Monrovia — On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, a former official of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), says the ‘right to knowledge without interference’ and the ‘academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information’ is under serious threat by the George Weah administration.
According to Mr. Julius Kullie Kanubah, the threat is specifically related to the 30 March 2021 decision of the Ministry of Education of Liberia. The Ministry, in a policy statement, had issued “rules” to regulate, administer, and decide upon what it calls “all international scholarships” and the “standardize tests and final interviews” associated with international scholarships.
Mr. Kanubah contends that the policy statement by the Education Ministry which sweepingly and blanketly targets private and/or independent scholarships that are awarded internationally on a competitive basis (considering financial needs, country context, and individual potentials), violates Article 15a & b of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
Whereas Article 15a of the Liberian Constitution stipulates how “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression …”, Article 15b defines among others that “the right [to freedom of expression] encompasses … the right to knowledge” which includes the “academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information,” asserts Mr Kanubah.
It is in this light the former PUL Assistant Secretary General argues that the George Weah administration through the Education Ministry under Ansu D. Sonii is disturbingly attempting to infringe on the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of Liberians as if Liberia was now under a wicked dictatorship – if it were not the case as yet.
Especially, the Education Ministry policy will have chilling effects on genuinely ambitious University students, scholars, researchers, social justice activists and campaigners who too often rightly apply for and receive independently and privately awarded competitive international scholarships of varying kinds, void of any intrusive interventions including a regime of abusive surveillance by illiberal régimes, adds Mr Kanubah.
Moreover, Mr Kanubah says, he is deeply appalled over another aspect of the Education Ministry policy statement which states that, “Final listing of students approved for scholarship must obtain a letter of attestation each, signed by the Minister or his designated person from the Ministry of Education before traveling.”
Beyond the fact that no private and/or independent international scholarship awarding entity/university will allow politically-biased government officials such as those at the Ministry of Education of Liberia to sit on its scholarship selection and award committee, it is also utterly offensive that the Ministry of Education has selected upon itself to become a clearing house, to which independent, capable, mature and private Liberian citizens seeking education abroad through international scholarships, must subject themselves to before travelling.
The Education Ministry must be told that whereas Article 12a of the Constitution of Liberia guarantees that, “Every person lawfully within the Republic of Liberia shall have the right to move freely throughout Liberia, to reside in any part thereof and to leave therefrom”, Article 12b unambiguously states that, “Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to leave and to enter Liberia at any time.”
Thus, it is seriously sickening that Minister Ansu D. Sonii and his team of political appointees at the Education Ministry would choose to turn themselves into wartime militia-styled extra-legal groups, to whom and from whom traveling permits (letter of attestation) must be sought and obtained before traveling outside Liberia on privately awarded international scholarships. Minster Sonii and his team must not turn themselves into militia Ministers, erecting and operating disciplinary check-points as they are now purposely transforming the Education Ministry into, Mr. Kanubah warns.
For Minister Sonii to even threaten that “all individuals, scholarship organizations and the general public that anyone working outside of these procedures will be referred to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution for suspected human trafficking” and that “the MoE will inform the Liberia National Police, Liberia Immigration Services and all university granting scholarships to Liberian students about the new procedures”, illustrates that the Minister of Education and his team at the Education Ministry need to be educated not only about processes governing privately awarded competitive international scholarships, but also more importantly, the Constitution of Liberia, which public officials are bound to defend as part of the oath to public service.
Aside from endangering the pursuit of advanced education of Liberians abroad through international scholarships which are also competed by other foreign/international students who also live and operate under governments of states, Minister Sonii and his team of political appointees at the Education Ministry, by instituting such an ill-advised policy, significantly undermines and weakens the George Weah administration move to declare free tuition education at all publicly-run Universities/Colleges in Liberia.
If President Weah and his administration are attempting to remove structurally violent barriers to public University education in Liberia at undergraduate level, it is paradoxically dishonorable that the George Weah administration through the Education Ministry will knowingly erect what amounts to a violent structure (rule) targeting students seeking advanced education internationally after undergraduate studies, for example, from the Weah-administration public University tuition free education.
Not least, the misguided policy would send a negative message to international scholarship awarding entities and universities – located in such advanced democracies and rich countries as the United States, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Australia, etc. – that Liberia is not serious to allow its citizens to freely benefit from advanced education abroad through competition with other international students across the world for scholarships. This is because officials of the Liberian government want to insert themselves into internationally-oriented independent and private scholarships selection and award committees when other governments whose students are equally competing for such scholarships are not thinking of such erroneous and impossible path.