General News of 2014-07-03

Drama over Mahama’s free SHS: Each to cost US$4.3m

Drama unfolded on the floor of parliament yesterday when the Finance Minister, Seth Terkper, walked into the chamber to move a motion urging Parliament to approve a US$ 156.0 meant to finance President Mahama’s two hundred (200) day-secondary school project.

The finance minister who was aided by the Majority Leader called on the Legislature to adopt the report of the finance committee of the House which dictated that, of the amount to be approved, US$98.9 million will be spent on the construction of 23 new SHS with each costing an amount of US$ 4.3 million.

A further US$ 9.0 million and US$ 16.0 million will also be spent on the upgrade of 75 existing SHSs and expansion of 50 schools respectively.

The drama surrounding the whole agreement, started when the minority members raised the issue concerning an expenditure of US$ 15.6 million on scholarships for some 10,400 students to pursue secondary education.

What sparked the mainly NPP MPs to oppose the facility, was the dictates of the report that several items would be catered for under the scholarship package for beneficiaries including pens, pencils and sanitary pads.

Speaker after speaker called for a careful scrutiny of the facility which subsequent approval means government can now access it and begin the construction of the much touted day secondary school project meant to spearhead the campaign of the government for the 2016 elections.

However, the debates of the Minority against the contraction of the loan did not succeed as the Majority led by its Leader Benjamin Kunbour, won a voice vote which was put by the second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ebo Barton Oduro, who sat in instead of the Speaker.

Not satisfied with the declaration, ‘I think the yes, yes have it,' the Minority Leader, Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu raised issues with the determination that the voice vote was enough and argued strongly for the taking of a head count.

And after the count, the Speaker declared a hundred and five (105) against eighty-three (83) votes in favour of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Members of Parliament (MPs); a declaration which led Mensah-Bonsu to declare that the Minority was abstaining from the loan and did not want to have anything to do with it.

The protest was marked by a defining silence from the minority which failed to respond to votes for its subsequent adoption.

In a report presented by the Finance Committee of the House and signed by its chairman, James Klutse Avedzi, the committee stated that the agreement for the contraction of the loan from the International Development Agency (IDA) was presented to the House by the Deputy Finance Minister, Cassiel Ato Baah on Wednesday, 18th June, 2014 in accordance with Article 181 of the 1992 Constitution.

The loan facility, as explained, was initiated by the Government of Ghana (GOG) in 2013 requesting the World Bank to provide financial support for the implementation of the project.

The report further explained that the project will be executed under two main components which it named as including support to increase access with equity and quality in Senior High Schools (SHS) and management research and monitoring evaluation.

It further divulged that US$40.1 million will be spent on the first component which will entail the construction of 23 new SHSs in selected districts and improving 50 existing SHSs which will include improvements for additional 75 existing SHSs.

Some 10,000 students from low-income families with special emphasis on girls are also expected to be provided with scholarships packages once the loan is contracted while teaching and learning will also be improved in selected 125 low-performing schools across d country.

Component two of the facility, the report continued, will involve helping the Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Service and other relevant implementation agencies to ensure effective project implementation, monitor and evaluate project results and sector performance, support the development and implementation of government SHS policy and priorities as well as strengthen ongoing and new data collection, monitoring and information management.

The terms and conditions for the concessionary facility with standard IDA terms was presented as including a Loan Amount of USD $ 156.0m, an Interest Rate of 1.25%, and a Repayment period of 20 years.

GOG will also have a grace period of 60 months or 5 years within which to settle the loan and a commitment charge of 0.5% per annum (maximum) on the principal amount not withdrawn which will be effective from 2015.

A service charge of 0.75% per annum on the withdrawn balance and a maturity period of 300 months or 25 years were also included in the agreement.