Liberia: Gov’t Debunks Liberian students in Morocco Claims of Owing Allowances

Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Dean of the Cabinet, Gbehzongar Finley taking the witness stand at the plenary of the House of Representatives

Monrovia – The Government of Liberia has denied claims by Liberian students studying in the Kingdom of Morocco that it has reneged on paying their allowances.

Scores of students on foreign scholarships in Morocco have been complaining of late that the Liberia Government through the Ministries of Finance and Education have refused to pay their monthly stipend for housing and other transportation allowances among others.

However, addressing the plenary of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, August 13, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Dean of the Cabinet, Gbehzongar Finley and the Minister of Education, Prof. Ansu Sonii debunked the students’ claims.

The Ministers, in separate remarks, said the students’ assertions and actions over the past weeks are misleading and acts of ungratefulness.

“For anyone to say that government is not taking care of its students abroad is misleading and they got to be excessively ungrateful,” said Prof. Sonii.

“We, as officials took those students as our children and acted as parents because most of them are young – between 16 to 19 years. But the way they painted us in the media is disgraceful.”

The appearance of the two senior government officials came in the wake of plenary’s acquiescence with the communication from Rep. Thomas Goshua (Grand Bassa County District No. 5) craving the House of Representatives to invite Ministers Finley and Sonii along with the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah.

The officials were cited to give detail accounts on the hike in tuition and fees, especially in private schools across the country, collection of money from public schools’ students for construction of dwelling places for County or District Education Officers (CEOs/DEOs) across the country, and the delay in payment of stipends for students in the Kingdom of Morocco on a bilateral scholarship.

Minister Finley, taking the witness stand, explained that prior to the inception of the current administration, there were 38 undergraduate students in Morocco who have overstayed the maximum five-year period. The new government has sent additional 54 students and all have been given their regular allowances.

The complaint and demonstration, Finley claimed, came about when the Liberian Government served 23 of the overstayed students notice that it was about to bring them home.

No Brutalizing of students’

He told plenary that the Foreign Ministry mandated the Liberian Ambassador accredited to Morocco to negotiate with the students and calm the situation as their allowances are being prepared back home, but the student leadership has refused and at one point barricaded the Liberian Embassy, blocking the Ambassador from leaving the compound.

This led him to instruct the Ambassador to call for the Moroccan Police to remove the students from premises of the Embassy.

According to Minister Finley, under the bilateral scholarship agreement, the Moroccan Government pays the students who successfully pass their semester exams a monthly allowance of US$75, while the Liberian Government provides housing and a monthly stipend of US$75 across the board.

Minister of Education, Prof. Ansu Sonii

Minister Sonni added that each student received US$300 in May 2019 and currently the Ministry of Finance is about to release a cheque for the students.

In addition, he said the Moroccan Government has been giving the new batch of 54 students their monthly allowances since their arrival in November 2018 and January 2019 respectively.

He narrated when the government took over, it increased the students’ allowances from US$75 to US$400, but due to limited fiscal space, the government reverted to US$75.

Currently, he said the Ministry is now considering to raise the monthly stipend to an amount that will be encouraging for the students and affordable for the government.

He, however, warned that if the financial space is not available, the government may cut down the foreign scholarship scheme or enter into an agreement with parents of the beneficiaries to take some responsibilities.

In addition to the budgetary constraint, Ministers Finley and Sonni explained that most of the students who are benefitting from these foreign scholarships refused to return to Liberia upon completion of their studies.

According to Prof. Sonni, most of the students sent to Morocco during the past administration traveled to Europe during the course of their studies or upon graduation, and only few came home. Some, he said refused to graduate.

He blamed the situation to the students’ insincerity, desire to seek greener pasture or their deliberate desire to stay in school in order to benefit from the allowances.

He added that this is the reason the Ministry of education has stop sending students to the United States of America on Scholarships.

To stop the problem, he noted the Ministry of Education will reinstitute the national service program where students benefiting from government’s scholarships will make commitments to render service to the country upon the completion of their studies.

The plenary thanked Minster Finley and Sonii for their clarity and urged them to work with the Legislature through their oversight committees to improve the education sector.

The Plenary of the House, however, expressed dismay over the ‘habitual’ refusal of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah to adhere to its invitation. They vowed to inform the President of Minster Tweah’s ‘unbecoming’ behavior at the pending two-day retreat with the Legislature convene by the President.