I read with outmost shock a publication on your website, www.myjoyonline.com, on Friday, 17th February, 2017, titled ‘Pull Brake on Social Intervention Programmes to Fund SHS – Kofi Bentil’.
In the said publication, Mr. Kofi Bentil, Vice president of IMANI Ghana, indicated among others that free education is more important than any other social intervention program so government must close down some social intervention programs in the country including MASLOC, GYEEDA, LEAP, etc. and use the money to fund the free SHS education policy.
I am surprised that a very senior officer of a reputable policy think tank on social development could make such a proposal. I believes Mr Kofi Bentil will be taking us back to exactly the situation Ghana’s current effort of establishing an efficient and effective Social Protection (SP) system is attempting to correct.
Knowing that poverty presents in a multi-faceted manner, every good SP system usually includes multiplicity of programs to tackle poverty exactly as it presents in its many dimensions. So, there are usually programs to tackle income poverty, poverty as a result of illiteracy, poverty as a result of a lack of access to health service, poverty as a result of a lack of opportunity for work, poverty arising because of a disability, etc.
It is for this very good reason that Ghana must maintain, expand and achieve sufficient coverage, efficient implementation and proper coordination of its current SP interventions. That is why the government is smoothening consumption using a targeted cash transfer program such as LEAP to overcome income poverty, that is why government is providing poor households with capacity to do work but with no employment opportunities, the Labour Intensive Public Works (LIPW) under the Ghana Social Opportunities Project (GSOP), that is why the NHIA is registering indigent persons free on NHIS to improve access to health services for the poor, that is why government is running Capitation and the Ghana School Feeding programs to keep poor kids in school at the basic level and it is for this same reason that government is offering skills training and entrepreneurial programs such as GYEEDA, MASLOC, etc.
So, indeed, the free SHS scheme can be seen as addition to the existing interventions under education sector to support poor households with children at SHS level. You must never scrap or scale down existing SP programs just to undertake another SP intervention. Implementing one poverty reduction program at a time is not effective and no longer done. That had been the practice in the past and that is one of the main reasons why poverty had been very difficult to reduce significantly in the past. Fortunately Ghana has moved away from such practice and is now actively linking SP programs for synergies, better coordination and greater national coverage.
If the cost of universal free SHS is too high, the most cost effective option will be to implement a targeted free SHS scheme. Available data (the Ghana Living Standard Survey 6 report, 2013) indicates that close to twenty five percent (24.8%) of Ghanaians are poor. Assuming a direct correlation, this means that a targeted free SHS will need to cover only a quarter of students in the country leaving the money that would have been spent on the over seventy five percent (75%) of the student population from non-poor households for the development of other sectors of the economy. The main challenge of implementing a targeted free SHS policy will be how to identify the poor students across the country. Fortunately for us, the database being built by the Ghana National Household Registry (GNHR) can easily profile these poor students throughout the country
The Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection has established the GNHR which is tasked to use a common targeting mechanism to compile a single national household register of the poor and vulnerable in the country from which all social protection programs will select their beneficiaries. The GNHR database categorizes households into extreme poor, poor and non-poor. For each household the register holds a detailed profile including location (address), size of household, profile of each members of household, housing characteristics and other welfare indicators. The register, therefore, puts a face, name, address and socio-economic characteristics to each household. When the register is completed, every household in Ghana will be fully identifiable and traceable. It will therefore be possible to identify all SHS students in any locality, categorized as belonging to a poor or non-poor households and therefore under a targeted free SHS scheme make a determination to register only students from poor households for support.
The GNHR has successfully completed its data collection in the Upper West Region in December 2016 and is in advanced stage of commencing registration in the Upper East and the Northern Regions. The GNHR data on Upper West Region (still being compiled) identifies 16,785 SHS students in that region and further confirms that 78.8% of these SHS students are from poor or extreme poor households. This corresponds favourably to the GLSS 6 report (2013) which states that nearly 71% of households in Upper West region are poor. For a targeted free SHS scheme in the Upper West region, therefore, students from the remaining 21.2% of SHS students who belong to non-poor households could be made to pay school fees in order to release funds for other development efforts.
I believe a comprehensive well targeted SP system in Ghana with well-designed and different programs in the major sectors of the economy including education and health, drawing data on potential program beneficiaries from a single national household register is the most efficient way to go if we want to build a more equitable society in Ghana.