Saturday, 25 November 2017

Gov’t defends Builders Corps initiative

Adnan Adams Mohammed

Despite massive criticism against the government’s newest job creation initiative, the Nation Builders’ Corps (NBC), by some economists and policy experts, Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta has justified the decision.
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He dismissed concerns by economists and policy analysts that the government’s decision to employ some 100,000 graduates under the Nation Builders’ Corps (NBC) is a wrong move that will increase the pressure on the public sector wage bill, explaining that the initiative is a necessary answer to an imminent explosion by unemployed youth in the country.

With graduate unemployment bulging out of control (ISSER estimates that 90 percent of graduates do not find jobs after their first year of graduating), the minister said the country needed credible and sustainable measures to help provide jobs for the youth or risk an explosion soon.

One such initiatives, the minister said, was the NBC, which aims to employ some 100,000 graduates to, among other things, collect taxes, enforce sanitation rules and deliver health and education services in the various district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies.

He added that the programme would be structured to ensure that its positives would outweigh the negative impact it might have on the wage bill.

Answering questions on the impact of the programme on an already bulky wage bill, Mr Ofori-Atta said at the PwC Post Budget Forum on November 22 that the NBC was a well-thought-out programme meant to address the national security risk posed by growing graduate unemployment.

“I think that sometimes we have to make choices and the NBC is one of those choices,” he said in reference to the government’s juggle between reining in the wage bill to help sustain fiscal stability and taking steps to address the growing unemployment challenge.

“The NBC is an example of the choices that we have to make because truly, the unemployment situation has become a national security risk. Because of that, you are torn between the rigidity of fiscal consolidation and an imminent explosion and you have to make choices,” he said.

Under the initiative, each of the 219 districts are to employ, train and equip 462 graduates to teach under the ‘Teach Ghana’ initiative; clean and enforce sanitation laws under a ‘clean Ghana’ campaign and provide health care under the ‘Heal Ghana’ initiative.

The rest are to be equipped to mobilise revenue under the ‘Revenue Ghana’ initiative with others providing agricultural extension services under the ‘Feed Ghana’ initiative.

Although laudable, some economists and policy analysts have berated the initiative, as an extra pressure on the already overburdened wage bill.

 Dr Eric Osei-Asibey of the Economics Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, said at the forum that the country would be better off if the NBC was handed over to the private sector to implement.

Dr Osei-Assibey, who is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has noted that, “Government does not provide direct jobs because in places where government had provided jobs, it has not been sustainable, and particularly at a time when government wanted to rationalise or reduce public sector wages”.

He has admonished the government to find a more pragmatic approach to solving graduate unemployment, instead of rolling out the “Nation Builders Corps” programme.

The renowned economist has said, the 100,000 graduates government would employ under the programme would place enormous burden on government’s fiscal expenditure.

He said the programme was a brilliant idea but the approach government was using to address graduate unemployment would be problematic in the long term and therefore, urged government to expand the local economy and provide more incentives to the private sector to expand, in order to absorb the unemployed graduates.

“We have seen government pioneer job creation programmes like the National Youth Employment Programme, GYEDA, YEA and others, which are trying to address youth unemployment and so this Nation Builders Corps may not provide productive jobs that graduates would need and it would also put too much strain on government’s expenditure,” he noted.

Another economist, Adu Owusu Sarkodie argues that the move will be appreciated if accurate information on unemployment levels is provided.

Mr. Sarkodie believes that, the value will be appreciated with an understanding of the current unemployment situation.

“If you are able to tell us how many people are unemployed and therefore you are creating 100,000 jobs to absorb them and that the remaining will be determined after, then we can appreciate that. But if you haven’t told us how many people are unemployed, whether you create 800,000 or 1,000,000 jobs, we do not know whether you are performing better or performing worse. So these figures must be shown to us before any concrete conclusions could be drawn,” he argued.