Some graduates of the Bolgatanga Midwifery Training School in the Upper East region have cited the principal of the school, Madam Teshiayio Muhammed, and some members of the school’s management for what they describe as “massive extortion”.
The graduates, who have just completed their national service, say they are being made to pay a fee of Gh¢100 each just to have the signature of the principal appended in their logbooks.
The logbook, a history of a student’s national service experience or internship in the wards, is said to be invalid without the signatures of the school’s principal and a chief nursing officer at the Upper East Regional Health Directorate. Subsequent to the endorsements, it is forwarded to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) who finally issues the student with a professional identification number (PIN) – a renewable licence to practise.
The old students are said to have been directed to pay the “endorsement fees” into the “school’s account” at the Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB). Starr News has laid hands on some GCB pay-in slips showing, among other details, the amount paid by the students and the account number of the receiver. Starr News also has in possession an audio tape in which a woman said to be the secretary to the principal is heard directing a relative to one of the graduates as to how to pay the “unapproved fee” on his sister’s behalf.
Whilst a number of the ex-students have managed to squeeze out the cash from ‘sobbing pockets’ and have had to travel at extra costs to pay the ‘endorsement bills’ at GCB branches, some reportedly have remained stuck at the hurdle as they have no idea where and when they will be able to raise the money. And whilst the number of those who have paid to “earn the principal’s signature” is inexact, more than a half of the 66 graduates are said to have returned to the school with pay-in slips from the banks and have had their logbooks signed.
What the secretary told the relative
It is strongly alleged that the “overburdened” graduates and the principal are fully aware that Gh¢100 is how much the principal’s signature is worth. But authorities are “shrewdly” telling outsiders that the Gh¢100 being asked of the former students is the cost of the logbook.
In the telephone conversation between the student’s relation and the principal’s secretary, the latter tells the former, with what sounds like an undertone of caution, that the fee is for logbook.
“That is [for] logbook,” she said repeatedly in the 1-minute-14-second-long chat after the family member had asked what the Gh¢100 payment was meant for.
Meanwhile, checks by Starr News show that each student already had paid an approved fee of Gh¢20 for the logbook as part of their registration process for posting as midwives way before they began their national service in the wards. Other approved payments made for the same registration were Gh¢200 for registration, Gh¢50 for professional identification number and Gh¢150 for induction ceremony- totaling Gh¢420.
“Our principal’s signature costs Gh¢100. She told us boldly that she was selling her signature, that nobody among us sent her to school to acquire her education. She initially charged Gh¢200 per student for her signature but later cut it down to Gh¢100. Multiply that amount by 66 graduates. That is Gh¢6,600. And that is about the same amount needed to secure admission for two people into a midwifery or a nursing training institution,” a graduate groaned.
Gh¢300 “extorted” from another batch of graduates
Some 124 students who graduated from the region’s only midwifery school in 2016 and commenced their internship just this week are also said to have been handed even higher “unapproved fees” to pay.
The school’s management is alleged to have taxed each of the students an amount of Gh¢250 for staying the holidays on school campus at the end of the last semester of 2016. The fee is also said to have applied to those who were in their rented rooms outside the school premises and those who made a journey to their homes during the vacation.
The students became robustly agitated, not just about the “extortionate” Gh¢250 fee charged them but also because the notice reportedly took them by surprise on the last day of the licensure examination in August, 2016. Currently, the graduates are also reported to have been told that it would cost each of them Gh¢50 to have the principal’s signature appended on their registration forms as they go into their orientation engagements.
“If the management had told us we would pay as much as Gh¢250 just to stay only two months on campus, we only would have rented rooms outside the school and pay less. Besides, we were asked to pay Gh¢50 furniture fee and another Gh¢50 for library use. That is Gh¢100. We couldn’t bear it anymore; so, they asked us to pay Gh¢50 for both furniture and library. We paid on the table.
“Each of us paid Gh¢200 for transcript of results and another Gh¢50 before you are shown your exam results. The fee for both foreign and local transcripts used to be Gh¢150. Today, the school charges Gh¢500 for a foreign transcript and Gh¢200 for a local transcript. It is not only the principal who is doing this to us. There are others at the management level who know about it. The case is not the same at the Bolgatanga Nursing Training College. The logbook is free and they charge only Gh¢80 for transcript of exam results. We should ask why the other institutions are not doing this to their students except ours,” one of the graduates (name withheld) told Starr News.
Starr News investigations uncover ‘debatable’ receipt
The decision taken by the school management to have the graduates pay the ‘repetitive’ and ‘inflated’ fee of Gh¢100 for the “logbook” into the school’s account seems to suggest that the monies are not going to an individual or a group of big shots but meant for the collective benefits of the entire school.
But that payment arrangement has not swayed the graduates a bit from their alarming standpoint about it. They are of a very strong opinion that directing them to pay the “logbook fees” at a bank was only a well-rehearsed and subtle move to remove suspicions that the “extortionate levy” was fraudulently meant for a group of people. Whilst some have described the arrangement as “an organised crime”, others have labelled it as nothing else but “corporate robbery”.
“Who controls the school’s account? Even when auditors come, they will always find their way out. I’m referring to the principal, the vice principal, the accountant and the secretary,” an angry-looking old student muttered.
Starr News, in disguise of a priest, conducted investigations at the office of the principal where a receipt that confirms that the Gh¢100 charged each graduate is for “logbook” was uncovered. The receipt, showcasing “Ministry of Health/Ghana Health Service” at the top and a signature at the bottom, acknowledges in the middle the delivery of the Gh¢100 as “being payment of logbook”.
The secretary, in a bid to explain some details to Starr News, had pulled out from a drawer a logbook belonging to one Yakubu Nisiratu, one of the “exploited” graduates who already had paid the approved Gh¢20 for their logbooks. There was a receipt stapled to the logbook.
The ‘priest’, in a pious posture, requested to take a photograph of the receipt, telling the secretary he would like to use the picture to convince a doubtful relative, whose daughter was among the graduates, that the Gh¢100 the school had charged was genuine. But in what fuelled suspicions, the secretary vehemently refused. The ‘priest’ was, however, able to take the photograph after deploying a different scheme.
School did not extort- Principal
When contacted by Starr News on the telephone, the principal deferred her response to the allegations, saying she was in the Ashanti Region for a meeting.
Just 10 minutes after the phone talk, the school’s acting Vice Principal, Emmanuel Tibil, placed a call to Starr News, saying the principal had asked him to speak to the issues raised by the graduates.
The vice principal, in a face-to-face meeting that lasted about one hour with Starr News, admitted that the graduates had been asked to pay Gh¢100 but denied the money was for logbook. Contrary to the claims by the old students that the payment was compulsory, he said it was optional and was meant for the provision of some luxuries for the school in the name of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). But he groped for words when Starr News produced as evidence a picture of the receipt snapped at the principal’s office showing that the graduates had been made to pay Gh¢100 for “logbook”.
About 20 minutes after the meeting had ended, the principal gave Starr News a call, requesting for a delay of the publication of the report until after she had returned to the region by Monday February 13, 2017, from Kumasi to give her own “evidence”.
She dismissed the allegations upon her return at the said date, saying the Gh¢100 charged was not for her signature but for “processing” the logbooks for each of the “clients” (the graduates) who had sought the school’s services after completion of studies. She declined to explain what she meant by “possessing” and “services”, but said the levy was part of the school’s drive to generate funds internally for the provision of some essential facilities for the school.
“Once you graduate from this school, you are no more our student. So, we charge you for any services rendered to you as a client. There are internal control measures from the collection point for all monies paid by our clients (the graduates) into the school’s account. The school’s account goes through auditing both internally and externally, yearly and randomly. We seek approval from the Ministry of Health for justification before the money is approved for use. And they (the ministry) would follow up to find out if the money has been used accordingly,” the principal affirmed.
She also defended as justifiable the school’s demand for a rent of Gh¢250 from each of the graduates who stayed back on campus after the last semester in 2016. She, however, stated that those who did not stay back on campus were excluded from the payment.
“That’s the hostel,” she said, pointing in the direction of a single-storey building. “Every year, we do renovation. And we’ve expanded that facility. They had finished their semester and wanted to stay back. The school asked them to pay Gh¢250 because they would use electricity, use the library and there would be water bills. At that time they had finished. They were no more our students. And we charged only those who rented our hostel. We asked them to list their names for the acceptance of the conditions outlined for them to stay until they write and they agreed,” she added, showing a list of names as proof.
The principal later took Starr News round the school’s premises to point out some projects she said had been or were being internally funded largely with monies taken from graduates. She was accompanied by two senior members of the administration- Peter Unawari, a senior health tutor, and James Brown, the school’s accountant. The projects, most of which were under construction as of Starr News’s visit, include the skills acquisition laboratory block, expansion of library, establishment of reference library, construction of stores for stationery, foodstuffs and kitchen, a grinding mill for external services, renovation of lecture hall and conference halls, renovation of skills laboratory for general nursing and midwifery and a fence wall project.
“Nobody should believe what the management says,” a frustrated student strongly disputed the defence put up by the principal soon after Starr News had left the premises. “Every semester, students pay development levies for infrastructure. Why do we still have to pay so much after we have completed our studies? They know what they are using our monies for- monies from our poor families. No amount of explanation can prove they’re innocent.”