Today 31st December 2021 is my birthday. Rather than dine and wine with my family and friends, I’ve chosen to celebrate the day by writing and dedicating this article as my birthday gift to my colleague Heads of School who have been working under many challenges to educate our future leaders. Dear colleague Headmasters and Headmistresses, please accept my humble birthday gift.
GHANA’S FREE SHS “FROGS” (HEADS OF SCHOOL)
Heads of Ghana’s Senior High Schools can be likened to frogs. Frogs are ectotherms- animals with a body temperature regulated by their environment. Frogs can control their temperature with their bodies either by changing their colour to affect how much radiation they receive, or by absorbing or, evaporating water through their skin. Prolonged exposure to higher temperatures, however, can harm, or even kill them when they fail to exit the pond but continue to adjust.
The above description of the frog perfectly fits Ghana’s fSHS Headmasters and Headmistresses, both as individuals and as a grouping under the name, Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS).
Like frogs which have been adjusting to their body temperature until it becomes harmful to them, CHASS, has accommodated the manipulation of the academic, administrative and financial systems of the free SHS system by Government through the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) to the point where the system has become too toxic and hazardous to the survival of its members. The heat has now become too unbearable for CHASS, forcing the National Executive Council of the Association to issue an ultimatum to the GES, contained in a Resolution passed at their emergency meeting held in Kumasi on 23rd December, 2021.
The Resolution issued in the joint names of its National Secretary and President demanded that “if by 31st December 2021, Government and for that matter the GES does not release the full compliment of the outstanding monies and food supplies to schools,…….. CHASS will officially inform the GES Management on the 4th January 2022, and advise parents not to send their wards to school on reporting date of January 5, 2022.” CHASS added, “Heads will not be able to administer the running of the schools amidst these challenges.”
One may ask, what capacity does CHASS have to “advise parents not to send their wards to school”? I can say without any equivocation that CHASS does not have the capacity to give such advice to parents. Even if given, GES will go ahead to send the students to school and parents will ignore such advice from CHASS. What is within the remit of CHASS is perhaps to leave the students unfed because there is no food, and solicit the support of their teachers to boycott academic work when students arrive in school. With hunger and no academic work staring at the faces of the students, they themselves will advise themselves and return home.
THE HEAT BUILD UP IN THE POND
Since the inception of the fSHS programme in 2017, CHASS has been intimidated into accepting many decisions inimical to the smooth running of their schools and the survival of its members. Key among these decision is party activists taking over the supply of food items to schools, hitherto the job of Heads of School, under a so called National Food Buffer Stock Company which only exists on paper. Another major challenge is inadequate funding resulting in delays in release of monies to schools, which even when released, are done in segregation and in bits. All these have affected the smooth running of the schools.
But like frogs adjusting to the heat in their environment, CHASS leadership has continued to disappoint their members by failing to act in unison against these challenges. Politics and ethnicity seem to have divided their front. Even when the Media comes out public with their challenges which could make parents put pressure on Government, the same Headmasters would deny the existence in their schools of such challenges. Like the frog, the Heads keep adjusting to the heat in their environment.
BUFFER STOCK SUPPLIERS CHEATING THE SYSTEM
The National Food and Buffer Stock Company was originally incorporated under the Companies Code of Ghana 1963, Act 179 on 11th March 2010. Its aim was to ensure minimum guarantee prices for farmers as well as a ready market. Under Hanan Abdul-Wahab as CEO, however, the Company is supposedly in charge of supply of what has been classified as “non perishable” food items which include maize, gari, flour, sugar, yam, cooking oils, millet, beans and milk, to the schools on time and at cheaper cost.
Out of the Ghc5.10 feeding fee per boarding student per day, Government retains 70% amounting to Ghc3.57 which is supposed to be used to pay the party activists under the name of Buffer Stock Company. The schools are to receive 30% of this feeding fee which works out to Ghc1.53 per student per day for “perishable” items such as meat, fish, vegetables, as well as gas and fuel wood for cooking. For day students in boarding schools, the one meal per day feeding fee is Ghc2.10 out of which government retains Ghc1.47 (70%) for “non perishables” while the schools are supposed to receive Ghc0.63 (30%) for the “perishables”.
For day students in Day Schools, the feeding contract is given to caterers outside the schools, so no money goes to the schools for “perishables”.
Despite this imposition on CHASS, Buffer Stock suppliers have persistently cheated the schools by not only under supplying food items but also delivering them below the stipulated weight.
For example, instead of the 100kg weight of food items, schools are supplied the following bags of under weighed food items:
- Millet – 65kg
- Groundnut – 58kg
- Maize – 65kg
- Gari – 60kg
- Beans – 67kg.
The weight of each bag of these food items is supposed to be 100kg but the schools are forced to accept invoices recording these as 100kg. This is not limited to one school or one region; they cut across with variations only in the weights ranging from 52kg to 68kg. In no region or school have our team chanced upon any food item weighing even 70kg.
Undoubtedly, the food suppliers have a genuine problem. Food prices have gone up since 2017 but students feeding fees have not been correspondingly adjusted upward to meet the increase in food prices. For example the cost of a bag of maize has gone up from Ghc250 to Ghc450 since 2017. My lack of sympathy for the suppliers stems from the fact that, it is not the food price increase that has compelled them to dupe the schools; they began with this cheating since 2017 when we started monitoring them.
Our team reached out to some Regional Chairmen of CHASS on what they were doing to stop the supply of the under weighed food items. We received various responses including the following:
- “Can you imagine Senior?? That is what they supply to all of us o.”
- “It is not only one school o. But if you refuse what are you going to feed your students with? If your students go on demonstration for no food, Lawyer Boateng will summon you to Headquarters, insult you, accuse you of not being able to manage your school and remove you from office” (Lawyer Boateng in reference here is Anthony Boateng, a Deputy Director General of the GES in charge of Management Services).
- “Eiiii Kwami, you want me to complain so my students will be denied food? That’s what we have been receiving from the word go. Nothing will change even if you complain”
- “Xxxxxc (name of team member withheld), I have less than two years to retire o. These suppliers are all party people. GES is aware that we are being shortchanged but they are quiet. Let me retire in peace not in pieces.”
In effect, the CHASS Regional Chairmen contacted by our team were helpless. Strangely, the 23rd December 2021 CHASS resolution was silent on the delivery of under weighed food items to their schools. Is the CHASS National Executive condoning the crime and leaving their members in limbo? Apart from the underweight food items, the Heads of Schools also have to contend with huge arrears in food supplies. By the time an academic year ends, Buffer Stock suppliers are not able to supply the right quantities of food items to the schools. When a new academic year begins, the food arrears are completely forgotten, not withstanding the fact that, Heads of School have borrowed money or credited food to feed their students. A grade A school in Central Region entitled to 120 bags of floor for example, has been supplied with only 20 bags for the second semester of 2021. Another school in Western Region was supplied less than ⅓ of its quantity of bags of rice. Gari has become the food item most commonly supplied, but even that, some schools don’t get the supplies. Barter trade borrowing of food from a colleague Head have become common among schools. The story is the same in all regions. CHASS was thus right in its 23rd December 2021 resolution in demanding that, “Also National Food Buffer Stock (NABCO) should make available all outstanding food supplies to schools.”
ARREARS OWED BY GOVERNMENT
It is pathetic that, the challenges faced by Heads of School do not end with under supply of food items outsourced by Government to party activists branded as National Food Buffer Stock Company. The situation is aggravated by Government’s inability to meet its financial obligations to the schools in terms of recurrent expenditure, 30% feeding fee for perishable items as contained in resolutions A, B, C and D; academic intervention fee, staff motivation, development levy and examination fees as captured in Resolutions E, F, G and H respectively. All these fees are in huge arrears with some stretching over a whole academic year.
We have become aware of a release issued by the CHASS National Secretary after a meeting held with the Minister of Education, Hon. Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum and officials of the GES on 28th December 2021.
CHASS by the release, is asking its members to send to Buffer Stock amount of food they would need to end the academic year on 28th January 2022. The demand of all outstanding food supplies and monies contained in the 23rd December resolution have been abandoned! And what about food for the first semester of next academic year which Heads and parents don’t know the date it will begin? The Secretary also wrote that “he (Minister) said he was not oblivious of what was happening. And that he was bent on doing everything to ensure Heads are comfortable to deliver on their mandate.” Yet, according to the Secretary, “The Minister expressed his displeasure about CHASS going to the Press with our challenges without consulting him first.” And he dropped the “bombshell”, “The President apologised on behalf of CHASS.” The President apologised?
President, with due respect, many of your colleagues felt disappointed. What did you apologise for? That the Minister said “he was not oblivious of what was happening” yet chose to do nothing until CHASS went public? I refuse to accept suggestion to me that we are having a failed leadership. But something is definitely not right. Ah well, let CHASS Leadership continue adjusting to the heat in the pond like frogs until they are harmed or even killed by the heat.
For the Heads of School calling for NAGRAT and GNAT to fight on behalf of CHASS, be reminded that nobody cries at a funeral louder than the bereaved, and every association deserves what it gets from the type of leaders its members elect.
NB: Part Two of this article to be released on January 2nd 2022, will capture the fees in arrears to the schools and the effect they have on our students in boarding and on the smooth running of our free Senior High Schools.
Dated; 31st December, 2021