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Sometimes I ask myself if National Service should be compulsory for all Ghanaian graduates? Even the name, "National Service", in my opinion is a misnomer. It should have been national “suffering” instead. My opinion on that topic is different. Fast forward, let us engage our imaginations now.
The contribution of National Service Personnel to our economy is continually underestimated and the government does not care to place any value on tertiary education. Why are they so much concerned about the restoration and payment of trainee allowances and not an increment on NSS allowance? Is the current NSS allowance enough to cover for the living expenses of the graduates?
The most interesting part of the story is that, students in the Training Colleges were fed three (3) times daily and they get a bounty allowance at the same time as they are students. They also attain some gargantuan back pay allowance after their training and internship. How much can the service personnel (tertiary), who were trained and motivated to be the entrepreneurs of our land save from the peanut they are being paid? Can they start any serious business on their own after national service? How many of them does the government fully employ after the national service? Is this not the major cause of graduate unemployment in the country? Why will the government not allow the graduates find something profitable for themselves to do after school? These mind boggling questions have compelled me to write this article.
Ghanaian graduates irrespective of their program of study or the type of sponsorship received during their education, are required under law to do a one year mandatory national service to the country. The National Service Secretariat (NSS) is the Government of Ghana agency mandated to formulate policies and structures for national service. A Service person is issued with a Certificate of National Service after a successful completion of the service. All personnel are entitled to only a month's annual terminal leave for the year that spans their service. The one month leave is usually given in June but not all personnel get the opportunity to enjoy this. Female service personnel may apply for a 3-month maternity leave. If the leave is granted the personnel, she is to serve for three extra months to make up for the period of service lost.
Service personnel are paid only monthly allowances. The amount paid is determined by the Ministry of Finance. The allowance that is approved is what the ministry would pay the personnel throughout the service year. Payment is calculated from the date the service personnel reports for duty at his/her designated post and ends after the stipulated period.
A national service person does not enjoy any back pay. They are most often laid off and not absorbed onto the salary payroll after their mandatory period of national service. They are made to go and find jobs under the scorching sun, sometimes against the restraining orders of government (embargo on employment). If each National Service Person in Ghana is paid at least a 1000ghc allowance, I'm sure the beneficiaries can utilize this money judiciously and save some to pursue their dreams in entrepreneurial ventures. This would propel a steep economic growth in the country.
Unfortunately, the government would rather toy with the destiny of these graduates. What a pitty!!! Student Nurses and teacher trainees who were provided with accommodation and three times feeding whiles in school received 450ghc monthly. When it was scrapped by the previous NDC government, the current NPP government vowed to restore it when given the nod. This won them a lot of votes.
The question I want to ask is, why should the national service personnel who paid their own school fees, continue to feed themselves, pay their own rent, transportation costs and other living expenses receive only 350ghc at the end of a whole month yet trainee students who were living in free hostels and fed three (3) times daily receive 450ghc each? Is that not a deliberate discrimination against the graduates? Are we all not Ghanaians? Should we continue to play politics with this?
When you do a little analogy on the above you would realize that the National Service Personnel allowance as matter of urgency must be attended to by the government.
Going to the university or the polytechnic should not deny a Ghanaian the privilege of enjoying their share of the national cake. Why is the current government feeling reluctant to pay the approved increment in the NSS allowance? How long are we going to continue politicizing everything?
A visit to any public institution in Ghana would have revealed to you that there is staff deficit in almost all the public institutions in Ghana. The National Service Personnel are continuously engaged to take full time duties which purportedly are for permanent officers. Benefits that a permanent worker should have enjoyed, the service personnel does not enjoy because they are not entitled to it. Personnel posted to statutory boards, corporations and churches or quasi-church organizations are paid by those establishments and not the secretariat.
The student trainees who receive allowances while they were students receive posting very shortly after their training and are absorbed onto the full time salary payroll to enjoy full time benefits as workers. Is the government not only helping these trainees to be more successful than the graduates who may no find any job immediately after the national service?
Gone are the days where the young was always vulnerable in matters of discussion, now in the 21st century, the reality must be faced. Let us stop shying away from the truth and face the reality. Since the introduction of the National Service act (Act 426) and its implementation the National Service Personnel since 1983 has shown total commitment to the development of our nation. The government to should appreciate their contributions and pay the national service personnel what is due them. Thank you.
CEPHAS KOFI AKORTOR
College of Health and Allied Sciences, UCC.
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