- Education Ministry Forces GES Boss To Eat Back His Words Over Free SHS Food Shortage Across The Country
The Akufo-Addo government, appears stricken by pride and is struggling to come to terms with the reality of the Free Senior High (SHS) School Programme to call for an import from parents who are at pains at how their wards have been left hungry in second cycle schools in the country over funding and supply challenges.
The dire situation, led the Eastern Regional Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) has cancelled the upcoming Super Zonal sports festival for second-cycle schools due to food shortage which has led to some schools to consider shutting down.
While, headmasters and other school authorities are having to dip their hands into their pockets to buy foodstuffs for the students in their care, some parents are considering engaging the services of caterers to cook for their children in the various boarding schools, depicting the desperate situation the country finds itself in.
However, what looked like a move by the Ghana Education Service (GES) to remedy the situation by having parents contributing a quota to argument the government’s effort, has quickly been denied by the same man who gave the hope of light; the Director-General of GES, Prof. Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa.
It is obvious his sudden U-turn, is informed by a quick rebuttal issued by the Education Ministry Public Relations Officer, Kwasi Kwarteng that the policy is not under review.
He did this through a Tweet which he later followed up with, with some media engagements.
Interestingly, the Minister for Education, Dr Yaw Osei-Adutwum, had earlier confirmed that the government owes the National Food Buffer Stock Company an outstanding amount of GH¢ 340 million. The government’s indebtedness to the company and other factors, has occasioned a shortage of food items in some high schools in the country.
Responding to questions in Parliament on July 20, 2022, Dr Osei-Adutwum, said the government was working towards clearing the debt and ending the food shortage in Schools.
Despite the financial challenges, Mr Kwarteng insisted, “so far as the Ministry of Education is concerned and our agencies are also concerned, discussions of review… have not come to the table of the Ministry or the Minister.”
He, however, noted that the Ministry is on standby for any review of the policy, if such discussions come up, adding “If there comes a time when… that conversation comes up, why not? The ministry will be open to that.”
The Director-General was reported as saying his outfit was ready to contribute to a review of the Free Senior High School policy.
“Once education is not only for the GES and Ministry of Education, it will be played into the bigger discussion for all of us to make our contributions,” he said.
Prof. Opoku-Amankwa, said the GES would start with the smaller parts of the policy and that there have been discussions on the unit cost analysis of education.
“We will do unit cost analysis, especially for the Free SHS,” he said on Joy News’ Upfront.
Prof. Opoku-Amankwa added that: “When we have done that, and we have all added our inputs into it, then we can all come back and say the total cost for educating someone in the free SHS,” is this or that.
He said this is necessary so that, “at the end of the day, we can all agree that this is the amount that we believe that the government should bear.”
But, Prof. Opoku-Amankwa, quickly issued a statement eating back his words. He denied reports attributed to him that the Free SHS policy is under review, although there is a video of him making the comments, saying GES is a government agency and does not formulate or initiate review of policies.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the GES is not undertaking any review of the FSHS. Any such review of the FSHS Policy is the sole prerogative of the President and the government. As an Agency, the GES, implements government policies and programmes in pre-tertiary education.
“His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo in his recent speech at UHAS, assured all students, potential students, parents and the entire country that the Free SHS will not be affected by the IMF programme.”
He stressed: “It is the commitment of GES under my leadership to ensure that the vision of His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo of providing accessible, equitable and quality Free SHS education is fully implemented to the benefit of the good people of Ghana”.
Calls for review of the programme, surged after the government approached the IMF for a bailout. Critics say, the Free SHS policy is too expensive and unsustainable. Government however says the program will be protected even under an IMF bailout.
Though major policy restructuring is expected under the Free SHS policy, the IMF’s Resident Representative to Ghana, Dr Albert Touna-Mama, indicated that the policy will not be cancelled.
But Dr Touna-Mama, acknowledged concerns about the efficiency of the policy and said there need to be conversations about how to make it more sustainable.
As things stand, Mr Kwarteng noted that a decision on the review of the policy will go beyond the Education Ministry.
“It goes beyond the agency. It goes beyond the ministry. It is an entire Ghanaian thing,”
He further maintained that Free SHS was not under financial difficulties, though there are challenges.
“I have always insisted that a lot of these challenges even predated Free SHS,” Mr. Kwarteng said.
He cited challenges with feeding and infrastructure as an example.
“The only components that we are having now, that has erupted this conversation, have to do with the fact that the government is paying for the fees of students.”
The reality is that the students will remain hungry until the government finds money. The Education Minister noted that the government has paid over GH¢327 million to the company this year to ensure food supply to schools.
“Upper West and all the regions where there was a crisis in the last few days, they have all seen improvement in terms of supplies that are coming to them, and they will continue to see improvements from today on,” Dr Osei-Adutwum said.
Reacting to the Education Minister’s remarks on Eyewitness News, the Executive Director of Africa Education Watch, Kofi Asare, said he was not convinced by the assurances.
He views the shortages as a Finance Ministry issue and said the Education Ministry has no solution to offer as far as the shortage of food items in schools is concerned.
“I will take an assurance from the Ministry of Finance because the issue is absolutely outside the purview or the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education,” he said.
“I will take assurances from the Ministry of Finance that the Finance Ministry will respect the disbursement or the cash flow projections as submitted to it by the Ministry of Education. Other than that, we will be having this discussion within two months again.”