews’ PM Express on Wednesday, May 24, the Finance expert said the programme was set to encounter grave challenges since the modus operandi government employed from the onset was problematic.

“Making the Free SHS totally free, is where the problem comes in; free uniforms, free books, giving food which I think creates inequality,” he said.

While acknowledging the positive intentions behind the initiative, Prof. Preprah highlighted the issue of inequality arising from providing free uniforms, books, and meals to all students be it borders or day students.

The Minority in Parliament has also called on the government to pay heed to the advice of the International Monetary Fund on reviewing the implementation of the Free Senior High School policy.

In a statement released on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, the Minority stated that the concerns by the IMF had already been raised by many in the country including the opposition NDC, but the government has remained adamant.

According to them, they cautioned the government to hasten slowly to allow for a proper rollout of the policy and later called for a review, but their concerns were misconstrued.

“Areas that the Minority and former President of the Republic, John Dramani Mahama identified for review are exactly what the IMF has identified. These include serious targeting of the vulnerable in the senior high schools that needed support. That was what was done by the NDC government when it introduced the progressively Free SHS in 2015.”

But the Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, has responded to the criticisms. 

According to him, from the onset, government had emphatically stated that the Free SHS will not be for a select few but for all students who passed the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).

“I think right from the beginning government said that we were not going to start the Free Senior High School programme by targeting some and excluding some and that indeed all of those who qualified for senior high school were going to be beneficiaries.

“I think therefore that it is not news if somebody comes to view that the targeting is poor because we ourselves have said from the beginning that we are actually not going to be starting off by targeting anybody,” he said.

Source: Ghana News

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