Will Akufo-Addo listen to Dr. Mensa Otabil?

Tue, 30 Oct 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, October 29, 2012

The General Overseer of the International Central Gospel Church, Dr. Mensa Otabil, deserves support in his singular effort to disabuse the minds of Ghanaians on a major political item. He has inserted himself into the controversy raised by the NPP’s Akufo-Addo and his promise of a fee-free SHS education.

Dr. Otabil has discounted such a promise and warned Ghanaians to be wary because there is no “free education” anywhere in the world. I wholeheartedly support him. He has spoken for many of us and given us a good cause to sustain our criticism of that promise.

His arguments are sound and challenging. No wonder by the close of the day, reaction from visitors to Ghanaweb that published his observation reached 680, the highest that I have seen in such an online medium.

These responses are diverse, mostly portraying or betraying political persuasions of the commentators. The majority took umbrage at Dr. Otabil and insulted him, threatening to either leave his church or wishing hellfire and brimstone for him. Some questioned his status as a “Man of God” and wondered why he should oppose instead of supporting Akufo-Addo’s “vision.” These commentators were definitely NPP fanatics.

I pity them for missing the main substance of Dr. Otabil’s viewpoint. Just like those of us who have persistently criticized Akufo-Addo’s promise, Dr. Otabil isn’t against efforts to improve education for Ghanaians.

His main concern is that such efforts can’t yield anything “free” of the sort that Akufo-Addo is using as a political bait. I agree with him.

But as is characteristic of fanatics, those condemning Dr. Otabil (and us) have resorted to insults instead of reasonable explanations to win over the critics. It won’t work because those of us criticizing this promise aren’t doing so just because we hate the NPP or its flagbearer. We don’t; but we hate the kind of narrow politicking that they are doing with this promise.

It must be made clear to these NPP fanatics that those of us bitterly criticizing this promise are still skeptical because the basis for the promise is still murky. Akufo-Addo hasn’t persuaded us that a government under him can fulfill this promise. And we know the harm that such unfulfilled promises can cause.

We are not persuaded because Akufo-Addo made this promise as a mere political gimmick, first announcing it during a BBC interview but failing to provide specifics; then, throwing it into the equation on his electioneering campaign stunts without providing any convincing parameters either.

What came from him later on seemed to be an afterthought just to score cheap political points. That’s why the initial figure of 78 million Cedis that he quoted as the anticipated cost of implementing the fee-free SHS education in the first year is still not convincing. We know that the costs far exceed that figure.

Attempts to explain why the cost will rise in subsequent years cast the promise in a frightening light than persuading us that such a promise can be fulfilled without any serious harm being done to the economy.

The most worrisome of all the factors that have made some us dogged in our criticism is the failure of Akufo-Addo to tell us a specific framework within which the promise could be fulfilled. For instance, had he given us any timeframe within which the promise will begin being fulfilled, we might have cause to see reason in his so-called vision at this level. But he did not.

All he did was to throw in the promise and let it hang. We are more than certain that this promise can’t be fulfilled as soon as the NPP enters office. From all indications, the conditions won’t exist at that time for such a drastic change to be effected. So, why not tell us when exactly implementation of such a fee-free education will be effected?

Assuming that Akufo-Addo gives us a definitive time-frame to say that it might begin in the second year of his taking over the rein of government, we might give him the benefit of the doubt. It is clear that while he is now outside the corridors of power, he doesn’t know the strength of the national economy or how much money is available for him to use in fulfilling that promise in the first year in office.

It means that his government will have to mobilize the much-needed resources for such a measure, which might not be completely done as soon as he succeeds the incumbent. Does Akufo-Addo already have the resources to support this grandiose promise? He doesn’t, which is why he must be politically savvy enough to explain issues more as a way of winning over segments of the society still challenging him on this promise.

We know how politically motivated programmes are treated. The abandoning of development projects is a clear example. How feasible is this fee-free education even after an Akufo-Addo NPP government? Or will the policy die out when the NPP is no more in office? At what expense to the country?

We have already given reasons on other aspects to suggest that implementing a policy on fee-free education at the SHS entails more than what Akufo-Addo and his campaign team have told us so far. Apart from the non-availability of the infrastructure to support such a promise, other factors will definitely impede efforts. That’s what we want Akufo-Addo to come clean on.

Does Akufo-Addo’s promise entail free textbooks and other logistics that are needed at the SHS? We are even not talking about the boarding schools and costs. Will boarding schools remain what they’ve been all along or be turned into day schools for purposes of lessening the cost on the government? When will the conversion be done or will Akufo-Addo’s government soak up all the costs? Scary already!

There are many other hindrances that Akufo-Addo’s promise hasn’t touched on. If we consider the perennial plight of teachers and others, we are not convinced that Akufo-Addo did think through the enormity of the problems militating against the country’s SHS before dreaming up this so-called solution.

We hate to be told that money from other sectors of the national economy will be mobilized and diverted to support this SHS promise. If robbing Peter to pay Paul is the rationale driving this promise, we have nothing but doom to contend with. And we will remain incredulous and indignant about this promise.

Of course, as Dr. Otabil has put it, education can’t be free anywhere in the world because it is supported by the taxes that the citizens pay. That is undeniable but irritating to the NPP fanatics.

Perhaps, the only difference that we may see in this case of Akufo-Addo’s promise is that supporting a fee-free SHS education with taxes is a step in the right direction. After all, the various governments have taxed the citizens but not used the resources to implement such a policy. If Akufo-Addo intends to use taxes to provide fee-free education at the SHS, he will make a difference.

Then, the people will see the practical evidence of the government’s accountability and readily cooperate in paying taxes. Once they know how their tax money is used (at least, in the case of the fee-free SHS education), they should have no cause to grumble or refuse to pay taxes.

That’s what we expect the NPP’s campaign team to hammer on as a means of persuading skeptics and to counteract scathing criticism. But they have resorted to insults instead. A good opportunity for mature politicking being wasted, I daresay.

But I am not surprised by this approach because intolerance has become their lot. It is the spirit behind an “All-die-be-die” mentality. Otherwise, what prevents Akufo-Addo and his followers from reasoning issues out with Ghanaians on this grandiose promise, using specifics and not insults and name-calling?

Until the specifics are given to persuade us, we will continue criticizing this promise. After all, it is our responsibility to do so. Had the electorate in communities bombarded by the string of promises by the late President Mills and his NDC campaign team been bold to question the rationale behind those promises, they would have known better.

They would have had enough to judge the genuineness of those promises and their makers to know how to make better electoral decisions. They didn’t and have been biting their fingers ever since. We won’t allow Akufo-Addo to take us for that kind of rough roller-coaster ride.

That’s why we will insist that he persuade us with specifics. Not until he does so, we will keep the heat on him, no matter how much he and his followers detest us. It is our bounden duty to poke his side for answers. If he can’t provide them, he won’t get anybody’s nod.

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.