Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The beautiful nonsense of the National Youth Employment Programme.

It was from Ghanaian novelist Ama Ataa Aidoo that I first heard the phrase ‘beautiful nonsense’ when commentating on her literary works at a forum. She was disgusted about the ineptitude of African leaders who know the right things but fail to do them in order to improve the lives of their people.

Here in Ghana, there are lot more things happening that certainly fit the phrase. There are many but I intend dwelling on one. And that one is the National Youth Employment Programme.

It’s one programme that was meant to provide job alternatives for most unemployed youths in the country, but has been shrouded in one controversy or the other over none payment of salaries and wages to those engaged in the scheme.

Several of them are busy engaged in helping out our police to control traffic especially in major city centres. They are doing a great job. I wonder how a murky traffic jam environment such as the main central market of Makola would be without them. The programme was introduced by the John Kufour led administration which is still running under this current administration.

That certainly is a good sign, at least on the face value, especially when one considers the history of this country and the change of government. So, it’s worth praising the current administration for maintaining the programme. A lot more unemployed youths in the country had been employed through the scheme and most of them working in various disciplines in the country; teachers, janitor workers, traffic wardens etc.

The programme has achieved certain notoriety not because of its quality but the controversy of unpaid wages and salaries hanging around its neck. Even as I write this article, employees are still fighting for their unpaid salaries running into more than three-four months. Even before Christmas, some of those employed in the northern part of Ghana threatened to vote out this government if they are not paid their salaries.

They wondered how they were going to celebrate the occasion when they have no money in their pockets. Sitting back and listening to them on the radio, I felt very sad and weak.

Especially because this same issue of unpaid salaries and wages in arrears for three-four months is coming back again. I remember when the New Patriotic Party was in power employees under the programme had to wait for months to get their money. Those not successful also took their concerns to the media before a fraction of their salaries were paid to them.

They openly wept, across the country, and called on the various media houses to get the government to pay them. It was a tough thing, I must confess. That for more than three months people employed under the programme were left hanging in the cooler while officials heading the programme drive away in posh cars, hopping around town pretending everything is under country and that the agitated workers would be paid.

I remember an interview on Joy Fm Super Morning Show between then Deputy Information Minister Frank Agyekum (now Kufour’s spokesperson) offering as to why salaries for the employees had not come. He claimed people even serving in the administration had not been paid by the government and had to rely on stipends to survive. His explanation rather infuriated people and callers lambasted him.

He was tongue roasted by almost every caller who called into the programme and he was left with bad egg hanging all over his face.

While the workers were still agitating for their pay, reports of massive corruption within the system were also making rounds. Allegations of party sympathisers or serial callers collecting money as employees were flying around town. No proper explanation was given to that allegation.

The problem of delay salary payments still lingers on until the government left office. Current coordinator of the programme, Abuga Pele, is still offering explanation why those whose monies are in arrears had not been paid. It’s the question of Deja Vu.

It makes sad commentary for one to still hear the same problems happening even under this new administration.

Is Abuga Pele and his colleagues at the secretariat telling Ghanaians they have no possible mechanisms to resolve this problem?

I remember visiting the northern part of Ghana in 2007 during the severe flooding. After following victims of the devastating flood, I decided to take time off and speak to teachers at a primary school. One of the teachers, a female, was almost in tears as she narrates to me how she has not been paid for more than five months. It was heart breaking, to say the least.

It made me question the seriousness of the people we put into leadership positions and their determination to bring economic relief to the vast majority of Ghanaians who are still struggling to keep body and soul together.

Again, there is also the question of social security for the employees. That has never been on the card for the authorities to consider. The employment laws specify that anyone engaged in an employment but paid social security contribution however in this case, it’s the government that is violating the very law it has enacted.

Nothing is more humiliating in life than be put in a situation where one can’t access a job. It’s a burden that weighs heavily on the mind.

In his New Year’s message to President Mills made a passionate appeal to Ghanaians for them ‘to die for Ghana.’

“I want the youth in particular to emulate the fine example of the Under-20 football team. The Under-20s made us proud; they brought us glory and honor by winning the World Cup. This they did through sheer determination and a willingness to die for our country. My brothers and sisters, this is the kind of spirit which should move us in whatever we do.”

Unfortunately for the president, there are lot more people in this country who are not willing to be beaten in the name of Ghana let alone die for it.

How in the name of justice and fair play could an employee of the National Youth Employment Programme who has not been paid his salary for more than three-four months die for this country?

The International Migration Organisation recently published a report suggesting that the percentage of Ghanaians leaving the country has been on the rise. Not only doctors and nurses are leaving, the report said, but teachers from the various tertiary institutions.

Especially the Polytechnics continue to report of positions that have been abandoned by lecturers who had left in pursuit of better life elsewhere out of this country.

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