A labour expert, Austin Gamey, has joined calls on government to review some of its flagship programmes, especially the Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, which he believes must target only persons who cannot afford to pay fees for their wards.
Ghana is currently engaging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to agree on a bailout programme in view of the fact that the country’s public finances have taken a big hit from COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.
Speaking on Asaase Radio yesterday, Mr Gamey emphasised the need for government to restructure the Free SHS programme before the IMF makes such demand.
“We are in a vulnerable situation. So, should we continue with the Free Senior High School [education] the way it is? Should we not target it, and let people who are in the middle class or so be able to pay for their children school fees? Why do we have to pay for everybody?” he quizzed.
“Somebody who is in the poverty bracket, which we have data on, should be targeted, and government pay for them. Is it compulsory that we should build all the Agenda 111 projects? If we don’t have the capacity to do it, it is not compulsory that we should do it, and no one will blame the government for it,” he stated.
Rich must pay
Mr Gamey’s call lends support to an earlier one made by the director of research at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Dr John Kwakye, who also wants the SHS programme to be reviewed.
According to him, this could help lessen the fiscal pressure on the government in the wake of the economic challenges facing the country.
“I am not against Free SHS because human capital creates fiscal capital… but if some people can afford its payment, then let them pay, or we can even do cost-sharing,” the economist stated recently.
“Why is the government taking care of all these responsibilities? Is it because it wants to be popular? The purse is not limitless. It really makes no sense why the government is so adamant to pay [the fees of the wards of] parents who want to make the payment themselves,” he added.
The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, recently suggested that persons who can afford to pay fees for the education of their wards should be excluded from the Free SHS programme.
“The government is facing huge challenges in financing its flagship education programme, the Free SHS,” he said in a media interview.
In this regard, Ofori-Atta said persons with the means can continue to pay fees for their wards while the government collects data to determine which segments of society benefit from the policy.
“The issue of free education, I don’t think it’s something that any of us can compromise on… It may be that there have to be changes in the way which we are administering it,” Mr Ofori-Atta noted.
He added: “I can’t take my child to Achimota or Odorgonnor, and then leave him or her, and drive away, and Ken Ofori-Atta not pay anything, while I can pay for 10 people. You need to be able to get the data to then be discriminatory in how and who pays and who doesn’t pay”.
He further explained that it was important to get everybody on the policy before considering other ways to improve it.
“You would rather make a mistake, if it is a mistake to get everybody in the system for the nation to then begin to have a conversation and say ‘okay, this is good for us because we want our human capital to be at a certain level, but maybe let’s begin to adjust it this way’. But, I think the issue of opening up and people coming to reality about ‘maybe we could do things a certain way’ is not a bad thing for a nation’s growth,” he stated.