Monrovia – It has become common in Liberia that when officials of the cabinet have the confidence of the President they do not care whatever the public says about their performance.
In many instances these cabinet officials make defiant public statements when they come under pressure from segment of the public over decisions.
Teachers from the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) and the National teachers Association of Liberia on September 21 staged a protest against the administration of Education Minister George K. Werner and MCSS Superintendent Adolphus B. Jacobs, calling for the two individuals to quit their positions.
The aggrieved teachers are demanding the resignation of the two officials in the education sector for what they termed making the system more ‘messy’.
Holding placards at the Education Ministry and other public facilities the protesting teachers expressed that if the two individuals remained in the education sector, the system would remain below par.
“If we as a people are not careful about the PPP process, all other Public Services of our country will be turned over to profit makers at our expense in the future,” said Mrs. Mary Mulbah Nyumah, Acting President of the National Teachers Association of Liberia.
Shortly following the teachers protest, unperturbed Education Minister Werner took to Facebook to mock the teachers, something that led to angry reactions from some members of the public.
Minister Werner wrote: “Aye Lawd!
They got good tailors. Nice uniform shirts, NTA! A+ for creativity. MoE is not a member of NATO-No Action, Talk Only Club!”
Following Minister Werner’s post several other posters expressed anger at his stance to mocking protesting teachers and a while later, the Minister removed the post and posted another.
Stated Minister Werner and subsequent post: “Over the past year, the MoE has prioritized the following: improving the quality of teaching in the classroom.
We’re testing teachers to assess their capacity. We’re cleaning the payroll to have efficiency savings that can be reinvested in education (over US$2 million saved from just 4 counties).
We’ve found the Secretary General of the National Teachers Association on government payroll in Lofa County.
He lives and works for the NTAL in Monrovia.”
According Minister Werner, other reforms are ongoing on the Ministry of Education payroll in other counties to help reduce ghost names.
“The MoE and CSA teams are now in Cape Mount and Bomi counties, biometrically enrolling teachers, testing teachers, validating their credentials.
We’re confronting systemic resistance to these reforms. The Partnership Schools for Liberia initiative has taken off: free uniforms, no fees, trained teachers who show up daily, parents and communities engaged”, he stated.
Can’t Shy from Correcting Systemic Challenges
Minister Werner expressed that under his administration, he will not shy form correcting what he is describing as systemic challenges because of fear for civil unrest.
“We’re tackling age-old problems with domestic financial aid to teachers, otherwise known as in-service teachers’ scholarships.
Of the 500 or so on in-service training scholarship, only about 200 are accounted for on civil service payroll.
How come? To benefit from in-service training scholarship, you must be on government payroll. We cannot shy away from correcting these systemic challenges because of fear for civil unrest”, the Minister wrote.
He described his initiatives at the Ministry of Education as greater good for greatest number of people.
Declared Minister Werner: “The greatest good for the greatest number of people. Peace that does not confer well-being is passive warfare. Eventually, all of us lose when we allow systemic decay to go unchecked.”
Minister Werner’s time at the Ministry has not been short of controversies, ranging from his decision to change the academic calendar due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus, administering test for teachers, introducing the private public partnership program (PPP), where public schools will be managed by a number of private organizations, including Brac, Street Child United, Omega and More than me, among others.
Appointed in 2015 by President Sirleaf, Warner’s decision to close schools right after the Ebola outbreak sparked a major public debate, prompting the National Legislature to intervene although the decision was never reversed but further creating fraction between the legislature and the executive.
Minister Warner again made another controversial move, which he claimed was geared toward “fixing” the school system.
The controversial program resulted into a heated public war of words between Minister Werner and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, who described the plan as “unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligations.”
The move has also since ignited another public debate and international condemnation by the UNESCO rapporteur on education.
Despite the concerns about the PPP, the MOE has embarked on a pilot project for several schools, while the criticism against outsourcing the entire pre-primary and primary education system to private institutions intensifies.