Liberia Spends $1B A Year; But One High School In River Cess County

Our education system, like most others around the world, has always been a hybrid system, with a mix of government, faith-based and mission, and private schools. For the pilot of public-private partnerships, the Ministry of Education will sign agreements with partners – including both local and international, private and non-profit – to manage a small number of what we will call Partnership Schools.

The Editor,

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her January 25, 2016 annual message, stated that Feasibility studies are completed for the “…Gbarnga to Mendekorma, Lofa …feasibility studies are also ongoing…” for Ganta to Zwedru, Zwedru to Fish Town, Buchanan to Greenville, Barclayville to Pleebo and Sanniqueville to Cote d’Ivoire.”

Presumably, a traveler will not have to wash away the dust from his/her body after driving miles on the would-be-paved inter-county Highway; or will not have to wait for the dust to clear from the road after a truck passed by; or will not have his/her vehicle stuck or buried within a mud after a torrential rain fall during May-October; or will not have more frequent vehicle accidents because of a dusty road, etc. I was joyful after I read the message and the news of the completion of the highway from Gbarnga to Ganta.

However, I felt sad after I read a newspaper report, which stated that, “…the government of Liberia has spent more than seven hundred fifty million United States dollars…but with no good impact…” Mr. Gyude Moore, Minister of Public Works, is reported to have made this statement at a Liberian Legislative Hearing in July of 2015. Also, I think the Sirleaf government might mismanage the money borrowed for the highway in the same way it has and continues to misuse the $1B allocated yearly since 2006. Page #14 of the 2012/2013 “Citizen’s Guide to the National Budget” shows that Liberia spent a combined $1B ($518 from donors and $672 from our budget). Yet, 71,079 citizens of River Cess, one of the 15 subdivisions of Liberia, have one high school, according to FrontpageAfrica. Also, 71,321 residents of West Point, a slum in Monrovia, do not a high school, hospital or safe-drinking water, according to NY Times, 3/10/2016.

Although the budget document did detail the government’s achievements, money shifted away from social programs to personal accounts was not mentioned. For example, the Government did not disclose that donor’s $30M was shifted away from rice production in Lofa County into individuals’ pockets. But atty. George Saah, the Director of Media of the Vice President of Liberia, on March 14, 2016, refuted an allegation that the Vice President Office did misuse $10,000 from the $30M, and asked the chief executive of the rice project to account for the $30 million. Also, the document did not state why River Cess County did not receive the $550,000. FrontPageAfrica, a local newspaper, reported that the Deputy Minister of Finance, Dr. James Kollie denied an allegation that the Finance Ministry did receive $550,000 from the National Oil Company (NOCAL), an amount paid to NOCAL by two oil companies. Global Witness reported that Extractive Industries Transparency did verify that the oil companies did remit $550,000 to NOCAL.

The technical skills and the managerial knowledge needed to search for money and build hospitals or schools in communities, presumably, were earned by President Sirleaft, when she served as the Liberian minister of finance, when she graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, when she served the World Bank, and when she became director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Regional Bureau for Africa, etc. However, Global Witness stated that her government signed flawed agreements, International Monetary Fund stated that her government allocated $80M outside of the budget or she selected advisers who are loyal to her, but not to the country.

Equally so, why is the World Bank (W/B), the 1943-anti-poverty organization, silent when public officials squander government revenue? Or why is it encouraging poor countries to borrow more loan, according to Mr. Martin Drewry, Director of Health Poverty Action? It also coerces its indebted clients (i.e., poor countries) to use borrowed money to pay excessive salaries. (Mr. Martin Drewry).   

Squandering money allocated for social programs, paying excessive salaries or instituting exploitative economic system, which increases profits as well as income inequality, is the objective of the W/B or its facilitators, stated Mr. Joseph Stieglitz. The former W/B senior vice president and chief economist stated that the W/B and its local facilitators (i.e., public officials) are in “…the business of generating more money for its shareholders, western banks and the U.S. Treasury.” That is part of the reason why the World Bank does not prefer to work with public officials who share the view of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt that “…the state is responsible to care for those citizens who are…unable to obtain even the necessities of mere existence without the aid of others.” (“Franklin D. Roosevelt: Traitor to His Class,” authored by H.W. Brands).

Oaky, reduce the number of citizens in need of assistance by financing education, the equalizing economic ladder. But the rich class would not accumulate more wealth. Therefore, they support facilitators such as Liberia’s President William V. S. Tubman, who built nine high schools, one technical school, one teacher training college, but built no universities in 27 years, but did not support Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, who built 10,000 elementary and junior high schools, 85 high schools, 47 teacher training colleges, 11 technical schools and 3 universities in 9 years, according to (Mr. Benedict Nyankun Wisseh, Theperspective.org, 3/4/14). Results, Ghana is prosperous and Liberia is poorer, despite Liberia’s wealth.

For the rich class to accumulate more wealth at the expense of society it can not only steal revenue from government coffers or pay excessive salaries, it must also demand exorbitant prices for gods and services. And since government usually offers low prices to customers for schools, hospitals, housing, etc., thereby, risking the possibility for the masses to have leftover money to acquire the equalizing economic ladder, the W/B and facilitators prefer profiteers. Interestingly, the high cost of housing, for instance, does not only affect the poor. Governments and businesses end up paying higher wages to employees in order to cover up the high cost of housing. For example, the Economy Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) did not consider the cost of living, especially housing cost, when it advised its members to spend 35% of its revenue on wages.

So, Liberians should not be surprised when President Sirleaf or the W/Bank-handpicked officials, fail to build highway, finance education, construct hospitals or the prices for housing, education, healthcare services, etc. goods continue to increase. This is because officials that embrace the philosophy of private-profiteers cannot at the same time institute level playing field policies, which will reduce profits of the privileged rich.


RE: TEACHERS ASSOCIATION
NO THREAT TO FREE EDUCATION
Ref: RL/MoE-0185/GKW/66-NTAL/2016

March 3, 2016

Samuel Y. Johnson, Sr
Secretary General, National Teachers’ Association of Liberia
P.O. Box 4824
Capitol Bye-Pass Adj. LNP HQ
Monrovia, Liberia

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your letter regarding public-private partnerships in education, which we received on March 1, 2016. The Ministry is introducing a pilot of Partnership Schools for Liberia to explore how these can improve learning outcomes for children in Early Childhood and Primary Schools. These pilot schools will remain free and government-owned, and will be run by private providers according to government standards. The Ministry and the Government are committed to free, quality education for every Liberian child.

I am confused by your letter’s assertion that the Ministry has not been consulting stakeholders: the Ministry has been holding consultations, both one-on-one and collectively, since December. These consultations have included a collaborative meeting with partners held on January 14th and 15th, where NTAL was represented by Mrs Alva T. Freeman (and the profession was also represented by many other Liberian teachers). The pilot has also been discussed in meetings attended by members of NTAL’s leadership during recent weeks.

Moreover, I must correct your characterisation of the pilot as privatization, and as somehow threatening the provision of free education. As we have communicated, to your members, including at the January meeting, the pilot will not involve any privatization of education, nor any move towards privatization. As we have affirmed in meetings with stakeholders, including NTAL, the pilot in no way changes the Government’s commitment to free and compulsory basic education. Public-private partnerships differ from privatization, as public schools remain under Government control. Government Primary and Basic Schools will always remain free: Her Excellency President Sirleaf and the entire Government are proud to have set this in law.

Our education system, like most others around the world, has always been a hybrid system, with a mix of government, faith-based and mission, and private schools. For the pilot of public-private partnerships, the Ministry of Education will sign agreements with partners – including both local and international, private and non-profit – to manage a small number of what we will call Partnership Schools. The agreements will set out what the partners will do, as well as how they will be held accountable. The schools will continue to be owned by the Government; teachers will remain on the Civil Service payroll; and all partners will be required to abide by GoL and MoE policies. Indeed, the Ministry’s pilot will not be a standard public-private partnership. Informed by a thorough review of lessons learned in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, we are developing and piloting a framework that is quite new.

All of us working in education know that the system is beset by multiple difficulties. We all know – indeed, you and your members are – proud professional teachers frustrated by the challenges they face each day. The scale of these challenges means that we must consider every available strategy. Pragmatism is demanded of us; indeed, pragmatism is the only moral response to the challenges we face. The Grade 3 child who is still struggling to read cannot afford to wait a year, let alone two years or five years, for the system to improve. This means that we are willing to learn from all potential partners who may be able to contribute to the sector. The pilot will allow us to learn from a range of organisations that have the capacity to rapidly improve learning outcomes. This is in line with the goals of improving teaching and learning set out in our Sector and Operational Plans. In addition, the pilot contributes to 8 of the 9 priority projects identified as part of our “Getting to Best” reform agenda.

To conclude, then, the Ministry is committed, just as NTAL is, to ensuring that every Liberian child can enjoy free, quality education. We also have the same commitment to supporting Liberian teachers. The pilot of public-private partnerships will complement our ongoing workforce reforms, which aim to ensure that all teachers are well-trained, well-paid, and well-supported.

The Ministry will continue to consult with stakeholders throughout the pilot. The Ministry team would also be glad to meet with NTAL representatives to discuss any further concerns.

Kind regards,

George Kronnisanyon Werner
MINISTER

Cc: Dr. Edward McClain
       Minister, Ministry of States for Presidential Affairs

       Hon. Jewel Howard Taylor
       Chair, Senate Standing Committee on Education

       Hon. Matthew G. Zarzar
       Chair, House Standing Committee on Education


Yanqui Zaza,
jyanqui@aol.com
 

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