Liberia: Education Ministry Failed to Exercise Supervisory Role Before Giving More Than Me Greenlight to Operate
Monrovia – The report of the Special Investigative Panel appointed to probe sexual abuse of girls at More Than Me (MTM) shows that the Ministry of Education did not adequately exercise its supervisory function in allowing the charity to open a school in Liberia.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]
The panel report, released June 1 in Monrovia, alleges that the Ministry allowed MTM to operate as an all-girl school without “seeing, reviewing and been satisfied with the background and experience of adequate female administrative staff”.
Cllr. Negbalee Warner, who chaired the panel, says it was surprising that on September 12, 2010, a little more than two (2) years following its registration in the United States, MTM filed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia an “Application for Authority to Do Business in the Republic of Liberia”.
In the application filed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MTM elaborated on its general purpose of giving “opportunity to the dreams of the most desperate children by stating the activities it planned to undertake in Liberia”.
The activities included bi-weekly mentorship of children – making sure they have the encouragement they need to continue their education; providing twice a week two hours game period on any designated soccer field as a means of teaching character building.
Following receipt of the requisite authorization to operate, the charity was then granted clearance by the Ministry of Finance on January 20, 2011, to apply for accreditation as an International NGO.
It states: “The Ministry of Education has reviewed, scrutinized the requested documents and conducted a thorough capacity assessment of the More Than Me Foundation, Inc. and further verified the facility’s location. Based on the report from the team sent in the field, we are convinced that it will meaningfully contribute toward the revitalization of the education sector.”
The report alleges that MTM had registered and was clear to operate in the country although it had no known office space.
MTM’s own timeline indicates that it launched and operated what it termed as “Grassroots Scholarship program”. It was in 2012 that MTM acquired the land on which the academy was built.
According to the report MTM duly used Letter of Clearance obtained from the MOE to enjoy tax exemption under Liberian law.
MTM later obtained its accreditation as an International NGO on August 29, 2012, and was issued re-accreditation on January 27, 2016, and April 17, 2017, subsequently.
However, the report claims it did not find any evidence of re-accreditation for the years between 2012-2016.
The Warner report further that the application for re-accreditation in 2016 was filed by Mr. Cyrus Cooper in his capacity as Operations Manager of MTM.
The 2016 application listed Katie Borghese of Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Saul Garlick of Baking Ridge, New Jersey USA; and Manish Patel of Baking Ridge, New Jersey, USA as board members.
Significantly, the panel report said Mr. Cooper did not provide all the information including the NGO’s Annual Report Form he filed. He also did not provide several key documents including the source of funding and list of full-time staff with the position.
Furthermore, an application for re-accreditation submitted by MTM under the signature of Alexandra Fallon, dated April 24, 2018 and addressed to Samuel D. Tweah, Minister of Finance & Development Planning, did not refer to or attach any information about the foundation investment or operating capital, work plan, staff, and/or sources of funding.
In the 2018 application submitted a week after the 2017 accreditation had expired, MTM stated that the “Foundation is an international NGO operating in Monrovia, Liberia” outlining several of its activities including the running of a tuition-free school from the township of West Point
MTM started operations in Liberia in 2009 with a pilot scholarship program. It involves the payment of tuition of some of the most vulnerable girls in West Point and Sinkor.
The scholarship program was started as a very basic operation informally designed and managed without any adequate forethought, established policies/procedures or sustainability plan nor a formal office.
The report states that the lack of plans, procedures, and structures in starting the scholarship program and other activities was not and should not be surprising.
Katie expressly confessed to the Panel that she “is good basically at storytelling and fundraising”, but knew little more than that.
She told the Committee: “I’m not an operational person. I have never had plans. I am not good at details. These are all things I’m not good at too. I figure I can make friends with the people who are good at the things I’m not good at and ask them for help or get them involved somehow.”
Hence, the report said Katie sought the aid of at least two Liberian men: Mr. Macintosh Johnson and Cooper to help get the scholarship started and recruitment of the scholarship beneficiaries.
The children selected by Katie through Johnson and Cooper were placed on scholarship in schools such as the St. Peter’s Lutheran School and the Mary Sharp Memorial School.
Katie told the Investigative Panel that all they wanted was “vulnerable” children -whether boys or girls – but they really never defined what criteria would be used to determine one’s vulnerability or the extent thereof.
MacIntosh First Contact with Girls
The report states that the role of Macintosh and Cooper was critical to the establishment and running of the scholarship program, which culminated in the opening of the MTM Academy.
Katie, according to the report, told the panel that she needed one or a few Liberians, especially people of West Point to work with her.
“I have always had somebody that works next to me because I am not strong at creating that infrastructure that the organization needs; the attention to detail and all that. So, I came back, and we had a list of what to find in a vulnerable child.
“And I reached out to Alfie, and I wanted to work in West Point. He re-introduced me to Macintosh,” she said.
Katie said she first met Macintosh with Alfie in 2007 when the former had given them a tour of West Point.
“Macintosh was someone who was seen in the community as a community leader. He worked for the police as a watchman, as a volunteer watchman. And he was running a sports program in West Point with kids.
“So, I went to visit the sports program, and it looked like what they’re doing was really nice, trying to give kids confidence, and they would do speeches to the kids, and let them enjoy it and play with toys. It was funded by a guy named Eduardo who worked for Jesuit Refugee Commission.”
Katie had him in almost exclusive charge of the selection of the vulnerable children in West Point who would benefit from the MTM scholarship program, the report says.
A number of parents of the beneficiaries interviewed by the Panel revealed how Macintosh was the sole person who made the decision of who got on the scholarship.
Some alleged that Macintosh denied children the scholarship simply because their parents had a disagreement with him or questioned how he was treating the beneficiaries, especially requiring them to cook for him at his home and stay at his place until sometimes around 8 o’clock p.m.
The current head of the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) of MTM Academy, whose identity is not disclosed in the report, is quoted as saying that he and his wife had a strained relationship with Macintosh because they had questioned his “close relationship” with the beneficiaries.
There is also corroborating evidence including trial testimonies that the scholarship program was implemented mainly from Macintosh’s house, the report says.
The report states that not only did MTM allow Macintosh to be essentially the sole decider of who got on its scholarship program, the organization also allowed Macintosh to carry on the recruitment of beneficiaries without an established definition of vulnerability or set of eligibility criteria for selection.
There was also no established formal process or procedure of reviewing his decisions to accept or reject a child’s plea to be on the scholarship.
However, the MTM founder admitted but she argued that other persons including a women’s group in West Point later joined MacIntosh in selecting beneficiaries.
The report states that other people assisted Macintosh Johnson in the recruitment process at one point or the other, but the Panel found that their role was merely to help identify a pool of candidates from among those whom Macintosh had already tipped.
According to the report, one of the survivors described Macintosh’s unsupervised activities in these words: “I can just say that Nyumah (MacIntosh) was everything Katie wanted to do. When she is not here, Nyumah can do everything.
“Like if Katie supposed to take pictures of girls today when she is not here, Nyumah would go and bring the girls from their home, carry them and do pictures and carry them back home.
“So, he was just looking like the right hand to Katie. So, everything he said, people would believe him. Even the parents would believe anything he said.”