Former President John Dramani Mahama has made an astonishing claim to the effect that he brought about the now highly acclaimed Free Senior High School (SHS) policy -one of the flagship initiatives of the Akufo-Addo administration.
Currently, through the effort of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, about 1.2 million children are studying and being fed free of charge at the senior secondary level.
Mr. Mahama has been embarking on what the opposition NDC has termed “Speak Out” tour as part of his re-election bid for 2020 following his massive defeat as incumbent in 2016.
He completed a tour of the Western North Region last week and zoomed into the Ahafo Region this week with his ‘Speak Out’ sessions.
Speaking at Sienchem in the Asutifi South Constituency, Mr. Mahama told the gathering that he started the Free SHS programme, claiming it was meant for day students.
Addressing them in Twi, he said, “Free SHS is good. If anyone stands anywhere and says that I, John Mahama, will cancel Free SHS tell the person he or she is a liar,” adding, “I haven’t said anywhere that when we come to power we are going to cancel the policy. We started it with day students and we were going to expand it when, unfortunately, we left office.”
The former President said that during his tenure he planned that if all the kids go to school at once it was going to be a problem for his government so he decided to build more schools and subsequently started the 200 Secondary Schools project which came to be known as E-Blocks.
“There are about 600 schools in the country and we decided to build 200 more,” he said.
Interestingly, by the time Mr. Mahama left office, only 23 out of the 200 schools had been completed and even that only five were funded by his government, with the rest being financed by the World Bank.
He implied that President Akufo-Addo had forced many children into schools without the needed infrastructure, claiming “today your kid gets admission and they say there are no dormitories.”
“Your 14-year-old kid, they will tell him or her to go and rent a room to be able to go to school. As you sit here, whether your kid is in school studying or with some bad people who are into tramadol you would not be able to know,” he added.
He said he has not denied that he will cancel the double-tract system which was brought by the government as a temporary measure to cater for the unprecedented huge numbers that were coming to SHS as a result of the free policy.
“I didn’t say I would cancel Free SHS. What I have said is that when I come back to power, I will cancel the red gold greed traffic light double-track system,” he added.
He claimed that the double-track system is making the students rusty, adding “I spoke to one teacher who told me because of double track the students come back to school not remembering what was taught them and you have to use about two weeks to refresh their memories.”
Besides, the former President claimed, “when the kids are in the house they engage in all sorts of immoral acts including smoking and use of tramadol.”
He said his plan is to complete the E-Blocks which he cynically said had been abandoned for rats and snakes.
Mr. Mahama’s position on the Free SHS continues to be questioned by his opponents, especially members of the ruling NPP, who have ensured the implementation of the laudable policy.
President Akufo-Addo has already said that Mr. Mahama’s intention to review the Free SHS programme shows that he is going to cancel it entirely if he gets the chance.
“Review is not a policy; he should tell us his policies and leave ours alone,” the President fired recently.
Last year, Mr. Mahama, speaking at the 27thAnnual Residential Delegate Congress organized by the Ghana National Union of Technical University Students in Kumasi, stated “Free SHS is here to stay”, an assertion that contradicted the moldy entrenched hostility exhibited by the NDC against the Free SHS policy since 2008 when Nana Akufo-Addo promised it.
The NPP National Youth Organizer, Henry Nana Boakye, aka Nana B, said at the time that “the seeming endorsement given to Free SHS policy by former President Mahama is driven by ill-faith, deception and opportunism borne out of former President Mahama and the NDC’s innate tendencies to subtly associate themselves with good things and to benefit from same.”
Free SHS Hatred
It is on record that former President Mahama and the NDC in 2012 sponsored over 46 radio and television adverts against the Free SHS policy alone.
Notable utterances by high-ranking members of the NDC against the policy are in the public domain, with Mr. Mahama himself leading the charge.
He said at Okere in the Eastern Region that Free SHS would collapse the education system of Ghana. Besides, at the University of Cape Coast in 2016 as President, he said the Free SHS by the NPP was a ‘political gimmick’.
In Tarkwa, during an NDC so-called Unity Walk, Mr. Mahama strongly rejected the Free SHS policy, stating that it was unwise to implement it and said on November 25, 2017 that “Lalasulala Free SHS will fail.”
On October 1, 2018, Mr. Mahama reiterated his aversion to Free SHS by stating it was unthinkable to spend GH¢2 billion on Free SHS and that it was seriously constricting government’s budget.
At least some 804 facilities which started in 2017 under the Senior High School Intervention Projects (SHSIPs) are beginning to yield results, as some schools are being taken off the double-track system.
The projects consist of the construction of new classroom, administration and dormitory blocks, as well as assembly halls, science laboratories and toilet facilities, as part of the effort to expand existing SHSs although the NDC said in 2008 and repeated in 2012 that it would take 20 years or more to put up such massive infrastructural projects to permit the implementation of the Free SHS policy that was proposed by the then Candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.