Ghana’s decision to go for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in view of the country’s economic challenges has sparked rumours of possible reviews for some of government’s vital social intervention programmes.
Although details of the IMF deal are yet to be decided, many economists are of the view that government’s flagship programme – Free Senior High school ( SHS) – may suffer a huge setback or possibly be scrapped because of its constraints on the national purse.
It is on this basis that Child Rights International (CRI) – an organisation that has supported and rallied behind child-centred programmes – has called on government to do everything within its power to protect and maintain Free SHS as the country goes for an IMF programme.
According to a statement issued and signed by the Executive Director of CRI, Mr. Bright Appiah, under no circumstances should the Free SHS policy suffer because Ghana is heading for an IMF programme.
He said the gains of Free SHS are “so huge”, and therefore risking it would spell doom for Ghanaian children.
Mr. Appiah said since the Free SHS programme has already been set in motion, it would be costly to review it.
Since the Free SHS was introduced in September 2017, Mr. Appiah said CRI has supported and rallied behind it and any other child-centred programmes
“This is why we must all continue to throw our weight behind the Free SHS and protect it from any act that could affect it smooth implementation,” he said.
Mr. Appiah reiterated that: “Free SHS is a social investment policy, and any other consideration will affect the masses”.
On the current state of the Free SHS policy, Mr. Appiah stressed the need for prudent expenditure and timeous delivery of services by the various stakeholders tasked to ensure smooth running of the programme.
He said: “It is disturbing to hear reports of children not been fed and funds not released on time to finance various aspects of the Free SHS programme.
“This is where proper attention needs to be given, and not the slightest thought of reviewing the policy or scrapping it because of an IMF programme,” Mr. Appiah said.
To make the programme more efficient, he said, there must be a demand of accountability from managers of the schools – adding that sanctions ought to be applied where necessary.
“As a country, we have come too far with the Free SHS programme to allow some individuals or groups to put it under jeopardy. This should never happen,” he said.
Mr. Appiah said the future of Ghanaian children “is paramount and must be protected at all costs”.
According to statistics from the Ghana Education Service (GES), 1. 6 million youth have so far benefitted from the Free SHS programme since it was introduction in 2017.
Most beneficiaries of the programme are children from deprived communities who before implementation of the policy were idling at home because they lacked finances.
Since inception of the FSHS, government has invested over GH¢7billion to implement the programme.
As at June 2022, the government of Ghana had spent GH₵7.7billion on implementing the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy since its inception. An amount of GH₵480million was spent on the Policy in 2017, GH₵1.3billion in 2018, GH₵1.6billion in 2019, GH₵2.4billion in 2020 and GH₵1.9billion was spent in 2021, while the cost is expected to increase drastically in 2022.
Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta, who gave the figures in the 2021 Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review, said the cost covered a number of areas including free tuition, uniforms and food for schoolchildren.
Another report said the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy occupied a major share of the country’s total expenditure, compared to other government initiatives.
Accepting but not admitting that FSHS takes a chunk of the nation’s resources, Mr. Appiah said the policy “is one of the best Ghana has ever had”.
Although implementation of the FSHS programme may have placed some burden on the country’s coffers, he said, no other policy has yielded more returns than the FSHS.
Mr. Appiah explained that education is not a cost; rather, it is an investment – adding that critics of Free SHS are only interested in the present financial cost without considering the long-term economic benefit of Free SHS to the country.