Restoring allowances for nurse trainees: A mere political expediency or….?

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Folks, I was too busy and distracted to miss the news report that the government has rescinded its decision and restored allowances to trainee nurses. Now, I have had the chance to be informed about that turn-around for good or bad!! We will unpack that about-face.

First, let’s set the scope. According to the news report, the government’s back-tracking was contained in a statement from the Minister of Health (Alex Segbefia), which said, among others that

  1. “A Technical Committee set up by President John Mahama to review the issue of nursing students’ allowances has recommended the payment of an abated allowance with a possibility to migrate them onto the students Loan Scheme.”
  2. “The payment, which will amount to about GHC150 a month, is aimed at supporting 34,500 students who are currently pursuing various levels of health professional training across the country,”
  3. “The amount would serve as a bridging mechanism, pending the amendment of the Students Loan Trust Act, to enable students in non-tertiary Health Training Institutions access loans to support their education”.

The National Organiser of the NDC (Kofi Adams) added more flesh to the statement, explaining that the government was reintroducing the allowances for trainee nurses because they currently do not have access to students’ loans unlike their counterparts, teacher trainees.

MY COMMENTS

I have noted the barrage of condemnations by critics and political opponents of the government who have roundly accused it of “lacking balls to stand by its decisions” (Kwaku Baako, Junior, Editor-In-Chief of the _New Crusading Guide_ newspaper).

So also have taunts by Nana Akomea, Communications Director of the NPP, piqued my curiosity.

My take? I must first admit that the decision to restore the allowances to the trainee nurses runs counter to the rationale that compelled the government to withdraw them in the first place. If the advantages outweighed the disadvantages and if the decision was taken on the basis of existing circumstances, what has changed to warrant its being rescinded without any provocation?

This is where I agree with Nana Akomea’s query, wondering whether the conditions have now changed to do this about-face. Indeed, those conditions have not changed at all. So, why the unexpected manouevre by the government to eat back its own vomit?

This is where the real issues thicken. The government’s reasons for changing its mind are tied to hopes about the amendment of the Students Loan Trust Act to smooth the path for students in non-tertiary Health Training Institutions to access loans for their education. Until then, it’s only fair and proper that the allowances be restored. And it is GHC150 a month for each nurse trainee. Meagre? I don’t know.

What was being paid to each beneficiary before the decision to curtail the allowances? And will the government pay them “arrears” covering the moment the allowances were withdrawn and now that they are being restored?

More concerns arising therefrom. At the time that the allowances were to be curtailed, what had been done about that Students Loan Trust Act by way of amendment? And if there was no indication that the process was over, why rush to withdraw the allowances only to turn round to restore it after muddying the waters? Too many hiccups here.

Now, to the real substance. The overwhelming attention given this “allowa” controversy and the speed with which the NPP cashed in to threaten the government’s political fortunes cannot be understated. The NPP has quickly turned attention to it and has been playing it as a trump card to win support in the constituencies (trainee nurses and teachers). It has gone a step further to declare that it would restore those allowances if put in power.

So, now that the government has restored the allowances to the trainee nurses (and not the trainee teachers), has it taken the wind out of the NPP’s sail again (as it did to the free senior high school promise and many more)?

Has the rug been pulled from under Akufo-Addo and Bawumia again? Where next will they turn attention to in the search for just anything to undercut the government?

Disturbing though the government’s about-face may be, some may explain it as a credit to it for being a “listening” government. In other words, the about-face can be justified as the government’s willingness to bend its back to serve the needs of those affected by its measures at one time or the other.

And they will be right to a limited extent. By rescinding its earlier decision and restoring the allowances, the government has only proved that it feels the pain of the denied trainee nurses and would bend back to accommodate them in the hope that the law guiding such issues will be amended to bring the trainee nurses on board to enjoy what their counterparts elsewhere have been benefiting from all these years.

The ball is now in the court of Parliament to expedite action on that matter.

It is not strange for a government to back down on its decisions, especially if such decisions have dire consequences for the people. A government in tune with the people will listen to their cries and vary its policies and measures accordingly. That is what has happened and it shouldn’t be surprising, provided steps will be taken to ensure that the legal framework for such allowances is established. Nothing should be done on-the-spur-of-the-moment or for mere political expediency. After all, it is the national coffers that will feel the pinch!!

Leaving teacher trainees out of the loop means that the problem is not being solved in its entirety. At the time that the government chose to curtail the allowances, were teacher trainees benefiting from the Students Loan Trust facility (meaning that they were enjoying a “double intake”—getting allowances from the government and receiving loans from the Trust)?

If not, what has the government put in place to cushion them too? Or will they be left to their sad fate and become the new fodder for political baiting by political opponents?

The push-and-pull politics being done with the poor trainee nurses/teachers’ fate should cease. Genuine efforts to solve their problems should go beyond the desire for political currency from acts of commission or omission and the public rhetoric about them.

If the government wishes these trainees well and supports them with substance, they should be encouraged to reciprocate the system by doing what they were supported to acquire through education. On the other hand, if the political opponents (especially the NPP) wish these trainees well, they should rise above petty politics and consider more holistically the factors prompting any decision to curtail or restore the allowances.

After all, the money going into those allowances isn’t coming from the coffers of the NDC or the NPP but the national one. What will the NDC see wrong about not using the national coffers to support these trainees that the NPP will see and do differently all in the name of what-ever? The national economy bears it all; but the kind of politicking being done about the issue is the problem.

The government must ensure that it acts more prudently in handling “touchy issues” of this kind. As to whether restoring the allowances will earn it any political capital, I don’t know; but what I know is that a major chunk in the NPP’s anti-Mahama campaign arsenal has just been neutralised. How the NPP will continue to do politics with this allowance issue is anybody’s guess.

I shall return.

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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