Education, Economy, Roads Top Priorities of Bong County Voters
Suakoko, Bong County – Christian McGill, 31, graduated from Cuttington University in 2012 with a degree in Agriculture. He applied for six jobs, but nothing panned out.
Report by Selma Lomax, [email protected]
McGill gave up on his job search and created a job for himself. He started the Kokoyah Farmers’ Cooperative, an enterprise which provides seedlings to farmers.
The program works with 12 farmers.
Moses Scott, 24, was a sophomore student at Cuttington University when he was forced to leave school in 2012 because the Bong County Legislative Caucus cut off the scholarship paid his tuition.
The Madam Suakoko Scholarship Fund, which was created in 2009, spent US$10,000 every semester from the social development fund to pay tuition for students with financial need. The program supported over 100 students from 2009-2012.
As Liberians prepare to head to the polls on October 10, education and unemployment are high on the minds of Bong County voters, especially young people.
Young people interviewed by FrontPageAfrica, said they will be looking keenly at the economic and education policies of presidential hopefuls and the 94 legislative candidates vying for Bong County’s seven legislative seats.
Scott said he will vote for the All Liberian Party (ALP) because the party’s standard bearer, Benoni Urey, according to him, has placed premier on education over the years.Scott’s father is a leading member of the ALP’s Bong chapter.
“I believe Urey has demonstrated that education is the bedrock for nation building over the years,’’ he said. “He has sponsored students at every university in Liberia. When he is given the chance to lead our country, education would be given a priority.”
The Madam Suakoko program was halted in 2012 after China Union scaled back its operations. The county received $1, 750,000 a year from China Union. In addition to the funds from China Union, the county received $200,000 from the defunct BHP Billiton company; $12,000 a year from MNG Gold; and $500,000 a year from Arcellor Mittal.
Arcellor Mittal and MNG Gold are the only two companies still contributing to the county’s social development fund.
But the social development funds from the two companies are not enough to sponsor students at Cuttington and support other community projects, said Rep. George Mulbah
County officials said they could no longer continue the scholarship because the county has a financial deficit.
Officials who voted to cut the scholarship include: Tokpah Mulbah (People’s Unification Party, District One); Rep. George Mulbah (People’s Unification Party, District Three); Rep. Lester Paye (Alternative National Congress, District Four); Edward Karfiah (People’s Unification Party, District Five); Adam Bill Corneh (National Patriotic Party, District Six); Corpu Barclay (Unity Party, District Seven); and Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, who is the vice running mate to Coalition for Democratic Change under the leadership of standard bearer George Weah. All of incumbents in Bong are seeking re-election.
‘’I have no hope of going to school since I lost the scholarship, ’Scott, who has no job and hasn’t returned to school.
“My hope of continuing my education has been dashed.’’
Though Bong lawmakers cancelled the Madam Suakoko Scholarship, they created their own scholarships for their supporters from lawmakers’ legislative constituency fund.
Every year, each lawmaker receives US $ 10,000 from the national budget as Legislative Earmarked Project.
Theresa Peabody, 25, a student at Cuttington University, is one of the beneficiaries of Tokpah Mulbah’s scholarship. She obtained the scholarship because she met the minimum requirement– 2.5 GPA.
She plans to cast her vote for Tokpah Mulbah and for Vice President Joseph Boakai.
‘’We need a Legislative Caucus that will prioritize education, void of political affiliations, Peabody said.
“We want a government that will develop a skilled, talented and competitive workforce through access to quality education.”
Elijah Wehyee, 38, quit school after he lost his scholarship at Cuttington.
He hopes the 2017 elections will bring in a new president and representatives who will prioritize education.
‘’I am leading a campaign to elect a president and representative who will prioritize education,’’ Wehyee said.
Wheyee, who lives in Bong County District three, said he will not vote for the incumbent Rep. George Mulbah because it was under his watch as caucus chair that the scholarship was slashed.
Jerry Mulbah runs a photo studio on one of Gbarnga’s busiest streets.
The 45-year-old father of five has been in business for 15 years. Mulbah, who is resident of Bong County District three, business, has not been doing too well in the last year.
The government, he said, is not doing much to improve the economic situation in the country. People don’t have jobs, and so there is not much money to spend.
Mulbah blames voters for always voting the same corrupt politicians who have done nothing to improve their lives.
In the presidential election, Mulbah said he will vote for the Alternative National Congress headed by Alexander Cummings and Jeremiah Sulunteh because the party has the best platform for education for the young people.
He said the ANC believes education and job creation are key to developing the country by subsidizing private schools and increasing government subsidy to public schools.
“The ANC believes education is not measured by number of buildings, but by the quality of the product of those schools,” he said.
Besides education and jobs, Bong citizens are also concerned about the bad roads, which they say is hindering commerce and agriculture.
Last week, three vehicles carrying marketers from Zoweinta town and other districts to the Ivorian border were stuck in a pool of water in the town of Kpaii for three days.
Some of the goods fell into the muddy water, as marketers scrambled to save a few items.
Kpaii is one of the 13 districts targeted for road improvement when the county agreed to spend $ 662,000 to buy three road building machines.
The feeder road projects were stalled because the two earth moving machines purchased for the project broke down, and the contractor is holding up the dump truck because he claims the county owes him US $28,000.
Last week’s stranded passengers slept in homes nearby. When the vehicles crossed over to a safe area, the traders carried their goods on their heads, so they could continue their journey.
Ma Konah Naqueta, a marketer in Sanoyea District, one of the marketers who were stuck en route to the Ivorian border, said bad roads impedes cross-border trade.
“It is making things difficult for us this rainy season,’’ she said.
“If the rainy season produces more deplorable roads, then we could decide to save our incomes for the dry season next year.’’
Ma Konah, an undecided voter, said she will vote for someone who is committed to improving the rural roads, so that she can operate her business smoothly.
Miatta Benson, who sells dried goods in of Suakoko market, shared similar experience.
She uses motorbike to go to Garlai town because of the bad road condition.
“Our journeys to neighboring towns have been slow all due to the bad road condition,” she said.
Benson plans to will vote for James Dorbor Sao as representative of District Five and Vice President Joseph Boakai as President of Liberia because she believes he can reconcile Liberians.