Vice chairman of the Public Interest And Accountability Committee (PIAC) Kwame Jantuah says a proposal by government to finance its free education policy with the heritage fund is preposterous.
He said the fund was set up to support the country when its oil reserves are depleted, hence using it for anything apart from what the law provides will not inure to the benefit of the country.
Speaking on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, Mr Jantuah said “I thought it was a ludicrous idea to do that. The Heritage fund is there primarily to be able to have money when the oil resources have been depleted.
“...Let’s look at the oil revenue itself, between 2010 and 30 June 2016, how much money have we made? We’ve made only $3.3 billion within that duration, what was the cost of education last year, it was GHS7.5 billion, when you compute it. Does it make sense, is it sustainable, I don’t think so. We should really think,” he said.
A comment by Senior Minister, Osafo Maafo that the heritage fund could be used to fund the free education policy announced by President Akufo-Addo over the weekend has stirred a lot of conversation in the country.
The fund was set up to support the country’s future generations when the oil reserves are depleted. And for this to be done, nine percent of the country’s annual petroleum revenue is paid into the fund.
Mr Maafo is reported to have said at a forum in Accra on Wednesday that “We have to make an amendment to say that X percent of the heritage fund, or the petroleum fund will be used to support second cycle education. If we think that industry require a certain stimulus that will enable jobs to be created and you are creating a job to build Ghana. You can look at it and put in a certain amount. We are [also] looking at agriculture.”
“Whatever is important to support the future development of this country. Particularly when you talk about the youth. The youth is the future, heritage is the youth, we would make certain relevant amendments to make sure that the economy benefits from the petroleum act,” he said.
Some people, especially the opposition National Democratic Congress have kicked sternly against the decision. Just as the NPP did when it announced it was going to use the same fund for some projects during its tenure.
Mr Jantuah said the Akufo-Addo administration should have prepared a source of funding for the free education policy the moment it planned on doing it.
“Is it that they didn’t think through or is it because the oil revenue was there, they could use it? They should have allowed us to debate it then, by now we would have found a solution,” he said.
He however said if it is indeed so necessary for the fund to be used, Clause 21 of the law governing the fund, “talks about priority areas and within those priority areas there is education. Perhaps what they can do is reduce the priority areas and put education in those priority area every year and use the money to finance the free education,” he added.
Mr Jantuah believes that the use of the fund will contribute to the wastage which is already in the fiscal arrangement of the country.
He also believes that as inasmuch as the free education policy is a good idea, its sustainability is uncertain.
Private Legal Practionner, Ace Ankomah who also contributed to the programme said there are legal issues that need to be resolved if government intends to use the fund.
He said if the government intends to use the Heritage fund for the implementation of the Free SHS, it has to go to Parliament to amend the law. For him, the time to implement free education is now and nothing can justify the inability for this policy to see the light of day.
“As far as I am concerned free education in Ghana is non negotiable. It is a constitutional requirement and we have done it in part for basic education. The government of Ghana owes it to the people of Ghana to give them free education.
“After two decades of operating under this constitution, there is no longer a justification or an excuse for free education not to come in view. There are many free things politicians enjoy on the basis of the constitution and it is time for them to do something for the people of Ghana on the basis of that same constitution,” he noted.
Mr Ankomah says the bigger conversation is how to fund the policy since the money in the heritage fund cannot finance the policy for even a year.
“…clearly there ought to be other sources of funding and this debate ought to evolve around how government’s biggest social intervention project will be implemented.
“Let us give our people the free education that the free education that the constitution guarantees them and let the heavens fall, but there are legal issues to resolve if we have to achieve it.”