A Member of Parliament has blown the cover of what he says is an attempt by the National Service Scheme (NSS) to allegedly extort money from students who are due to register to serve the nation.
Kwaku Kwarteng, MP for Obuasi West, disclosed that the National Service Secretariat recently issued a directive asking all final year tertiary students to pay an enrolment processing fee of GH¢40 before they can access online registration forms, insisting that the move is unlawful.
The NSS statement had said: “Please proceed to any branch of the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) and pay your required enrolment processing fee of (GHS 40) in order to access the online registration platform. Note that without the payment you will not be able to register for your mandatory national service.”
The directive has created uneasy calm among students, with some complaining that it is unreasonable for the secretariat to coerce students who are not even on salaries into paying to access forms to serve their nation.
The MP wrote to the NSS Director, copied to the NSS Board, expressing disgust at the situation, saying that ‘it is obvious that this charge is just wrong.’
‘I write respectfully to avert your mind to the fact that this charge by the NSS is wrong and unlawful. It amounts to extortion of money from students, many of whom have no income of their own,’ he said.
‘To begin with, National Service personnel are citizens who are required by law to render mandatory service to the nation after completing tertiary education in Ghana. To force them to pay an “enrolment processing fee” before being allowed to comply with their National Service obligation is unacceptable,’ he added.
He said assuming without admitting that this charge was permissible, it would still be required under the Financial Administration Act (2004) and the Fees & Charges Act (2009) that the Minister for Finance brought it to Parliament for approval.
‘The law allows government departments that render service to interested members of the public to charge a fee for rendering the specific service. The law does not allow government departments to slap a fee on young citizens who are rather rendering a mandatory service to the state,’ he pointed out.
The Obuasi West MP also said that for the purposes of enrolling service personnel and running the National Service Scheme, ‘an allocation is made in the annual budget to the National Service Secretariat through the Ministry of Education,’ adding, ‘This is the state policy for funding the scheme.’
According to the MP, ‘Per current figures, this unlawful charge would yield about GH¢2.5 million,’ querying, ‘Is this honestly the yearly cost of processing enrolment of service personnel?’
He further pointed out that ‘…prospective service personnel have [the] choice whether or not to join any association. Indeed, the national Constitution grants them the right to join an association and the right not to join an association. Nobody has the authority to impose on them the obligations of an association they have not willingly joined. Come to think of it, they are even not National Service personnel yet; they cannot belong to any National Service association. There is no lawful basis for this charge on the poor students.’
The MP subsequently advised that the GH¢40 charge be removed immediately, noting that ‘the cost of enrolling national service personnel should be financed from the secretariat’s budget allocation’ and added that ‘all students who have been compelled to pay this unlawful charge should have their monies refunded to them immediately.’
By William Yaw Owusu
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