The Chairperson of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Ms Josephine Nkrumah, has decried the age-old accommodation challenge of the institution which continues to constitute a major drawback to the effective delivery of its constitutional mandate.
According to her, the 120 staff of the NCCE at the headquarters have had to squeeze themselves into 12 rooms, each measuring about three metres square.
“If you go round some of our offices, you would appreciate the seriousness of what we are talking about here. You have an average of eight people in a space that is less than three metres square. So this is the challenge at the head office,” she stressed.
Ms Nkrumah who disclosed this to the Daily Graphic in an interview said the NCCE had been grappling with the challenge of office accommodation since the institution was set up 25 years ago.
Recounting what she described as the “historic” challenge of the institution, she said when she joined the commission in 2015, one of the things that she noted was the congestion in the office space that the staff of NCCE operated in.
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“We share space with the Electoral Commission (EC) and as I understand, the whole premises that people often refer to as the EC was previously allocated to the National Commission for Democracy (NCD). Upon the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution and the creation of the EC and the NCCE, there was a sharing arrangement that shared the entire facility as well as the assets of the NCD for the two institutions,” she recounted.
Out-muscled by EC?
She narrated that she was informed that pursuant to that sharing arrangement, the NCCE and the EC were to have almost equal facilities for the two institutions. However, because the EC was actually set up first, in order for it to conduct elections in 1992, it came and, more or less, took over most part of all the facilities, including the vehicles, office space, office equipment, furniture and all others.
Most of the files of the commission, she said, were kept outside and therefore exposed to the vagaries of the weather, adding that there was no space even to admit more national service persons because there was absolutely nowhere for them to sit.
“Directors share cubicles with subordinates, some of our staff share the same cubicle with our servers and the same space serves as our IT workshop,” she said.
Ms Nkrumah recounted that attempts to iron issues out with the EC had always hit a snag.
She continued that common-user facilities such as the boardroom and the conference facilities had been systematically usurped by officers of the EC.
“In 2016, the conference room that the two-sister governance institutions were using was suddenly branded in EC materials which meant that when we had to carry out conferences or activities in the conference room, we were more or less precluded from doing so and had to go and rent facilities or spend monies that we did not have on covering the branded spaces in order for us to carry out our activities,” she narrated.
She said since 2012, the boardroom that was used by both commissions, for meetings of members of both commissions was suddenly unavailable to the NCCE and that “attempts at solving these issues have largely fallen on deaf ears by the EC.”
With the difficulty in resolving the issues with the EC, she recounted that in 2012, the NCCE decided to expand a small building on the premises.
That building, she said, previously housed the Programmes and Research Department of the NCCE so it decided to expand it by upgrading it into a storey building to accommodate other directorates.
“The government duly awarded us a capital expenditure budget for the project but as soon as the contractors came on site to begin developing that space, the EC Union vehemently opposed it and literally drove the contractor out, putting a halt to that facility,” she narrated.
No hope in sight
“As we speak, that facility remains uncompleted and the budget allocation given to us for that facility returned to government chest and attempts at resolving the matter with the EC yielded no results,” she maintained.
Last year, after making a case to complete that facility with the Ministry of Finance, she related, the commission was again given a budget allocation to develop it for the simple reason that “we cannot continue to spend money on rent when that money could easily put up a facility within this complex.”
“Surprisingly, despite the assurance or without any information that they had any issue with that, again, EC officials stopped our contractor from coming to site,” Ms Nkrumah said.
“We are in the last quarter of this year and if we fail to build that complex, it means that we would have lost our budget again and, further still, we would be spending hard-earned taxpayers’ resources on renting outside of our offices because personalities within the EC, for reasons best known to themselves, have refused to let the contractor work,” she posited.
She continued that with the new leadership of the EC, the NCCE had scheduled a meeting to resolve the matter because it had implications for public financing and “we cannot allow persons within one institution to hold another to ransom for whatever interest they may have.”
Ms Nkrumah said the matter was reported to the Chief of Staff under the current regime who has given every assurance of resolving the issue, and had instructed the NCCE to speak to the leadership of the new EC.
She also recounted that the Majority and Minority Leaders of Parliament, accompanied by members of the Select Committee on Finance and budget based on the recommendations the NCCE, and having met them at the budget hearing, paid a visit to see the working conditions of the NCCE staff.
“To say the least, they were appalled. We are still urging the Majority and Minority to take steps to resolve this matter” she urged.