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17.11.2004 Education

Prez Debate: Grand Coalition to provide free education

By GNA
Accra, Nov. 17, GNA - Dr Edward Nasigre Mahama, Presidential Candidate of the Grand Coalition (GC), Tuesday said when voted into power, his government will pursue the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP), which would fetch 25 billion US dollars to support free education.
He was answering a question during a presidential debate in Accra organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in conjunction with political parties.
Three out of the four political party presidential candidates for the 2004 elections, Dr. Mahama (GC), Professor John Evans Atta Mills, National Democratic Congress (NDC) and George Oposika Aguddey, Convention People's Party (CPP), participated.
President John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) did not participate in the debate under the theme, "Ghana's Democracy - Another Giant Leap" jointly moderated by the Reverend Dr. Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana and Mr. Komla Dumour, a Radio Presenter of Joy FM, an Accra Radio station.
Dr. Mahama told the GNA that the ESP was a GC policy proposal to use Ghana's current five billion US dollars GDP as collateral for a 25 billion-US Dollar loan through the Export and Import (EXIM) and export credit system, repayable over 30 years.
"With that 25 billion US dollar loan, we would provide free education, a health maintenance system to cushion the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and also improve national productivity, to enable us repay the loan and its interest over the 30 year period," he said.
Dr. Mahama deplored the high cost of education in Ghana, especially at the university level, saying the GC believed that university education should not be the exclusive reserve of the affluent.
He said the GC believed that free education should be a government policy.
"When I entered the university as a poor northern boy I met one of the people in the NPP who now want to be president like me - he was from a rich home and he had a car then as a student but today government policy of free education has made us equal," said.
Dr. Mahama said the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund), which was now a government policy, was proposed by the People's National Congress (PNC) as far back as 1996 and was put into by the NDC, was proof that the policies of the PNC and GC for that matter were good.
"It is sad that the government has squandered all the moneys in the GETFund for purposes other than subsidizing the cost of education and they are now asking for more from the poor students - this is a sign that they do not know how to implement the policy well so Ghanaians must vote for Mahama and the GC to implement it well."
Dr. Mahama pointed out that the economic programmes of a GC government would begin with bringing Ghana out of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, saying, "we do not believe that Ghana is as poor as the NPP government has portrayed us to the international economy and so we will hold serious talks with the IMF and the World Bank to stop treating us as HIPC."
On health care, Dr. Mahama said the NHIS was also originally proposed by the PNC in 2000 and the NPP government was implementing it. He said when he was voted into power, he would implement a Health Maintenance Programme (HMP), by providing the necessary facilities to clear the choked gutter and other conditions that posed problems to ensure that that the people maintained good health and pay less visits to the hospitals.
Dr. Mahama also kicked against the idea of bonding locally trained health practitioners as a way of making them to stay and work in the country, saying that, instead of bonding them to stay and work in poor condition, a GC government would provide congenial working environment that would cause them to stay without any bonding.
In answer to a question on his policies on cost and management of public utilities, he observed that it was not fair for the government to bill the people with the inefficiencies of the institutions who run them, saying, about 60 per cent treated water in this country was wasted through no fault of the populace.
He said a GC government would not privatise public utilities, saying, it did not matter who managed the utilities, "as long as there was wastage the price would still be high, so my government would concentrate on dealing with the inefficiencies by firing the wrong doers and by motivating and holding the diligent ones accountable."
Dr. Mahama said a GC government would also reduce the cost of fuel, by cutting down and gradually putting a halt on fuel imports from the United States and rather focusing on fuel from Nigeria, which was cheaper.
Dr. Mahama said he did not believe in having the head of public prosecution, in the person of the Attorney General, doubling as a Minister of Justice and therefore a member of the ruling government. "It is also not right to have the Office of Accountability in the President's office, when in fact the one we are all expecting to be accountable to us is the President and his government - that kind of arrangement is not the best for dealing with corruption, especially in the government."
He said a GC government would discourage all forms of conflict of interest, citing cases where government Ministers who owned hotels channelled all government seminars and workshops to their hotels and DCEs who owned contracting companies being awarded public contracts. Dr. Mahama assured whistle blowers on issues of corruption in a GC government of protect and job security, saying that, under a GC government, the days victimizing sincere whistle blowers would be a thing of the past as the government would put mechanisms in place to protect them.
He urged the Ghanaian media to focus on issues that would always help the populace to make informed choices and decisions not only during elections but on all matter of national concerns, instead of on scandalous matters.
Dr. Mahama observed that the media did well in 1992, 1996 and 2000 in raising the issues, but lately the media had focused more on scandals, "with very little said in the medias for instance about my policy of the new Ghanaian, with his principle of nation first, neighbours second and self last."
On the Domestic Violence Bill, currently being pushed various pressure groups, Dr. Mahama said the GC believed that marital issues should be settled through laid down traditional process instead of through the courts, as the latter posed the danger of being the first step to the break down of the family system.
Dr. Mahama congratulated the NPP government for setting up the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) and also congratulated the commissioners for job well done, saying that a GC government will consolidate the gains made as the NDC and NPP are now seen as the major divisive factors.
"Ghana is sick, the economy is diabetic and needs a physician and Dr. Nasigre Mahama is the healer Ghana needs," he said.
A number of people the GNA spoke to at the end of the two hour debate said the quality of the answers from all the candidates, to them were indicative of the fact that Ghanaian politicians always wanted power before they prepare to deal with the issues.
They said the question, drawn from professional bodies such as the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Ghana Registered Nurses Association (GRNA), Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and others, were good but the answers to them were not concrete enough to give hope to the populace.


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