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Clarify free SHS expenditure inconsistencies – finance minister told

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The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori Atta, has provided different figures as government expenditure on Free Senior High School education (SHS) thus far, in the annual and mid-year budget statements, a situation Civil Society Organisations described as unacceptable. they are therefore seeking clarification.

In Section 284 (Page 49) of the 2021 mid-year budget statement, the Minister of Finance indicated that a total amount of GH₵7.62 billion had been allocated to Free SHS since 2017. Similarly, in section 60 of the 2022 mid-year budget, he submitted that, from the inception of the Free SHS programme in 2017 to the end of 2021, the government spent a total amount of GH₵5.3 billion.

To add to that, on Sunday 7th June 2021, during the ‘meet the press’ briefing at the Ministry of Information, the Education Minister, Yaw Osei Adutwum presented a total amount of GH₵7.7 billion as expenditure as yet on the Free SHS programme.

This, the civil society organizations (CSOs) have called on the finance minister to come clean on the different figures mentioned in the budget statements as expenditure for free SHS as well as what the sector minister also provided respectively.

According to the Executive Director of Africa Education Watch (Eduwatch), Kofi Asare, these conflicting expenditure accounts on the Free SHS programme with a variance of over GH₵2 billion do not auger well for accountability of public funds, hence the need for clarification.

“Clarify the actual Free SHS expenditure incurred by the Government of Ghana between 2017 and 2021, and provide an explanation for the variance in free SHS expenditure data at the ministry of finance and the ministry of education,” he said.

He added that data credibility, especially financial data, is critical for accountability in the management of public policies, therefore is a need for closer collaboration between the ministries of finance and education in the management and reporting of Free SHS and education expenditure.

The Free SHS Food Supply

Again, in response to the mid-year budget review, Eduwatch expressed disappointment in the finance minister’s inability to provide any clear-cut intervention to address the issues identified as responsible for the food shortage.

According to Mr Asare, whilst Ken Ofori Atta mentioned in Section 60 of the budget that the ministry is aware of reported challenges in accessing and transporting food for students in SHS and working with sector agencies to fix it, last week, stakeholders were informed by the Ministry of Education, Dr Yaw Osei Adutwum that the food shortage is caused by inflation.

This adds up to the widely acknowledged fact that the shortage in food supplies to SHS is due to the accumulated debt of GH₵340M owed food suppliers with some dating as far back as last year, causing suppliers unmotivated to continue supplying until their arrears have been settled.

“Surprisingly, the Minister of Finance did not mention a single intervention being put in place by his Ministry to resolve the poor disbursement of approved funds for feeding under the Free SHS programme, and how it intends to mitigate the inflationary effect on prices,” he said.

The Eduwatch, therefore, is calling for further details on specific strategies being deployed by the Minister of Finance to ensure the GH₵340M arrears are cleared in the short-term, ensuring prompt disbursement of funds for uninterrupted food supply and mitigating inflationary impacts on the free SHS food budget.

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