On Monday 7th September, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) launched its manifesto for the 2020 elections dubbed The Peoples’s Manifesto with the theme Jobs, Prosperity and More. The manifesto, which has received nationwide acceptance and generated a lot of interest, was compiled upon engaging the general public and taking their input in what they want a future NDC government to do for them. It was not surprising that the document was widely accepted and has dominated public discussions consistently almost two weeks after it was launched because it seems to have incorporated the general views collected from the people during the consultative process that began about October last year. Since its launch, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) seems to have abandon its own document of programs and policies launched two weeks ahead of the NDC manifesto, and rather, running to implement key and major promises that seems to have resonated with the people. This article will not exhaust the issues, but would serve as a catalyst for further writings on the subject matter of the NDC manifesto 2020.
The Akufo-Addo’s government backtracking on some major decisions it failed to incorporate the ordinary views of the Ghanaian gives you a clear indication of an African politician, whom, upon winning elections, assumes all wisdom to govern resides in him, and proceeds to assume that having been given the opportunity, all his decisions to be taken over the period of his mandate, have been legitimized by the victory in the elections.
Having realized that another election stares him in the face, President Akufo-Addo is in a dilemma as to implementing or not implementing critical issues on his table ahead of the elections. As we speak, he is yet to set in motion, the Agyapa Royalties deal. In that deal, with the little reading I did, the agreement expires by the 31st day of December 2020 if it has not been fully implemented. Unfortunately for the government, many people are speaking against it. Numerous Civil Society Organizations, political actors, including the major opposition party, the National Democratic Congress, have spoken against the deal with the NDC promising to cancel it when elected by the good people of Ghana. The government is in a fix on this matter. The unfortunate, but common claim of it having been passed by Parliament, has collapsed in this regard. The Minority of Ghana’s Parliament have successfully informed the Ghanaian people that they were not part of those who approved the deal. In effect, even though parliament can be said to have passed it, it remains a one-sided NPP affair.
Again, an issue of great concern to the academia, is an attempt to infringe on their freedom. The Public Universities Bill is ill-intended. The Bill was introduced in Parliament with the sole aim of curtailing the freedoms our people in academia enjoy, and to have government dominating the University Council. This Bill was informed by the failed attempts by the current government to interfere in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) impasse that occurred some years back. The intervention instituted by the government of Nana Akufo-Addo was questioned which later led to the withdrawal of that intervention. The later events at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) and the University of Education, Winneba (UEW), have all informed the current government to do something to prevent its hands from being tied should future situations as that of KNUST, UCC and UEW arise.
In that Bill, government seeks to reduce the number on the universities council from its current number of 23 to 13. The current arrangement, does not give government the majority on the council making it difficult for government to influence decisions at public universities. As a result, the new Bill has the proposal for a 13 member council, out of which, 8 are government representatives, and out of which, 7 can form a quorum for meetings and take decisions that are binding on all. If government alone has 8 representation on a 13-member council and 7 out of those 8 can form a quorum, then government has already taken over the university council, and can reach decisions that are clearly influenced by government.
The Public Universities Bills has been stiffly resisted, chastised for lacking the needed consultation, and having the current largest opposition party NDC yet again, promising to withdraw that Bill for good. The government once again, is under pressure because elections are staring into its face, and must bow to the wide demands for such a Bill to be abandoned. Just yesterday, the University of Ghana chapter of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) has called on government to withdraw the Bill.
In addition, the nation is faced with a critical challenge in its transport system, the use of Motorbikes for commercial activities. Indeed, people have been using motorbikes, popularly known as Okada, to do deliveries from one point to the other, which is clearly a commercial activity, except that they do not carry on an additional passenger. The existing law, only ban activities related to commercial use of motorbikes. I am yet to know what definition fits those who use same banned means of transport to do deliveries which are in themselves commercial in nature. But, here again, the law does not prevent anyone from using a motorbike for private purposes. Indeed, it does not prevent me from jumping on my motorbike, and picking my brother on the back of it. The difficulty then is, at what point do we determine that the person sitting on the back of a motorbike, is a passenger, or a friend or a relative who is being sent to another destination at no cost?
We cannot be lost on the reality of this challenge in our country. The ban remains in force for years. Yet, statistics would show that motorbikes, since the ban was introduced in 2012, have increased in number. Indeed, the office of Ghana’s Parliament, where the ban was passed into law, has an Okada station right in front of it. It is providing food on the table of many young men. It is feeding families, paying medical bills, educating people. Indeed, not too long ago, while at the university, I had an opportunity of getting closer to a colleague classmate. Upon a few conversations, he was an Okada rider, he embarks on Okada business from morning, and comes to sit in class with all of us in the evenings. We graduated on the same day, and his schools fees was paid from this business.
And so, instead of pretending not to see the problem, and pretending to have a law that we all can agree has failed, we must find ways of ensuring that the nation safeguards its citizens – both lives and livelihoods, and that is what the NDC 2020 manifesto seeks to do. Laws are made for men, and not men for laws. We are expected to ensure that we implement safety measures while punishing those who have chosen upon themselves to disregard the measures instituted.
People are justified in their fears of the behaviors of some of these riders. Their blatant disregard for traffic rules, among others. But, we cannot look at that in isolation. I have come across Okada riders who are so respectful and focused. We must cast our minds to the fact that because they are not recognized as legitimate road users, the police, and we know how some of them have established themselves to behave, have made them endangered species. They arrest them for no wrong, and extort from them. As a result, in traffic intersections where they suspect police officers might be present, they disregard traffic regulations, thereby endangering their lives and those of their passengers and other road users. These can be corrected, I believe, with recognizing and legitimizing their road use. In order to ensure a safer Okada business, I have made these four suggestions recently in a Facebook post:
1. Differentiate between licensing plates of Commercial Motor riders (including delivery riders) and private motor riders. Currently, the blue plate is issued to every motorbike.
2. Separate private motorbike insurance from commercial motorbike insurance and ensure premiums that are realistic.
3. Set up motor training schools as we have with driving schools and ensure standardised training for the purposes of licensing for the riding of motor bikes. The current crop of riders can be trained to ensure safety while a medium to long term structure is instituted to ensure approved training ahead of obtaining a license to ride a motorbike for both private and commercial purpose.
4. If possible, consider the creation of a motorbike traffic unit at strategic police stations to enforce laws in this regard (automatically would lead to the increase in police force creating employment).
The current government deployed its communicators since this idea became public as a promise from the opposition NDC through its Flagbearer John Dramani Mahama, to discredit the idea and to bastardize same. The opposition seems to have stood its grounds and made its case clearer. The decision has received wide acceptance, and promises to result in electoral fortunes for the NDC. All of a sudden, the government that deployed its officials to bastardize the idea, we are told had long commissioned work into possibilities of legalizing the Okada business, and is in the consultative process to legalize same. Readers and Ghanaians are the better judges on what they have heard and how the government all of a sudden, has a plan on this matter long before they went to bastardize same.
Then the issue of Free SHS comes to the discussion again. I must establish that, free SHS has come to stay. The NDC, through its flagbearer John Dramani Mahama, has made it emphatic that he will not abolish free SHS. In my last article titled “GHANAIANS HAVE SETTLED FREE SHS: WHAT NEXT?”, I made the point that we must put this debate that the current government is seeking to approach using fear mongering behind us and focus on how to make it better and which of the political parties can convince Ghanaians that it can do it better.
Even those in government agree to the need to review the policy. A review in this case, includes ensuring an end to the double track which government says it is working at achieving. Indeed, what government communicators are doing, which they have failed at, is to make the point that the former president Mahama was against free SHS and could not turn around today. That is not appropriate. The simple question to ask is, “was the free SHS implemented smoothly without any challenges since it was introduced?” If your answer is YES, then you can talk against John Dramami Mahama, HE. If your answers on the other hand is NO, which means it came with huge challenges, then he wasn’t wrong.
As President, knowing the difficulties, he was aware implementing the police at the time with little infrastructure, many would be displaced. And it happened. The current government only found a solution in implementing a Double Track system. It didn’t mean infrastructure was improved at all, the alternative that John Mahama was advocating for which he preferred a delay in implementing the policy on a wholesale level. He began free SHS for some selected category in the day schools. That alone shows a certain commitment to providing free education.
I would spare a moment to address an issue, or better still, a concern I have had to address. Recently, following the manifesto launch of the NDC, there was an announcement to include private schools in the free SHS structure. This, has been advocated for by private school owners, who said that government should post students to them and pay exactly what it pays to those in the public schools, and they would deliver. This would maintain their businesses, and keep teachers in the private sector also employed. As we speak, many of those schools are closed down, and have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do not also forget, that, in preparing for such progressively free SHS as enshrined in the Constitution 1992, he began building fresh Senior High Schools in order to expand access. We cannot discount the significance of such interventions especially that each one of those schools, has the capacity to hold 1,400 students.
A friend, outside of this country, in a discussion recently, queried why the NDC would decide to include private senior high schools in the free SHS scheme. According to her, in the jurisdiction she finds herself, private senior high schools are performing better, and are the most expensive. As a result, she and her other colleagues, believe that we must keep private schools at their “best”. I took the opportunity to clarify this very important issue.
For a start, I told her the situation in Ghana, is the direct opposite of what she and her friends assessed where they are. I told her, in Ghana, private basic schools, are performing better, while the public senior high schools, are those performing better at the senior high level. I asked her if she could remember the last time parents were massing up at private senior high schools to secure admissions for their wards at the time education at the level was decentralized.
The issue is, the public senior high schools such as Achimota, Aburi Girls, Wesley Girls, Mfantiman, Mfantipim, Presec, WASS, St. Augustine’s, etc, have carved a niche for themselves. The public SHSs have proven tops in that category. On the other hand, private schools at the basic levels from Crèche to Junior High levels, have proven tops. In effect, we see how parents who have used the private basic schools to educate their children and paid dollars and pounds in some cases, switch to look for public senior high school placements for their wards. As a result of that situation in the past, the pendulum switches, pushing those who have used the public basic schools, to now find space in private senior high schools because they could not make the grades.
The reality, I told her, is that, by ignoring the private schools at the senior high level, we are rather funding the education of the rich (those who secure admissions for their wards at top public senior high schools), to the neglect of the poor (those who are pushed into the private senior high schools because of low grades). So extending free SHS to cover private schools, means extending such funding to the poor as well. Indeed, the private school owners have committed to running the same programs at same cost as government schools and we can only take that opportunity and ensue adherence to the standards set in the government schools.
While at that, was it not surprising that days after the NDC manifesto made that promise to include private schools, the government which has ignored the inputs by private school owners and their suggestions, has run to go hold meetings with them to consider including them in the free SHS program?
I am sure the Ghanaian voter is more than sophisticated. The Ghanaian voter read through the lines and acted in 2008, some 12 years ago. In that year, the late President Mills promised to reduce fuel prices drastically. The NPP administration under President Kufour and Nana Addo as flagbearer, made claims that they were charging realistic prices and could not reduce the fuel. They took that position into the elections of 2008. When they could not secure a victory in the first round, they announced a reduction in the fuel prices. Professor Mills yet again, promises to reduce the fuel further. The elections were lost by the NPP on account of not being truthful to the people.
Same signs are showing today. Today, they have undermined the very things the NDC has promised and are now jumping over themselves to implement same. I am sure the Ghanaian can read between the lines, and knows where his or her bread would be best buttered!