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Trainee nurses pay bribes to get feeding allowance arrears

Undue delay by the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department (CAGD) in paying arrears due some final-year students of the Cape Coast College of Nursing and Midwifery (CCCNM) has left the students at the mercy of syndicates which charge fees and release the arrears to those who accept their terms.

Although the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning gave financial clearance for the payment of the arrears last year, the CAGD has not paid the students.

And as the students desperately chase the arrears, they have fallen victim to some members of staff of the department who have joined up with others outside to form syndicates to exploit the trainee nurses.

The syndicates first name a “service” fee to students seeking help to get their arrears released to them.

Depending on which syndicate a student deals with, the fee is either GH¢500 or GH¢200 and may also be prepaid or post-paid.

Also, “clients” may deposit the fee in a bank account indicated by the syndicate or pay it through mobile money.

When a syndicate secures the agreement of a group of students to its charge, it requests their staff numbers, picks them out from the CAGD’s database and pays them their arrears at the end of the month.

Daily Graphic investigations revealed that while the college was on vacation in January 2016, one syndicate paid the arrears of 19 students, each of whom was charged GH¢500 for that ‘service’.

With their mates paid, some more students organised themselves to pay the fees to get their arrears released to them by the syndicate.

Another group of students who wanted a relatively cheaper fee, chose to deal with another syndicate at a fee of GH¢200 each, which they said was “moderate”.

The Daily Graphic can reveal that both groups received their arrears at the end of last month.

Our sources on the school campus said the college authorities had taken a serious view of the students’ dealings with the fee-charging syndicates after the latest arrears payment.

The Principal of the CCCNM, Ms Cecelia Mensah, cautioned the students to desist from dealing with such contacts and promised that the college would follow up to get the arrears released, the sources revealed.

“She was very displeased with those who took that step when she came to the lecture room to speak to us,” a source said.

After carefully investigating the operations of the syndicate that charges GH¢200, the Daily Graphic found out that it works according to a clear pattern.

A female contact outside the CAGD (name withheld) gets the names of students chasing their arrears for her network at the CAGD to effect the payment and monitor to confirm it has gone through.

Once payment is successful, the CAGD network e-mails the contact a summary of payees. She then phones or sends text messages to tell the students the arrears are in their accounts and prompts them to honour their contractual obligations to the syndicate.

She also handles the collection of fees, which she has directed the students to pay into an account(details withheld) at a prominent bank in Tema or from any part of the country they could find the bank’s branch.

Her syndicate also accepts payment through mobile money if a student cannot find the branch of the bank.

However, those who choose the second mode of payment have to bear the service charge by the mobile network, according to her arrangement.

When enough money is gathered, she accounts to the syndicate for sharing.

Justifying the fee, a syndicate member (name withheld) who worked on the arrears of the 19 students described the GH¢500 fee as ‘payment in appreciation’ for his help to the students in getting their allowances.

“If you do something for somebody and he gives you something, won’t you take it?” he posed.
But sources at the college say his syndicate operates on a cash-and-carry basis.

One of the 19 students (name withheld) with whom the Daily Graphic spoke insisted that he and his mates were not forced to pay any fee.

“We on our own decided to show appreciation,” he said, and argued that their contact only helped them get their arrears to pay their school bills.

“No matter what, I will not tell you his name. I was desperate to get money to pay my fees and he helped me,” he said.

However, he revealed that it was his friend in another nursing college who had told him that the way to get their arrears paid to them under the circumstance was to find a contact at the CAGD to help them for a fee.

The information generated a discussion among the students on whether or not to go the same route, with some suggesting that they should also use the same means to get their arrears paid to them.

However, the leadership of the Students Representative Council (SRC) of the CCCNM opposed the suggestion on the grounds that it was not right.

“Yes, some students suggested it, but I didn’t think we should do that simply because other colleges had done it,” Mr Andrews Smith, the SRC President, said, adding that he had no knowledge of any student paying money to contacts for the arrears.

According to sources at the Integrated Personnel Payroll Database (IPPD) Unit of the Ministry of Health, the 19 students were only a small part of 288 beneficiary final year diploma students of the college anxiously expecting their arrears.

In all, 619 students were to receive the arrears, but they were divided into two batches with the first of 331 students receiving their arrears somewhere in the middle of last year with no difficulty.

However, the second batch of beneficiaries has had to go through difficulties in trying to access their arrears.

Even for the free biometric registration, students were made to pay GH¢35 through the SRC on the day the registration team from the Ministry of Finance arrived in the school.

Although the SRC President denied any such payment, saying they only gave the team food, as “home sense demands that when you have a visitor”, two sources among those who paid the amount confirmed it to the Daily Graphic.

“I am surprised. Biometric registration is free. The trip of the team – transportation, accommodation and feeding – was financed by the Ministry of Finance” Mr J. A. Ansong, the Deputy Coordinator of the Biometric Unit of the Ministry of Finance, told this reporter.

After tracing the processes for payment, the Daily Graphic found out that the students’ arrears had delayed because the CAGD had not effected payment, after all the required processes, including clearance for the department to pay the students, had been completed in October last year.

Reacting to queries as to why the students had still not been paid, the Director of Payroll at the CAGD, Mr George Baah, said he would not know if they had not been paid because he was dealing with a large data.

He admitted, though, that financial clearance had been given for payment last year and the processes for payment were completed last October.

He was, however, upset that anybody would take anything from the students for paying them their allowances.

“It is not right, whether in appreciation or what,” he said, and advised the public to officially approach the department if they had any problem with payments due them.

But the SRC President said they had been making such approaches and getting only unfulfilled promises since last year.

It would be recalled that the government cancelled the nursing students’ allowances last year but they will phase out completely with these final-year students.

Source: Graphic Online

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