The Minister of Finance, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, has been asked to release funds to the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) to enable it expand infrastructure for running Senior High Schools (Free SHS).
Infrastructure remains the greatest challenge that the government's Free SHS policy has faced since its introduction in 2017 and this has been worsened by the failure of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration to pay contractors despite receiving Parliamentary approval for a loan to do so, according to the Ranking Member on the Education Committee of Parliament, Mr Peter Nortsu-Kotoe.
Mr Nortsu-Kotoe, who is the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for Akatsi North in a press statement issued Wednesday also warned of a looming crisis under the Free SHS Programme in Ghana.
"In 2018, Parliament approved a loan facility of 1.5 billion dollars for the payment of contractors owed by GETFund towards the provision of new facilities for senior high schools in the country. One would have asked why this money was not disbursed to pay contractors owed from years before the 2017 era as well as the contractors on the 1119 projects in 2017," the statement said.
"The truth is that the Minister of Finance has put a number of impediments in the way of GETFund such that access to the facility has become very difficult. The Minister of Finance also appointed a Special Purpose Vehicle such that, all certificates due for payment and were duly vetted by the Technical and Accounts Units of GETFund have to be vetted again by an audit firm solely appointed by the Minister, causing so much delay in the payment of over 800 million Ghana Cedis to contractors with the money being locked up with the Bank of Ghana. It is worrying to say that if nothing urgent is done regarding infrastructure challenges in our schools, we would be confronted with a bigger catastrophe in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic".
Free SHS and Infrastructure challenges
The statement contends that although the mass introduction of the 2017/18 academic year was not a bad idea, its implementation was not well thought through and fell short of achieving the desired goals.
"Thus, the programme since its introduction has been plunged into chaos and glaring challenges that were foreseen by many other stakeholders. These challenges have largely hindered the provision of quality education as required by the Constitution and Sustainable Development Goal Four".
It further argues that the current infrastructure challenges were foreseen by the NDC government led by President John Dramani Mahama which is why it began the building of 200 E-Block facilities as Community Senior High Schools.
The statement adds that by December 2016 a number of the projects were ongoing in over 400 senior high schools across the country but have since stalled following the failure of the NPP government to pay the contractors to complete work.
"Till date, many of these projects are at a standstill. It is also instructive to note that, the delayed payments have also eroded the gains of the contractors as some have become indebted to financial institutions".
It also mentioned that the infrastructure deficit in the educational sector led to the introduction of the Double-Track system to deal with the challenges.
Mr Nortsu-Kotoe noted that the release of funds to finance the implementation of the Free SHS policy had become a major hurdle to its success.
It also mentioned that funding for the Free SHS programme had been reduced from about 2.4 billion Ghana Cedis to 1.9 billion Ghana Cedis.
"What is more interesting is that management of the programme has been transferred from the Jubilee House to the Ministry of Education; a situation very difficult to comprehend. As the number of students increases, funding must also rise and this can only be explained by the Jubilee House as to what accounted for the reduction. Unfortunately, officials of the Ministry of Education were unable to explain this when they appeared before the Select Committee on Education".
The statement also bemoaned the quality of food served to students under the Free SHS Policy.
Mr Nortsu-Kotoe said investigations by the Minority in Parliament had uncovered that the food served did not meet the nutritional standards adding that near-expired food items were also used in preparing dishes for beneficiaries of the policy.
"These happenings have forced parents to provide their wards with extra food items when they leave home for school to avoid the issue of malnutrition which in itself can affect the academic progression of these school children".
The statement further urged the government to take the necessary steps to not only improve the living conditions of students in schools across the country but also to ensure access to quality education.