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Majority, Minority clash over funding free SHS from oil money

BY: Musah Yahaya Jafaru

The Minority in Parliament have accused the government of using oil revenue to fund free senior high school (SHS) education, instead of investing the money in infrastructure projects.

It said funding education with revenue from crude oil, which was a finite resource, would deny future generations the opportunity of enjoying from the revenue accrued from the country’s oil production.

But the Majority refuted that claim and indicated that investment in education or free SHS was the best decision taken by the government, since it was benefiting students, irrespective of their religious, ethnic or regional backgrounds.

The Majority said if students were supported with revenue from oil, they would become an important human resource and contribute their quota to the development of the country.

Debate

The debate ensued following the presentation by the Finance Committee of the 2018 annual report on the Petroleum Fund and the 2018 Reconciliation Report on the Petroleum Holding Fund.

After the debate, the House adopted the reports, which were presented by the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Dr Mark Assibey-Yeboah.

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The free SHS programme is one of the flagship programmes introduced by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government since 2017 to offer free SHS education to every student in public schools.

Oil revenue in education

Leading the debate for the Minority side, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP for Yapei Kusawgu and former Deputy Minister of Power, Mr John Abdulai Jinapor, said using oil revenue to fund free SHS was not sustainable.

"Talking about petroleum resource, which is finite, today we are spending all the money to pay for free SHS. When we do not have the resource, how do we fund it? When the revenue begins to dwindle, how do we sustain it?

"Oil revenue ought to be used for infrastructural projects. We should be sure that we utilise our resources judiciously," he said.

Touching on the Special Petroleum Tax, Mr Jinapor urged the government to remove that tax to bring relief to Ghanaians.

He again asked the government to account for the use of about GH¢600 million from oil revenue since 2017.

Mr Jinapor's objection to the use of oil revenue to support free SHS education was re-echoed by the Ranking Member on the Finance Committee and NDC MP for Ajumako/Enyan/Essiam, Mr Cassiel Ato Forson, and the NDC MP for Keta South, Mr Fifi Kwetey.

Majority's rebuttal

Leading the rebuttal for the Majority, the NPP MP for Ofoase/Ayirebi and Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, said in 2016 the NDC argued that it was difficult for the NPP in government to find money to fund free SHS education.

He said the NPP in government had proved that the free SHS programme could be funded with internally generated funds and defended the use of oil revenue to fund it.

"What is wrong with it? It is a policy decision of the administration that every child benefits from the oil revenue. It is a clear policy choice made unashamedly," he said.

On the Petroleum Holding Fund, Mr Oppong-Nkrumah said the Ministry of Finance had signalled its intention to engage with the Investment Advisory Council to consider how to invest oil revenue to get higher returns.

His position on the use of oil revenue to fund free SHS education was supported by the First Majority Chief Whip, Mr Mathew Nyindam, and the NPP MP for Bantama, Mr Daniel Okyem Aboagye.

Petroleum receipts

Reading the report of the Finance Committee, Dr Assibey-Yeboah said total petroleum receipts for 2018 amounted to $977.12 million.

He said GH¢1.55 billion was programmed for the annual budget funding amount (ABFA), with GH¢463.9 million being for goods and services and GH¢1.08 billion for capital expenditure (CAPEX).

Giving a breakdown, he said GH¢251.46 million was budgeted for agriculture, GH¢465.9 million for physical infrastructure and service delivery in education, GH¢50 million for physical infrastructure and service delivery in health, GH¢773.99 million on roads, rail and other critical infrastructure and GH¢5 million to the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC).

Dr Assibey-Yeboah said as of December 31, 2018, the Ghana Petroleum Funds (GPFs) balance stood at $866.38 million, made up of $485.17 million in the Ghana Heritage Fund (GHF) and $381.20 million in the Ghana Stabilisation Fund.