RE-Targeting The School Feeding Programme
: A CASE OF ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL BY THE NDC?
At a so-called sensitization workshop in Ho on 30th April 2011, the Deputy National Coordinator of the Ghana School Feeding Programme, Francis Gyarko, informed the media about government’s plans to re-target the beneficiaries of the programme. Specifically, according to the Deputy Coordinator, the plan entails “taking schools in affluent urban communities off the programme, in order to maximize its availability to pupils in poor rural areas. Moreover, the Deputy Coordinator continued, “the re-targeting was necessary to correct the flaws in the initial stages of the implementation of the programme which went counter to its pro-poor principle”.
Let me state from the outset that exactly two years ago, I was in Gyarko’s position as the Deputy National Coordinator in charge of Monitoring and Evaluation of the Programme and all I can say about this proposed government plan is that if it wasn’t funny, it certainly would be scandalous for its blatant politics and gross disregard of demographics of the country. Why am I suggesting a role for politics and demography in discussing a social intervention programme which has received commendation from Ghanaians and our development partners alike with regards to its aim of addressing the perennial problem of poverty in the country? There are two ways in which politics has bedeviled the School Feeding Programme in the country. First, because the programme was conceived and implemented during the second term of President Kufuor’s administration, the then opposition NDC and their media sympathizers used every opportunity to politicize the programme by insinuating that there was a disproportionate distribution of beneficiary schools during the time of the first Executive Director of the Programme, Dr. Amoako Tufour. Specifically, the complaint was that there were more beneficiary schools in Ashanti than any other region in the country. The second way in which politics has continued to dog the programme is the ‘power-at-any-cost’ syndrome which has become a permanent feature of our electoral politics. One clear manifestation of this syndrome is the great gulf between what political parties and their leaders promise during electioneering campaigns and the social and economic realities on the ground in the country. It is my intention in this piece to dissect these two dimensions of politics which, without a doubt, have informed the ruling party’s plan to ‘re-target’ the beneficiaries of the school feeding programme under the cloak of rationalization.
Before I was appointed to the position of Deputy National Coordinator in August 2008, I had read extensively about school feeding programmes (schemes as they are known in some countries) in general and the Ghana School feeding programme in particular. This incessant search for knowledge about Ghana’s school feeding programme led to one inescapable conclusion: The NDC-aligned media in the country, in its relentless attacks on the programme had succeeded in portraying the programme as an NPP pork barrel which doled out patronage to the party’s supporters and cronies.
While much had been written and said about this seeming patronage under Dr. Amoako Tufuor, the behaviour and utterances of his successor, Michael Nsowah, when the NDC came into office only helped to reinforce this negative perception of the programme in the minds of the NDC administration and the general public. Even though Nsowah was brought out of retirement to coordinate the programme after Amoako Tufuor’s exit, the man became so paranoid about losing his job that he foolishly engaged in several acts which amounted to political opportunism on his part. For instance, after attending P.V. Obeng’s mother’s funeral with much fanfare, he moved in NDC circles lobbying simultaneously to keep his job and telling them that the three deputies were NPP apparatchiks and since we were making his job difficult, they should rather get rid of us. As regards the portrayal of the programme as an NPP vehicle for patronage since its inception in 2005, he had carelessly suggested, in a local radio interview, to the effect that President Kufuor played “politics” with the programme hence the disproportionate number of beneficiary schools in the former President’s home region of Ashanti.
I took issue with this disingenuous suggestion by the then National Coordinator in a management meeting when I told him to the face that he was incompetent and later in a written submission I made to a so-called “Review” Committee hastily set up by the government under the chairmanship of Professor Joshua Alabi in June 2009 (I had then travelled back to South Africa for surgery). In this submission, my argument was that whether or not the Kufuor administration played politics with the programme was an empirical question which could only be answered by gathering empirical evidence on the socio-economic profiles of the beneficiaries regardless of their geographical location. Moreover, in my recommendations, I told the Committee that there was an urgent need to de-link politics from the programme since we had reliable information that this kangaroo-like review committee was being used to lend legitimacy to their planned dismissal of the entire management team which was perceived as pro-NPP.
In fact, before we were dismissed unlawfully by Yieleh Chireh, the then Sector Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, preparations were far advanced to undertake a major evaluation of the programme at the end of five years as per the agreement with our Dutch benefactors, an exercise which could have answered some of these questions surrounding the programme. While much had been written and said about the politicization of the Ghana School Feeding Programme since its inception, it became quite clear to me, after both studying the programme’s implementation documents and personal observations during my school visits around the country, that contrary to this caricatured view of the programme propagated by then opposition NDC , Management under Dr. Amoako Tufuor had used a combination of density/poverty criteria to select beneficiary schools hence the concentration of beneficiary schools in those regions with high population densities (Ashanti, Brong/Ahafo, Greater/Accra etc.).
So, quite frankly, President Kufuor’s administration did not have anything to do with the selection of beneficiary schools as Michael Nsowah had insinuated in that radio interview. Again, whether or not poverty is the preserve of our rural areas is an empirical question which could only be answered by hard socio-economic facts and not by political fiats as appears to be the case with this re-targeting plan.
Several years ago, the Egyptian Sociologist, Janet Abu-Lughod, coined the phrase “Urban Villagers” to refer to the presence in African cities of poor, deprived citizens who flock to these cities from the countryside in search of elusive greener pastures. Thus, this and other scholarly writings on the urbanization process in African and other developing societies have long shattered the myth of urban wealth and opulence.
In fact, Ghana’s unusually high rate of rural-to-urban migration as a result of the colonial legacy unbalanced spatial development is legendary and casual observations I made during my travels around the country visiting schools in both rural and urban settings brought home to me the extent of urban poverty and deprivation in the country. So, if urban poverty and deprivation are well-known facts in our country, what then is the motivation for this government plan to re-target the beneficiaries of the school feeding programme?
The answer to this question brings me to the second dimension of politics that have been plaguing the programme since its inception, that is, the unrealistic campaign promises which have become the modus operandi of some of our politicians in recent years. You see, after observing the behaviour of the current NDC administration, I have been wondering about why political parties in our part of the world go through the trouble of penning manifestoes because either our political elite do not know the essence of this ‘sacrosanct’ document themselves or they think by virtue of their education vis a vis the mass of the citizenry they can continue to deceive them.
Apart from the NDC succeeding in creating negative perceptions about the management of the school feeding programme under NPP’s rule, the party also made the “expansion” of the programme a central plank of their manifesto during the 2008 electioneering campaign. Every Ghanaian remembers candidate Mills’ mantra about “feeding every child” in the country under the programme if Ghanaians gave them the mandate to rule! So, the question every well-meaning Ghanaian must ask the government in the face of this plan to remove some urban pupils from the programme is: Where is the expansion you promised?
The irony of the situation, which seems to be lost on most Ghanaians is that the NDC which unashamedly professes the ideology of social democracy has embarked on a programme of action to roll back the benefits of the largest social intervention programmes in our country’s history undertaken by a party which is largely perceived as ‘conservative’ or neo-liberal in our political parlance. As the Danquah Institute has aptly observed, they are doing this by cutting down on “all critical social welfare intervention programmes which they inherited in 2009….” In fact, in the specific case of the school feeding programme, the government has slashed the budget by 8.09% from GHc50m to Ghc45.9m, the institute observed.
It is within this context of consistency in breaking every campaign promise the NDC made to Ghanaians in the days and months before the 2008 elections that the proposed plan to re-target the beneficiaries of the school feeding programme must be understood; the ruling party continues to throw dust into the eyes of the good people of Ghana.
Needless to say, the mooted plan constitutes “spatial” discrimination and therefore a clear manifestation of governance-deficit on the part of the Mills-Mahama administration. It is therefore imperative that parents, pupils, teachers and in fact Ghanaians as a whole use every democratic means to resist this political gimmick which seeks to strip pupils in the targeted schools of their citizenship rights.
Professor Acheampong Yaw Amoateng, PhD, is a Senior Researcher with the Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He was the Deputy National Coordinator in charge of Monitoring & Evaluation of the Ghana School Feeding Programme until April 2009 when the entire Management team of the Programme was dismissed by the NDC government. This article is based on a book manuscript he is currently working on titled “SCHOOL FEEDING’s HIGH NOON: POLITICS, BUREAUCRACY AND THE UNLAWFUL SEIZURE OF THE GHANA SCHOOL FEEDING PROGRAMME BY THE NDC, CIRCA 2009”.