In May 2002 during a visit to Ghana, I found time and went to the Accra District Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) located near New Times Corporation to pay my student loan. I first wanted to know how much the total debt had come up to. To my surprise my file could not be located. So I was asked to come the next day. After three days of moving from the district to the national headquarters and long hours of waiting, my file was finally located and I was able to pay all the debt completely at a go at the head office.
I quickly recalled this experience at SSNIT when I read the news about a decision to start a campaign abroad to retrieve overdue payments from the thousands of Ghanaian trained graduates now living in Europe and North America. SSNIT must be commended for initiating this international project to retrieve the monies.
According to the Head of Public Affairs at SSNIT, Mr. Kwesi Osei Bimpong, the drive will take the collection team to the United Kingdom and USA where a large number of Ghanaians trained graduates who benefited from the student loan scheme are known to reside. He told the GNA in Accra that it is strategic move to boast repayment levels. There is no doubt that this initiative is a strategic one that must be commended.
What is not strategic, and for that matter, evidently ill-advised, is the way the initiative is being implemented. From the GNA news item, one gathers that SSNIT has set up a team that will actually and physically visit the UK and the United States to collect the monies. If this is true, then there are serious questions to ask about the wisdom behind the decision to physically visit these places.
The management of SSNIT should do well and sample the reaction of Ghanaians to the news via Ghanaweb.com's “SAY IT LOUD”. One Silas, for instance, captured the collective angst of Ghanaians when s/he quipped: “Why this fruitless journey. Have these people considered the additional cost SSNIT is going to incur in hotel accommodation, airfare, food and services. Why don't they give us the bank particulars or publish what they want to tell us. Oh Mr. Bimpong”
SSNIT already has a webpage where people can check for information on how it to pay their loans. The big problem is that it has not publicized it well enough to the target group abroad. Then again, when one visits the webpage, one gets the impression that for SSNIT, 'abroad' translates as UK or London only. We know the Brits colonized us, but that was long time ago, or better still, a generation ago. There are several Ghanaians in Asia, Latin America and even in Africa, especially South Africa, who will gladly pay-up when given the convenience.
The plan to send a delegation to UK and the US surely comes across as a bad management decision. How will the team get to meet the defaulting clients by merely visiting UK and the US? Are they going to set up shop in these countries and expect their clients to visit them to pay-up or are they going to go round and knock at people's doors and ask them to honor their obligation to SSNIT? Then again, like in my case, can they readily tell their defaulting clients the status of their files, when they meet them in the UK or the United States? Whatever magic these visiting officers have up their sleeves, it is evident that they are not going to be effective in their collection mission. What is however guaranteed is that they will spend our parents' pension money as per diem, hotel and transport cost.
In the spirit of cost effectiveness, administration efficiency and the avoidance of causing financial lose to the state, --let me repeat, causing financial lose to the state -- SSNIT should terminate the loan collection mission to Europe and North America and rather explore other more reliable means facilitated by information technology. IT and e-commerce software easily available at affordable cost can enable SSNIT to revamp its website with secure credit card payment mechanism so that defaulting clients can pay in installments from anywhere in the world and not only to a bank in London as its current system requires. Credit card payments are more convenient that paying through a UK bank.
SSNIT should also consider an aggressive drive to popularize its webpage by buying advertising space at popular Ghanaian webpages such as Ghanaweb.com and news media sites. In addition, it should urge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Accra to encourage our diplomatic representations to always add SSNIT loan repayments in their speeches each time they interact with Ghanaian communities abroad.
To attract loan defaulters to pay up, SSNIT can make available to the public estimates of the outstanding loans. For instance, tell us the formula for working the accumulation of the interest over the years and principal so that all loan defaulters can work out how much they individually owe. My experience teaches me that anyone located in an Euro, BP or USD, Can.D etc. economy will easily pay up when he or she gets to know how comparatively small the outstanding loan is. I was anticipating something huge for myself when I went to find out about my indebtedness. But I was delightfully surprised to learn that for every year of a student loan, I was to pay an equivalent of about three-day income I earned in Europe. If you are equally surprised at this revelation, this should prompt you to contact SSNIT and pay-up. The psychological relief is worth it. Amin Alhassan (Ph.D.) Asst. Prof of Communication York University, Toronto Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.