Some senior high schools (SHSs) in the Brong Ahafo region have expressed concern over the supply of nearly expired products from suppliers to the schools since the inception of the Free SHS programme.
All the five schools visited in the Brong Ahafo Region complained about receiving supplies such as flour, palm oil, milk that had either expired or were near the expiry date; hence, their inability to use them for the students.
This was revealed when a team from the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) – the committee with oversight responsibility over the prudent management of oil revenues – and selected members of the Institute of Financial and Economic Journalists (IFEJ), with support from the German Development Corporation (GIZ), visited some SHSs in the region to assess the impact of the Free SHS (FSHS) programme which is partly being funded with oil revenue.
Currently, the government has absorbed all fees at the SHS level in all public schools.
A total of GH¢400 million of oil money, representing one- third of the total funding requirement, has so far been used to support the programme.
At the Berekum SHS, the Headmaster, Mr Ebenezer K. Ayensu, said there had been instances of the school receiving flour that had almost expired from a supplier.
However, through the vigilance of the school's storekeeper, it was detected earlier and so they notified the supplier who later replaced the supplies.
“During the first term, we had issues with the palm oil that was supplied but he has come to change it," he said.
At the Mim SHS in the Asunafo North District in the Brong Ahafo Region, the Headmaster, Mr Gabriel Ofosu-Mensah, explained that in such instances, the school could not receive the items.
“Some items are supplied when they have almost reached their expiry date; for instance, flour, and so we cannot receive them for future use,” he said.
The situation was no different at the Presbyterian Senior High School at Bechem, where the accountant, Mr George Boateng, said although they received the supplies on time, some were nearing expiration.
Price of supplies not disclosed
Another common trend in all the five instances was that the schools had no idea the unit price of the supplies as the suppliers never disclosed that to them, except the quantity due them.
Some of the schools said some of their supplies such as maize were brought from as far as Accra, whereas such products were abundant in the region.
Mr Ofosu-Mensah, for instance, said: “sometimes supplies do not meet quality standard and they delay as well but they wish to supply the full consignment when we do not really need that much. We do not know the price per unit for our assessments.”
At the inception of the FSHS, most of the schools prepared their budget and expected 100 per cent disbursement but this has not been so. The government is disbursing only a percentage and the rest provided in terms of supplies.
Some of the schools said they received slightly above the stipulated 20 per cent of their projection.
However, they did not receive any written advice on spending.
Again, the government announced that it would provide free core textbooks to the schools but was silent on elective textbooks.
At the same time, it issued a directive to the schools not to sell textbooks.
Consequently, the management in beneficiary schools are facing challenges in getting the students to get their elective textbooks on their own.
Parents have refused to buy for their children because the government says they should not pay for anything, something that recurred in all the interactions.
"The situation is making teaching and learning difficult so if the government can include that under the FSHS programme, it will help a lot," Mr Ayensu said.
At the Mim SHS, the management explained that government grants, subsidies and scholarships were not received on time and another threat to the sustainability of the Free SHS was the admission of students with weak grades.
“Majority of the students are weak. Some came with aggregate 45, 46, 49, 51, 52, etc. Such students need additional contact hours to lay the foundation but we are working under the constraints. We suggest a cut-off point of, at least aggregate 30,” Mr Ofosu- Mensah said.
The Assistant Headmaster, Administration at Odumaseman SHS, Mr Daniel Nsiah Adobasan, said a cut-off point for enrolment was critical to ensure a fair ranking of the schools, or else some would always be ranked low.
It emerged that in some of the schools, the programme had put a stress on existing facilities as they try to accommodate the numbers.
There has been a substantial increase in enrolment at Odumaseman, from 346 to 592 in the 2017/2018 FSHS intake. The school has 74 teachers but can house only four.
Battle of bedbugs
Almost all the schools visited are battling with the invasion of bedbugs and they attributed it to the lack of adequate ventilation due to the increase in numbers.
The Chairman of the PIAC, Dr Steve Manteaw, said the loopholes in the supply of items for the programme “leaves room for corruption; hence, needs to be checked”.
On each occasion, he explained that the monitoring and assessment of Free SHS fell within the committee’s mandate as the use of petroleum revenues featured prominently in the funding mix for the programme.
“Since the new government came into office, they have made a commitment to allocate a substantial portion of oil revenues to support free SHS. It, therefore, falls within our mandate to see how well this resource allocation is being used”.
“We are in the Brong Ahafo Region to inspect oil-funded projects, and because free SHS is receiving funding from oil money, it becomes part of the projects we are inspecting,” he said.
He assured the management of the schools that the PIAC would incorporate all their concerns into its report for the government to address them.
“It behoves those receiving the money to use it for the intended purposes, while the government looked for additional funding to address the challenges and ensure sustainability of the programme, or else it may not achieve its purpose,” he added.