Policy beyond Politics on nation building & demolished buildings

September 14, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah l thebftonline.com l Ghana
Policy beyond Politics  on nation building & demolished buildings

Policy beyond Politics

on nation building & demolished buildings


Free SHS. Flagship policy. An opposition’s promise. A president’s commitment. Launched this week. Smooth sailing declared one newspaper. Disaster declared another. Unsustainable, moaned the Opposition. Apologize to the Citizens, demanded the Opposition. It has failed, again the Opposition.

There are policies that must move beyond party politics. There are politicians who must recognize  those moments when a policy serves the entire project of nation building.  Such a policy is transformational. It will resonate with citizens for years. It reimagines and redefines basic education.

Free SHS is a game changer.  

The Opposition’s response: Impossible. Unsustainable. Our Idea. Failed. Apologize for misguiding people. And on and on. The predictability with which Opposition politicians rubbish an incumbent is almost a Sport at this point in Ghana. It is not particularly competitive or entertaining  - and even if the Party scores political points or wins – the People rarely do.  And, who are politics supposed to serve if not the people?

Can we agree that an educated nation is good for nation building? Can we agree that a better educated nation is great for progress? Can we acknowledge that a better educated populace should translate into a stronger economy? Okay. Agreed.

The challenge then becomes the very real issues confronting roll out, sustainability, finance. It has always been in the implementation of policy that governments unravel, policies fall apart and a disappointed, angry electorate raises its voice.

There is a difference between playing politics with the party in power and calling attention to the real issues that confront the implementation of such a massive policy.

We cannot possibly claim to be there yet with Free SHS. Condemning to failure what has barely begun is an exercise in blindly politicizing everything to the extent you forget the reason you do politics.  Parents are voters. Parents want the best for their kids. Parents do not want to choose between educating one or two or three children due to finances. Opposing a policy that parents feel serves their children in order to serve your party politics is just bad politics. It cannot win you votes.

Nothing as ambitious as Free SHS would roll out perfectly.

This cannot be about perfection. It however must be about planning.  A failure to plan means a plan to fail.

Increase in numbers must mean expanding infrastructure. It must mean expanding capacity. What plans are in place for such expansion? What funding is allocated for such an expansion? Numbers matter.  The Government has said it will cost GhCedis476 million to pay for Free SHS.  As with any costing, it will likely cost millions more. 

There have been planning failures.

The failure to get finance to schools early reveals a lack of planning. Free SHS is a new normal so planning by schools is crucial for the smooth roll out. Some schools will require more planning than others – hence a need for early funding receipt.

Launching challenges are to be expected. Growing pains are also par for the course. There are legitimate critiques from organizations like The Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) who  lamented what they describe as government’s failure to engage them to assist in effective planning. If true, that is a mistake.  All governments need to learn to more humbly engage with relevant sectors in order to successfully implement such a huge policy.

There are legitimate questions regarding targeted SHS versus Free for All SHS given the class and financial realities of Ghanaians. There are 10 regions across Ghana, it is fair to argue that targeting areas of known poverty would have been a more impactful beginning.  

Political campaign promises must always meet the challenge of delivery. That means facing the thorny issue of implementation.  For me, implementation would always have been gradual. There would not be any other realistic way to implement a flagship policy that affects so many thousands of people, schools, structures, and teachers.

It must mean previous government policies and practice of community school building must continue to completion. It must also be about growth, funding, improvement, expansion and long term sustainability.  

This is where the media’s role is crucial. The Media serves as both Watchdog and Challenger and Informer-in-Chief.

It has the power to shine a light on implementation challenges that can prompt government action. For public officials, the oxygen of bad publicity prompts transformative action.  One specific suggestion is for us the Media to make a collaborative effort and a collective call for the Ministry of Education to hold a regular encounter with the Press specifically on Free SHS. Such an encounter will address  this gap of lack of information regarding next stages and create a working bridge between government policy statement and the public’s experience.  It also serves an all hands on deck approach for successful implementation of flagship policy.

Can the Media set aside competition and engage in collaboration in order to serve parents, their children and a policy that goes beyond politics and serves the project of nation building? Can we agree that specific challenges faced by different districts and schools may be more effectively resolved by collective engagement?

From nation building to demolished buildings.

We are in the month of Ghana’s Founding. This month regularly prompts a revisiting of Ghana’s political and historical beginnings. Arguments about Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday September 21st and whether or not it should be a holiday, continue. My call is for September 21st to become a day of service for all Ghanaians. 

When it comes to nation building there are also buildings whose walls and contents are home to heritage and history. Such is Old Parliament House.

I found the images of the partial demolition of Old Parliament House with debris strewn across the pavement, huge blocks of cement broken into smaller ones and dust filling the air, deeply distressing. It was more than a tearing down of a building, it felt like the demolition of history. Arguments are being made regarding the lasting damage from the fire two years ago that destroyed parts of the building. CHRAJ argues cost effectiveness meant tear it down to rebuild; AMA argues no permit was given to take such action. History cannot be costed; it is not cost effective. It is priceless.

Shame on CHRAJ for allowing the demolition of a nation’s history in the name of cost effectiveness. Histories matter to the project of Nation building. To witness debris, rubble and dust of Old Parliament House is like watching a history being destroyed for the sake of saving some Cedis.

Is our history so cheap? Does it matter so little that we fail to take account of a Building’s meaning and instead sacrifice history for cost savings?

I am disgusted. As we all should be.

There is policy that transcends politics. There are buildings whose significance transcend cost.

We need to be more educated about our history. Maybe then we would be less willing to sacrifice it on the altar of cost effectiveness.

Free SHS has now begun. It is a beginning for what needs to be a transformative approach to education. We are a nation living with the legacy of a colonizer’s education. That means access is one step; content must be another; teaching approach must be another. A transformational education should be the ultimate goal. Such a transformation is a tool in reimagining an economy where trade not aid is a reality and not simply an aspiration or a great sentence in a politician’s speech.

Free SHS is a policy that serves a people. It is an act of leadership that also becomes good politics. Opposition politicians drawing attention to the holes in order to stimulate improvement are valuable. Those seeking to elevate party over policy risk angering parents whose vote will not be won by critiquing that government that saved their family money and allowed them to realize a dream of educated children.

Education is not cheap. But it is not nearly as expensive as ignorance.