Vice President John Mahama

A report on yesterday began: “The Vice President John Mahama is mocking the free Senior High School policy being espoused by the opposition New Patriotic Party.” Addressing University of Ghana students, John Mahama described Nana Akufo-Addo’s flagship policy as “hocus pocus”, meaning foolishness, nonsense, deceit.

The Vice President told the students the fundamental disagreement that the National Democratic Congress has with the NPP on education, and by so doing he reaffirmed the growing perception that the ruling party has lost touch with the concerns of ordinary people. If not, why would President Mills say in America that his government has achieved relatively more than what any of Ghana’s former leaders did, including Presidents Nkrumah, Rawlings and Kufuor did?

What is incontestable is that President Mills has borrowed more money, both nominally and in real terms, than what Ghana’s four recent previous civilian leaders – Kufuor, Rawlings, Limann, Busia –put together managed to borrow. For his four-year term, if you take into account inflation, in real terms, President Mills has had access to more money than President Kufuor had in 8 years.

What have been unprecedented under President Mills are access to money and absence of value for money in the projects undertaken under his watch. For example, in just over two years, the cost of a six-classroom block has gone up by over 400% for JHS with the same facilities as before.

Without the benefit of oil and all the revenues and loans that have been available to Mills, Kufuor increased the public sector wage bill and public education budget far more in proportion to what his successor has done.

At the time of taking office in January 2001, Ghana’s wage bill stood at GH¢195.6 million. By 2008, President Kufuor had increased it to GH¢1.987 billion, representing a rise of 916% in 8 years. This means, on the average, Kufuor increased wages by 115% every year.

President Mills, on the other hand, increased the total wage bill from GH¢1.987 billion in 2008 to GH¢5.05 billion in 2012. This is an increment of 154% in four years. Thus, even with the projected burden of implementing the Single Spine Salary Structure, under Mills, the wage bill has been growing at an annual average rate of 39%!

With regards to spending on education, Ghana’s total budget for education stood at GH¢103.2 million by December 2000. This was increased to GH¢1.47 billion in 2008. This represented a 1,260% increase in 8 years or an average increment of 157% annually under Kufuor.

Under Mills, spending on education has risen from GH¢1.47 billion in 2008 to GH¢2.87 billion in 2012. This represents an increment of 105% in 4 years, and an annual average increment of 26%, as opposed to 157% under Kufuor.

What this should tell us is that the NPP should not be easily dismissed when it says it is serious about investing in education. It has done far more with far less. To use John Mahama’s words, whoever much is given, much is…

It is almost as if Ghana is led today by an absentee president, who has effectively given his gormandizing sweet-tooth, sharp-tongue cronies the free licence to plunder and slander.  For a government that is spending GH¢53 million — 8.26% (less than 10 times) on investment in education this year than it readily spent on paying dubious judgment debts, to doubt the feasibility of free education in Ghana can only be described as having lost touch with the daily realities that the ordinary Ghanaian faces.

 To the NDC, free SHS is unrealistic and unnecessary. In his own words, Vice President John Mahama said, “We believe the problem of secondary education is more about access rather than affordability for if you consider Ghana’s national priorities.” What are Ghana’s priorities, Your Excellency? Paying GH¢642 million in questionable judgment debts? Spending $44 million on Atlas?

First, John Mahama and his government are telling Ghanaians that, really, Ghanaian parents have no problems spending GH¢350 a term per a child’s secondary education. They don’t need government subsidising about 65% of this for them. Affordability is not a problem. All they want is access.

Currently, three things are frustrating access: (i) inadequate facilities (ii) high BECE failure rate and (iii) high unaffordable costs.

What does John Mahama mean about access? On facilities, the cost of putting up facilities has shot up more than four times under his watch. With more money building less, has he been sincere in identifying access as the main issue?

Again, those who fail the BECE (and with no opportunity to re-sit) are denied access to secondary education. What the Mills-Mahama administration has superintendent over is an ever increasing number of BECE failures. The number of pupils passing the BECE has dropped from 62% in 2008 to 47% in 2011. So the manifest falling standards do not speak of a government sincere about opening up access to more and more children.   

In 2008, when Nana Akufo-Addo said he would set up a $1 billion Northern Development Authority (NODA), John Mahama ridiculed it and said if Nana could find that money he should pay off debts in the energy sector, specifically owed by TOR and VRA. He soon realised that the innovative plan to make a special development case of the north posed an electoral threat. Soon after, he pushed for the Savannah Development Authority (SADA) to counter NODA.

Since then, the NDC has borrowed more than 11 times the $1 billion which he thought was unrealistic in the previous election year, but invested less than an average of $5 million a year in its flagship programme for the development of the North. To put it another way, Woyome and Waterville have received four times more in allegedly fraudulent payment from the Mills-Mahama government than what the government has offered to the 4 million people of the three regions in the north through SADA.

 SADA has received 25.42% of the GH¢118 million for Waterville and Woyome and less than 5% or 20 times what NDC has been able to pay in judgment debts in its first three years alone. In the 2012 budget, another GH¢120 million has been allocated for judgment debts – again 4 times more than what has been given to SADA!

Vice President John Mahama has done it again. His target this time is Nana Akufo-Addo’s free Senior High School policy initiative. Watch this space, he would push government to subsidise secondary education heavily this September as an attempt to steal once again Nana Addo’s shine. But, would that suffer the same fate as sad SADA?

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