Napo Hits Back At Mahama Over Varsity Bill

John Mahama

Education Minister Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh has descended heavily on ex-President John Mahama, accusing him of trying to do politics with a sensitive national issue such as the Public University Bill.

According to him, the government has made the necessary consultations with the various stakeholders about the Bill which is currently before Parliament; therefore, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) flag bearer should desist from engaging in what he called “cheap politics” with the national issue.

“Ex-President Mahama is entitled to speak on any matter but must first be educated and informed. It is wholly unacceptable for a person of his stature to pander to partisan politicking on such an important issue without ascertaining the facts simply because it is an election year,” the minister stated.

Mahama Threats

Mr. Mahama, without citing specific sections of the Bill, is reported to have written on his website, calling on the government to withdraw the Public University Bill, arguing that the Bill would undermine academic freedom, research and innovation.

The NDC flag bearer then threatened that he would initiate processes for the Bill’s repeal if he wins the upcoming 2020 national elections.

He had said, “Our academics and students need support to focus on their core mandates of creating and sharing knowledge, not a Public Universities Bill that seeks to control and undermine the independence of our intellectuals and other researchers in state-owned universities.

“As has been stated already by the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, university teachers, some former vice-chancellors, individual academics in the universities among many other stakeholders, there is absolutely no need for the Public Universities Bill. It must be immediately withdrawn from Parliament,” he indicated.

He added, “In its current form, it is unclear what problems or challenges in higher education the Bill seeks to resolve. What is certain, however, is that the Bill seeks to colonise public universities in the country, undermine academic freedom, stifle scholarly initiative, and subject research and researchers to needless and unproductive government control.”

Napo’s Reply

Reacting in a statement, the minister said, “The ministry would like to put on record that it has extensively engaged stakeholders on this matter, having invited and received memoranda from the various public universities and other stakeholders.”

He added, “Government does not accept the view that the Bill when passed into law will stifle academic freedom and undermine research and innovation. Did the passage of Technical University Act, signed into law by John Mahama, stifled academic freedom or stifle individual technical universities autonomy?”

Napo noted that in addition to the restoration “of the Book and Research Allowance, abolished by the NDC government, this government has recently approved a 200% increase in the research allowance from the GH¢500 introduced under ex-President Kufuor to GH¢1,500.”

According to him, the government has laid before Parliament the Ghana Research Fund Bill, whose purpose, when enacted into law, is to establish a Ghana Research Fund to provide for funds and to support national research in tertiary and research institutions.

The statement, which was authored by the minister’s press secretary, Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, urged Mr. Mahama to exercise restraint and get the necessary education about issues concerning education before he comes out publicly to misinform the public and create avoidable tension.

According to him, from day one, the various stakeholders, including Vice-Chancellors of Ghana (VCG), University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), National Council on Tertiary Education (NCTE) and others had been consulted and given their input on the Bill.

“Subsequently, the draft policy document produced was shared with stakeholders and a validation workshop held from 10-12 January 2019 in Koforidua. The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), VCG and NCTE attended the workshop, among others.

“The revised policy document was approved by cabinet and subsequently Parliament on May 9, 2019 as the Tertiary Education Policy. This policy was launched in June 2019 at the Law School auditorium at the University of Ghana. This and others formed the basis of the Public Universities Bill currently before Parliament.

“The honourable minister has, on several occasions, met the leadership of UTAG to discuss their concerns about various aspects of the Bill and some progress has been made. UTAG has also had the opportunity to appear before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education to voice its concerns, which have been taken into account.”

In conclusion, Napo assured that his ministry is committed to the engagement process with the relevant stakeholders and is confident that eventually “the Bill will receive the necessary approvals to enable it pass into law and help reform the tertiary landscape to the ultimate benefit of this nation.”

FROM I.F. Joe Awuah Jnr., Kumasi