On 19th November, 2014 the President caused to be laid before Parliament the 2015 National Budget and Economic Policy in fulfilment of Article 179 of the 1992 Constitution. The budget spells out, among other things, various programmes and initiatives targeted at the youth. A careful study of the budget demonstrates clearly the cross sectoral nature of youth development and the fact that youth development cannot be situated within one particular Ministry, Department or Agency.
It therefore reinforces the need to effectively mainstream youth and ensure that the various institutions responsible for youth development do so in a coordinated manner and regularly monitor and review progress together, share ideas and best practices to ensure the responsiveness of their interventions to challenges facing youth. This article discusses the key youth related interventions in the 2015 budget and examines the extent to which various institutions collaborate in the implementation of the various programmes to enhance youth development in Ghana.
Ministry of Youth and Sports
The Ministry of Youth and Sports is the lead ministry for youth development in Ghana. The National Youth Authority (N.Y.A.) which has as its core mandate responsibility to facilitate youth development is under this ministry. This ministry has been criticized largely for focusing more on sports programming to the detriment of youth development. It is curious to observe that the only statement in relation to the National Youth Policy Action Plan in the budget was “…the Ministry finalized an Action Plan of the National Youth Policy which provides a framework for the implementation of its priority areas for the development and progress of the youth”.
Government launched a National Youth Policy in 2010. The action plan for its implementation was launched in January 2015. The statement in the budget in relation to the youth policy action plan is not reassuring at all as it failed to indicate clearly how government intends to finance the implementation of the plan.
It is however refreshing to note that, per the budget, the National Youth Authority intends to organize a 21-day voluntary work camps in 80 districts across the country. The Authority also intends to organize regional dialogues for youth and a national presidential youth dialogue to encourage youth participation in decision making. Through its Youth Leadership and Skills Training Institutes, the N.Y.A. plans to train 2,250 young people to acquire vocational and technical skills.
These initiatives and many more which might not have been stated in the budget are laudable. However, challenge is that this has been the age old approach to youth development in Ghana where programmes and initiatives are developed and implemented without any clear policy framework. This therefore necessitated the development of a comprehensive National Youth Policy which attempts to address all conceivable issues related to youth development. The action plan also proposes strategies by which each of the issues in the policy can be addressed by all stakeholders. The youth policy and action plan also make room for monitoring and evaluation to ensure that progress could be assessed for the periodic review of the policy. Since the Ministry indicated that the action plan for the implementation of the youth policy has been completed, it would have been appropriate to spell out specific details on the various actions government intends to take to facilitate the implementation of the policy.
The most important actions to take include the establishment of National, Regional and District platforms for effective engagement of stakeholders for the implementation of the policy. Through this, various stakeholders will be adequately informed about the content of the National Youth Policy and its Action Plan to enable them appreciate their respective roles in the implementation of the policy. The provision of adequate resources for the implementation of the policy is also critical. In this regard, the Ministry of Finance may have to consider issuing budget guidelines to enable the various MDAs adequately budget for the implementation of the policy.
Even though 2010 budget evinced government’s intention to pass a new youth law to replace the 40 year old National Youth Authority Act, 1974 (NRCD 241), the new law has not been passed. Unfortunately, the 2015 budget is completely silent on progress made with regard to the Youth Bill. One of the important components of the ecosystem for youth development is the availability of an effective legal framework. The current law falls short of addressing issues related to youth development. There is therefore the need to expedite action on the new youth law that guarantees the rights and responsibilities of the youth, provides adequate mechanisms for financing youth development, and provides the necessary legal framework for mainstreaming youth into the national development agenda. The law should also provide for participation of the youth in decision making at both local and national levels.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development also indicated its plans to train 3,000 youth in vocational and technical skills and in addition equip 300 community educators to provide technical backstopping to RCCs and MMDAs in the budget. In addition, the Ministry plans to train 400 Technical Instructors in TVET reforms. These initiatives are commendable since they seek to empower unemployed youth in various communities across the country.
The challenge is how do they fit into the overall national agenda for skills training for youth as contained in the National Youth Policy? What is the relationship between these training programmes and what the National Youth Authority, Ministry of Education and other vocational and technical institutions provide? Who are the specific beneficiaries? Do we know the number of youth who need such skills and where they can be found? What is the strategy to ensure that we are making adequate progress in reducing the number of unemployed youth through skills training? Are the skill sets being offered adequate and do they meet the demands of the labour market? To what extent do these institutions collaborate in executing these training programmes?
Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations
Under the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relation’s Job Creation and Development Programme, the budget states that “Government recognizes the incidence of unemployment as a threat to national security and implemented various employment creation interventions to address the unemployment challenge” The ministry’s response is to ensure the mainstreaming of Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency (GYEEDA) in the administrative structures and revise GYEEDA modules and apply a new ‘Triangular Model’ that links beneficiaries to skills development institutions, and viable cooperative societies to enhance their employment opportunities.
The ministry also has plans to strengthen and revamp the Graduate Business Support Scheme (GEBSS) and provide entrepreneurial/business development skills to 4,000 unemployed graduates. The Ministry has further plans to revamp its demand-driven vocational and technical employable skills training programmes to equip artisans with the requisite skills needed by industries. Under this, a total of 47,809 persons are expected to be trained in various trades”.
There is no doubt that GYEEDA, if well positioned and properly managed, will help ameliorate the unemployment situation hence efforts to address the administrative challenges must be supported. The launch of the GEBSS in 2011 with the objective of raising and training world class young entrepreneurs is laudable. Unfortunately, not much was heard about the programme after its grand launch. With the Ministry’s intent to revamp the programme, a few concerns arise. What is the relationship between the GEBSS and the newly launched Youth Enterprise Support (YES) Initiative? Is it possible to merge the two initiatives to avoid duplication and ensure efficient utilization of resources?
The youth unemployment challenge is not peculiar to Ghana. In developing countries in particular the so-called youth bulge has resulted in the situation where the increasing numbers of the youth joining the labour force have limited opportunities due to the incommensurate expansion of their countries’ economies to absorb them. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that some 73.8 million youth are unemployed globally.
The ILO reckons that the slowdown in economic activity was likely to push another half-a-million youth into unemployment. In many countries, the phenomenon of youth unemployment, as rightly asserted in the budget, is not just a socio-economic problem but also a security threat. In its 2004 report titled: "A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility", the United Nations wondered "How have we let what should be our greatest asset, youth, become a threat to our security?" However, the high youth population is not necessarily a bad thing. Many institutions including the World Bank share the view that countries that are able to put in place the right policies and programmes stand the chance of reaping the ‘demographic benefits’ that come with high youth populations.
Tackling the youth unemployment problem in Ghana therefore requires, first of all an empirical appreciation of the situation. Do we adequate data on youth unemployment? What are the characteristics of those who are unemployed? Are they educated? If so, what is their level of education? Are they skilled? If so, how many are skilled and are the skills relevant to the demands of the labour market? Which sectors of our economy have the potential to absorb more unemployed youth? What can we do to support the growth of those specific sectors to enable them employ as many youth as possible? What type education or skill sets should we give young people to adequately prepare them for jobs in those sectors? We must first address these and many other related questions before any meaningful intervention aimed at tackling the youth unemployment can be developed and implemented. As it stands now, it appears we are shooting in the dark. Statistics on the youth unemployment situation is hard to come by. It is imperative that government through the Statistical Service first churns out regular and reliable data on the youth unemployment situation to inform policy and programming to address the situation.
Ministry of Agriculture
According to the budget, out of a total of GH¢395.19 million that has been allocated to the agriculture sector about GH¢347.16 million representing 87.9 percent, is to be spent on Fertilizer Subsidy, Agricultural Mechanisation Services and the Youth in Agriculture Block Farm Programme among others.
The National Youth Policy recognizes the strategic importance of agriculture to Ghana’s economy and development. In this regard, one of its priority areas is ‘Youth in Modern Agriculture’. The overall objective of this priority area is to promote youth participation in agriculture through the development of strategic interventions and approaches to attract the youth to the sector. The nature of proposed interventions include the promotion of participation of the youth in modern agriculture as a viable career, economic or business option in addition to the provision of resources to enhance the participation of the youth in agriculture. It is however unclear the relationship between the policy objectives contained in the National Youth Policy and the Youth in Agriculture Block Farm Programme and to what extent this programme responds to the latter. The level of collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Youth and Sports in the execution of the programme is equally unclear.
Ministry of Trade and Industry
Under the above Ministry the budget indicated that the GRATIS Foundation in collaboration with Plan Ghana, Korea International Cooperation Agency and Hyundai successfully completed infrastructural works at the GRATIS Centre in Koforidua in the Eastern Region. The Centre which consists of a computer laboratory, library, science laboratory and 3 fully furnished lecture halls, offers practical training in modern automobile technology.
The Foundation continued to execute its mandate of providing training in various engineering and processing fields to the Ghanaian youth. In this light it trained 241 vulnerable persons in various food processing and other income generating skills, 120 in occupational safety health and environmental issues in food processing and 65 master craftsmen in various engineering skills. The Foundation also manufactured 824 agro-processing equipment to support the activities of SMEs, 8 new products for use in the agro processing sector were also successfully designed, manufactured and tested and are currently available for sale. GRATIS in 2015 will continue to train craftsmen and apprentices as well as manufacture agro-processing equipment.
Again, the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI) provided Business Development Services (BDS) through 170 Business Advisory Centres (BACs) across the country. A total of 21,797 entrepreneurs made up of 9,832 males and 11,965 females were trained to enhance their competitiveness. The NBSSI also assisted 256 SMEs to formalize their businesses with the Registrar General’s Department and the Ghana Standards Authority, as a means to improving access to credit for business growth leading to employment creation.
The Ministry under the Small Medium Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Development Programme, continued to facilitate the participation of emerging and existing small businesses in mainstream economic activities. The Rural Enterprises Programme (REP) in collaboration with NBSSI and GRATIS Foundation carried out business development services within rural communities at the district level. The institutions jointly trained 1,619 people in the identification of self-employment opportunities and 914 owners and operators of existing businesses in management development skills to improve their business performance.
In 2015, REP is expected to complete the establishment of 95 new Business Advisory Centres (BACs) to provide business development services to SMEs at the district level. In addition, 30,400 rural poor people will be provided with skills training in community-based income generating activities, small business management and marketing. Furthermore, 16,500 operators of rural, micro and small enterprises will be given all year round business counselling services.
The above initiatives are commendable. It is a good example of partnership between various institutions including development partners to promote youth development which must be encouraged. The challenge here is the relationship between these initiatives and the national youth policy objectives and the extent to which the Ministry of Youth and Sports and for that matter the National Youth Authority is involved in these programmes.
Office of Government Machinery
Under the Office of Government Machinery the Micro Finance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) plans to offer continuous support to farmers, fishermen, micro and small enterprises, and young men and women in the rural communities to set them up for livelihood empowerment in areas such as shoemaking, shea butter processing and small trading. The support to young people especially in the informal sector must be encouraged. This support should however fit into the overall strategy for youth development.
What was conspicuously missing in the 2015 budget is the Youth Enterprise Support Initiative which is also under the Office of the President. It is unclear why YES did not feature in the budget at all. This is because it is a good initiative introduced by government as a strategy to support young entrepreneurs hence including same in the outlook for 2014 and making a statement about the progress made so far and its plans moving forward would have been appropriate. Could it be that the initiative, which was launched in August 2014 with a seed capital of GH¢10 million cedis, has enough resources for its operations in 2015 for which reason it was not necessary to include it in the budget?
Ministry of Education
The Ministry of Education provides a very elaborate set of programmes and projects they intend to undertake in 2015. The budget indicates that enrolment in Science and Technology and ICT programmes at the tertiary level is expected to 57,428 students a marginal increase over the 2014 enrolment of 55,568 students. To improve linkage between Polytechnics and Industry 75,000 students are expected to benefit from industrial attachment. The work mobility for industrial practitioners which will enable them teach for agreed periods in tertiary institutions to help align training and industrial needs is also commendable. These two initiatives will go a long way to ensure that graduates of our Polytechnics are well prepared for the job market. The Ministry may want to consider regularizing industrial attachment in Universities as well. The Ministry also hopes to put in place measures to operationalize the proposed National Research Fund whose draft Bill is undergoing stakeholder consultations.
The passage of the Bill for the conversion of Polytechnics into Technical Universities in 2015 is also one of the key plans of the Ministry.
According to the Ministry, the replacement of allowances to trainees of Colleges of Education with the option to apply for students’ loan resulted in significant increases in enrolment at the Colleges of Education from 9,000 to 15,400 in 2014. Much as this policy will significantly help address the teacher supply deficit in the long term, adequate measures need to be put in place to help address its ramifications. One such challenge is how to address the teacher supply challenge in rural communities.
The budget also indicated that construction works of the new University of Environment and Sustainable Development in the Eastern Region is expected to commence after the passage of the Bill for its establishment.
On the National Service Scheme (NSS), the budget indicated that the scheme continues to play a critical role in the supply of personnel to support nation building and improve the quality of teaching and learning, particularly in deprived communities. However, given the recent scandal that plagued the scheme, measures such as the abolishment of the voluntary component of the Scheme and the abolishment of all direct cash payments to service personnel. The Comptroller and Accountant-Generals’ Department in collaboration with NSS and the Ghana Interbank Payment Settlement System (GHIPSS) is taking measures to register and pay all NSS personnel using the e-zwich payment platform. Electronic Payment Voucher is expected to be used to validate the identity of the personnel on monthly basis.
It is therefore expected that the above measures will be implemented effectively to redeem the image of the scheme. The suspension of the voluntary component of the Scheme will however render many more young graduates jobless as many survived on the programme and acquired labour market skills while looking for employment.
It is worth noting that the Ministry of education is undertaking several programmes to help increase access to education. The long term benefits of these initiatives are that more young people will be educated to help reduce the illiteracy level in the country and also position the youth in better ways to take advantage of opportunities available to them.
There is no doubt that the various initiatives targeting youth in the 2015 budget are laudable. However, the current approach to youth development where various MDAs, NGOs and development partners and youth groups and organizations engage in various youth development programmes and activities without recourse to the national youth policy is quite problematic and remains a major setback to youth development. Even though various MDAs have their mandate to address specific issues related to the youth, it is prudent to ensure that these programmes and initiatives are properly coordinated. The challenge of poor coordination has been clearly identified by the National Development Planning Commission in the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (2010-2013) and the Constitution Review Commission.
Government may have to consider a comprehensive audit of the various youth development programmes across various sectors to ensure that these programmes are properly aligned with the objectives of the National Youth Policy. This audit will also help to realign the programmes to avoid duplication and enhance effective monitoring and evaluation. In this regard, the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Youth Authority must play a lead role by creating a platform for the various MDAs to regularly engage for effective implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation of the National Youth Policy.