Although the Kufuor-led NPP government did not hide its intention to create jobs, it left office without achieving its objective to the full. It, however, created some opportunities, even if regarded as impulsive and fleeting. The President's Special Initiatives and National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) were some of those efforts which, although still gave little hope for the mass of unemployed youths, did something worth sustaining by the Mills government. The country's unemployment problem is still daunting because our various governments have not taken any long-term measure on job creation.
It has long been held that job creation shouldn't be the responsibility of the government; its role is to create the congenial environment for the private sector entrepreneurs (especially the small-scale business people) to do so. Thus, any effort by the central government to play the frontline role in creating job openings that will depend on the national coffers is not only frightening but is also still-born and doomed to fail. We have several examples to confirm this apprehension.
Despite that gloom, the Kufuor government's initiation of the NYEP appears to be one avenue that President Mills is interested in sustaining. He is even contemplating holding a special session on job creation by his Cabinet, which may be viewed as a lesson learnt from President Obama's current efforts in the United States, where billions of Dollars have already been pumped into job creation, thanks to the support of the Legislature. We hope that President Mills will take practical action to achieve his goal and shame his critics that an end has come to the usual empty and tired political rhetoric from officialdom!
That is why the revelation by Mr. Rashid Pelpuo, Minister of Youth and Sports, that the government has increased the modules under the NYEP from the initial eight to 19 is encouraging. It gives hints that the government is beginning to create opportunities for tapping into initiatives begun by its predecessor instead of abandoning them as has been the trend over the years. Whether the retention of the Kufuor-created NYEP is for political expediency or not, what is emerging should be welcomed as a positive step to solve an aspect of the employment problem facing the youth. This continuity in government-initiated programmes should serve useful purposes if sustained.
Announcing the expansion of the modules in Parliament last Thursday, Mr. Pelpuo said the new modules included Youth in Eco-Brigade, Youth in Afforestation, Youth in Film Industry, Youth in Trades and Vocation (which encompasses grass-cutter production, phone repairs, bamboo processing, shea-nut processing and products, dressmaking and sachet water production). He said the modules were extended to create more job opportunities for the youth and to offer alternatives for them to make choices according to their interests and fields of training. These sectors are attractive enough to focus attention on.
According to Mr. Pelpuo, the NPP administration started the NYEP with eight modules, which included Health Extension, Youth in Agriculture, Community Protection Unit, Paid Internship and Vocation Job and Community Education Assistance and Volunteer. The number of personnel employed under the NYEP so far stands at 45,235. If properly managed, this avenue can absorb more.
An issue worth explaining to us is the procedure for recruiting people into the NYEP. Mr. Pelpuo said the recruitment for the new modules had begun in all the districts. How is this recruitment being done to circumvent discrimination against suspected political opponents? Knowing very well the tension surrounding such job avenues, it is important for those in charge to look for only those who are interested in helping the NYEP succeed, not those who are mere political party activists with no serious interest or skills to work for the betterment of the programme. Criteria being used for the recruitment must be made clear and the recruitment procedures transparent so that no “job-for-the-boys” problem arises. The NYEP shouldn't be treated as a bait for political activists. It should go beyond a fleeting political whim.
The challenge concerning “inadequate and irregular flow of funds” raises red flags. It concerns the sustainability of the NYEP and whether if it doesn't get funds from government it will fold up. Does the NYEP have the ability to stand on its own to generate enough funds and achieve the objectives for which Kufuor created it? Granted that the NYEP now depends on the government for funding, the fear arises as to how viable it will be, after all. For now, it is on course because of government's support. The Youth and Sports Minister has made the point that the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning will be made the mandatory body to deduct at source all funds meant for the programme and amend programmes that would subsequently provide jobs to the youth.
I foresee a bleak future for this NYEP if its operations remain tied to the government's goodwill and ability to fund it (including paying salaries of the employees). I foresee roadblocks which are likely to cripple the NYEP and make it one of the numerous failed government-initiated employment avenues. Do you remember Acheampong's Ghana National Reconstruction Corps? It took a similar path, depending on government for funding and collapsed when the pond dried up.
The NYEP can avoid a similar fate if its management team thinks far ahead. It is important for the NYEP to be turned into a viable self-supporting venture instead of depending on the national coffers for funds to pay salaries and for overhead expenditure. If it is tied to the government's aprons and sustained by the Consolidated Fund, it will be a needless burden. They will not be different from the State-Owned Enterprises that turned out to be a drain on the economy for which a whole Divestiture Implementation Committee was formed under Rawlings to dispose of their assets. We all saw the corruption that occasioned the activities of the DIC. The NYEP too must not suffer such a calamity.
Thus, it is imperative that the government should have a long-term plan for it to make it attractive. One such plan is to gradually shed off the NYEP to the private sector. Enterprising entrepreneurs should be identified as early as possible and incentives provided for them to begin efforts toward collaboration with the management of NYEP. Gradually, it will be beneficial for the NYEP to be folded into the private small scale sector and managed to generate revenue. The various modules look promising and should be promoted through practical action and not the usual unproductive political hot air.
Already the ICT aspect has taken off through the private entrepreneurial effort. It has come from rLG Communications, formerly known as Roagam Links Company Limited, a privately owned Ghanaian Company specialized in training the youth in the application of Information Communications Technology (ICT) in repairs, servicing and assembling of mobile phones, computers, laptops and other electronic equipment nationwide. We are told that the company is to train about 6,000 Ghanaian youths under the NYEP to equip them to be self-employed and to absorb the unemployed others. This initiative appears to be encouraging because of the company's achievements. Currently, the company has assembled and branded seven different phones namely r5, r7, r8, r9, r40, r60 and r72.
Financial (general logistic) support for the enterprises of these trainees should not become the reason for their collapse. The government should ensure that resources are accessible to attract these trainees. It is only then that their efforts will not fizzle out. When they are self-employed and can employ others, the unemployment problem will lessen.
Another challenge, which once again exposes the laziness of our Parliamentarians, is what Mr. Pelpuo calls “the absence of legal foundation for the programme.” So, all these years that the NYEP has been in existence, there is no legal backing for it? Is Parliament saying that it has so far not been able to exercise its oversight responsibility over expenditure by the Executive on such a major programme? How much money did Kufuor take to initiate and support this NYEP and the President's Special Initiatives (PSI)? And how much has the NDC government too spent on those avenues? I suspect that some water has gone under the bridge here and must be looked into. Parliament is too lethargic and must expedite action on the procedures for legalizing the NYEP.
It must not continue to function without any legal foundation. That irregularity will not only be dangerous for the national economy but it will also encourage capricious and whimsical conduct by the self-seekers roaming the corridors of power. Parliament must make immediate moves to take up the matter and support various legal arrangements and reforms being initiated by the Ministry of Youth and Sports to provide the necessary legal framework within which the NYEP should function as it seeks to create more jobs for the youth.
Of all the challenges, the most worrisome one is the politicization of the NYEP, which detracts from the programme. This politicization has already created tension in the ranks of those employed by the erstwhile NPP government who are being threatened with dismissal because of the suspicion that they were favoured because of their loyalty to the NPP. The agitations by some NDC activists for the removal of some of those officials were some of the consequences of the dangers of politicizing the NYEP and other institutions of state.
It was politically wise for President Mills to retain this NYEP as a demonstration of his government's willingness to uphold the good aspects of the previous government's policies and actions. But a more congenial atmosphere devoid of intimidation on the basis of one's political persuasion should be created to allow for efficiency and productivity at the NYEP. The youth need employment avenues in which to use their talents to achieve fulfillment rather than depending on the patronage of fickle-minded, sly, and finicky politicians who harm them secretly by manipulating them for political leverage and dumping them after elections.
More importantly, the government needs to sustain the NYEP and expand it into a viable national asset that can stand the test of time. Then, it must make more positive moves to put in place the institutional support for other initiatives. Without seeking to build Ghana in a day, though, such moves should help us solve our pressing national problems. Tackling unemployment must go beyond the confines of the NYEP.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: [email protected]