Memoirs and Lamentations of Kwabena Amikaketo (14) Have We Not Trekked This Road Before?
Kwabena Amikaketo sat in his favourite chair on his balcony, viewing the setting sun which was making way for the shadows to grow longer and soon cover his part of the world like a dark blanket.
That evening his mind was in full pensive mood lamenting on issues that reflected from promises made in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) manifesto, and attacks on the New Patriotic Party (NPP) by the opposition party.
It was in 2000 when the NPP, then in opposition, burst out with something completely strange in the land, called National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). In simple and plain English, people eighteen years and above, and below seventy or so years, were going to pay a very affordable premium to cover a full year of medical services. Kwabena was truly honest to himself that he was confused as to how that could be positively sustained.
If he could recollect correctly, the NPP was going make those down the social ladder pay an amount equal to the price of a local pedigree cockerel or two or three bottles of beer to cover all expenses they may incur on health and medication annually. This was also to cover the health and medication needs for their children below the age of eighteen. Those up the social ladder were to pay a token of their earnings as annual premium for the same medical cover.
It was too good to be true as Kwabena thought the then opposition NPP was making a promise it knew it could never fulfil. But here was a party which knew what it was about, and so when it came into power in 2001, the Kufuor-led administration prepared the full details of how the Scheme was going to operate and be sustained. All this while, the then opposition NDC was dead against it, warning Ghanaians that the health sector was surely going to collapse with the introduction of a NHIS. In fact, they added, they had been warning Ghanaians ever since the NPP made that promise before the General Elections of 2000.
The NDC added that its policy of “Cash and Carry” was the only way the ailing health sector was going to be fully revived and sustained. Kwabena was sometimes swayed into thinking the NDC’s way. Because, if one attended hospital and his consultation fee and drugs work out to be ¢1,500,000 at pre-Kufuor dollar days, how could he just walk free after paying only ¢72,000 not for that day’s treatment, but for as long as he visited the hospital during a full calendar year?
Kwabena vividly remembered that when the NPP took over power in 2001, it presented the NHIS to Parliament. On August 22, 2003, the then Minority Leader, Alban Bagbin, and ex-president John Mahama led the opposition NDC to boycott the debate on the NHIS Bill.
With the NHIS, under the Kufuor administration, a premium was paid subject to annual renewals. That was how the NPP, which introduced it, packaged it, and it worked successfully with as many as over eight million Ghanaians registering to and benefiting from the Scheme by its fourth year. Since then, any least opportunity that came the NDC’s way, it bastardised the Scheme.
While campaigning for political power in 2007, the NDC saw how people benefited from the NHIS, and so it had to take a U-turn and started claiming unprecedented knowledge of the NHIS by advising Ghanaians to vote the party back to power, so that it would strengthen what it did not introduce in the first place. The NDC went on to promise that the annual premium, which was being paid for the NHIS by Ghanaians, was to be replaced with a single payment of a lifetime!
How the NDC could maintain a policy like insurance with just once in a lifetime premium was so amazing. It looked more like a Ponzi deal, because, without regular payment of premiums, no such scheme can last. Which insurance company will accept a one term premium, and if it does, how much will be paid by the customer?
Assuming an average Ghanaian visits the hospital even twice in a year with a total bill of GH¢300 for consultation and drugs, and this goes on for fifty years, all things being equal, his hospital bill will be GH¢15,000, how much premium should he pay? Kwabena got confused.
The NPP, however, did what every insurance company will do. It charged a very low premium knowing that not everybody will get sick at once, so the premium from the majority who are healthy and need not go to hospital will be used to take care of the minority who needed health care.
The NDC thought it had a better plan to reduce the burden on the average Ghanaian, and that it was a one-term premium, and Ghana was going to be the first country in the world to roll out this insurance policy.
The NDC government could, however, not implement its flagship campaign promise, and worst of all, it collapsed the NHIS. Payments to health facilities were not forthcoming with and missionary hospitals serving notice that without cash, they will not attend to any patient. The NDC came back with what they know best, the Cash and Carry system.
Kwabena Amikaketo noticed something familiar sticking out its head from the opposition NDC camp, and, in fact, in its 2020 Manifesto, which was equally worrying. It was about Free Senior High School (SHS), or better still Free Education. When the NPP muted out this idea in 2008, the NDC shut it down, claiming it was just impossible to provide free education in Ghana. The members went on to convince Ghanaians that it was a Ponzi scheme, 419, and that it was an All Lie Be Lie. The NDC organised press conferences, rallies and town hall meetings to express deep feelings about how NPP and its flagbearer, who were so desperate for power, wanted to deceive Ghanaians with something which was not workable in any African country, adding that the few nations which attempted free education almost collapsed their economy. And Kwabena remembered one student in Osudoku SHS, Asutsuare, asking that if everybody is allowed to go to school, would there be work available for all? And that boy was in school, not willing to step out for others, and will also never want all others to join him either.
The NDC then shifted a little bit by saying the Free SHS was enshrined in our Constitution and so Nana Addo had said nothing, however, it was going to introduce it progressively. That was during its eight years of governance, where nothing progressive was shown, expect putting up of classroom blocks. Not even a single student was put through Free SHS until the NPP and Nana Addo came.
Kwabena Amikaketo witnessed another miraculous performance by the NPP. First it was the NHIS, which the NDC collapsed, and now it was Free SHS. In 2015, enrolment under the NDC was 299,649 from 273,152 in 2014. NPP took it from 308,799 in 2016 to 472,730 by 2018, and over 1.2 million students were freshly enrolled in 2019.
The NDC, meanwhile, would never miss any opportunity to criticise the ruling government whenever challenges appeared in the delivery of the Free SHS. It still maintained that the policy was unattainable and a waste of public funds.
Kwabena Amikaketo was shocked, but not surprised when he heard what the NDC had in its manifesto for free education. After going round the country, the opposition party realised the positive impact Free SHS was having on the lives of families. This policy was not to be toyed with, because, despite the serious challenges, it had proven to be the best any government could offer its peoples.
The NDC and its flagbearer are now saying when voted back to power, an NDC government would start free education from nursery level right through to the university, where there will be 50-50 cost sharing between government and students. Kwabena Amikaketo could hear himself sighing loudly.
NDC is at it again, coming out with fairy tales to blind the electorate just for the sake of winning power. Kwabena Amikaketo was not thinking that this could be impossible, but with the NDC, Ghanaians have walked the road before.
One term premium for the NHIS was a solid and juicy promise the NDC made to Ghanaians, swearing that no one was going to pay annual or periodic premiums for health insurance when it forms the government after it is elected into power. The One Term Premium became a no-show, and on top of that, the NHIS collapsed until it was revived by the NPP government under Nana Addo.
Now the NDC is saying the Free SHS it never believed in; the Free SHS it said was 419 and Ponzi and called it All Die Be Die; the Free SHS it said would collapse the economy, yes, this time, given the opportunity to rule Ghana, this same NDC will start free education from Nursery through to SHS, and take up half the cost of university education from the shoulders of the students and parents.
Which parent or student or pupil won’t fall for this juicy mango? But the warning is it is not the NPP making this offer, but the NDC. We have walked this road before, Kwabena said to himself, and we encountered a collapse of a social intervention policy on health and maternal care. Today, close to two million students are benefiting from the Free SHS, would Ghanaians watch, at least, three quarters of these prematurely getting out of school and going on the streets because the government will have no money to foot their education? We have walked that road before and we met the collapse of health care, and now we are being lured to walk this same road to encounter the collapse of education in Ghana.
Kwabena Amikaketo prayed he would not dream nightmarish dreams about the consequences of an upsurge in Streetism as he got up to go to bed. That could be possible if the NDC wins the elections, forms the government and fails to deliver on this promise. “We have walked this road before, hmmmm, NDC could come back with fee paying policy for all students” Kwabena lamented as he walked indoors to bed.
Hon Daniel Dugan
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Chronicle’s editorial stance