Opinion: Students At Public Universities and Colleges In Liberia To Get Free Tuition

The decision by the Government of Liberia (GoL) to provide free tuition for students is welcome news, but I think the priority is mixed, farfetched and mind-boggling. I think it is troubling no matter how nice it sounds.

Teacher Training At Tubman University Liberia
Teacher Training At Tubman University Liberia

I expect that the party has started and the balloons are already out for the celebration. Good, but in my mind, this isn’t a strategic priority right now given the alarming and distressing economic situation in the country.  It makes me wonder what’s behind this sudden act of kindness.

If you read the just released World Bank Assessment (WBA) report on Liberia, it paints a complex economic situation (a country on the brink of failure) with more than expected declining and widening fiscal deficit compounded by a significant shortage in revenue intake, grotesque underperformance, blockbusting non-discretionary expenditures, and runaway inflation set off by decreasing foreign exchange supply and other negative externalities. Does it sound like a pretty nice picture to you for any new social program at this size and magnitude?

Grand Gedeh Community College Logo
Grand Gedeh Community College Logo

Let me say that in Public Policy there’s a time when collective actions by government are warranted. As a policy wonk, I understand that. But, providing free education to student when there’s depleting foreign aid and limited economic activities driven by new businesses and decreased revenue, it makes no sense whatsoever for government to make an already bad situation worse.  We understand the act of kindness and hardships, but a more prudent approach was not this decision. I’m sorry. Look, I admit we cannot be critical about every decision this government makes, but there’s a time when you call a spade a spade. This isn’t a spade. It is a Jack. It makes the administration look like a bunch of jokers. At this point, I can sense vulgarity from some ‘Cdcians’ reading this, but that’s fine.

According to “Front Page Africa” (a Liberian daily newspaper), the Vice President for UL Relations said that based on 20,000 students projection taking 15 credits you will have a budget of $1.2Million to cover the costs. Now that the government has agreed to cover this costs for the UL we also need to consider the costs of the other Public Universities and Colleges and explain where the government will get the funds to cover all of these costs.

I think for now, the more farsighted and logical thing was to engage the Administration of the University of Liberia (UL) to maintain the current $4.00 US dollars per credit per course or better yet, reduce the per credit amount by $0.25 cents to say $3.75 US dollars until the entire situation was assessed. The President should have sanctioned a committee of the best minds to propose the best way forward. Part of this committee’s work would have been a financial analysis of the costs and benefits and using data (facts) to drive decision-making. This committee would have included institutional and education policy-makers who would brainstorm ways in which government can pay for these added expenditures and to limit questions about “…how are they going to pay for it?”

Any important tenet of policy making, design decisions, suggestions, and choices shouldn’t be driven by gut feelings alone. Rather, adequate analysis and data-driven decision-making to ensure effectives and robustness of the outcome. Now, to many, it doesn’t pass the smell test. It appears as though government is trying to recover from the pejorative of issues it is faced with.

Students of Harbel Community College Liberia
Students of Harbel Community College Liberia

Done right, I think free education should start from the pre-primary and primary levels, in order to strengthen the foundation first and build for the future. Focus should be on creating the environment for learning; by renovating and modernizing established schools, erecting new ones where appropriate, paying teachers on time, providing nutritional services since hunger impacts learning, etc. Moreover, making teaching an attractive career choice and recruiting the best and brightest minds in the field should take precedence.

Graduation at the University of Liberia
Graduation At University of Liberia – File Photo

Look, I’m not saying the poor UL students don’t deserve it. They do. But it is not the right time. If I had the chance to advise the President, I would tell him to focus on developing the economy and bring everything to bear on it. Make this a strategic national priority for now. When people are able to find fairly decent paying jobs, they will care for themselves and their families. They’ll pay their own school fees. The rationale here is that Liberians need to start working. Creating jobs will create additional tax dollars to spend on social programs like free education for all. In contrast, even in mature economies like the U.S. where resources are in abundance, public colleges and universities aren’t free.

Let’s assume that this government finds free education a strategic priority choice; it then would have been appropriate to learn a thing or two from our nex- door neighbor – Sierra Leone.

Under the leadership of President Julius Maada Bio, the country pursued a similar flagship initiative to increase access to education benefiting 1.5 million Sierra Leone students – from pre-primary to secondary levels. But, it wasn’t a government only funded inventiveness; it started as a Public Private Partnerships (PPP) that included UK Aid, World Bank, Irish Aid, World Food Programme (WFP)and UNICEF.  Additionally, the Maada Bio government increased its education budget from 12 to 21 percent so that the education program would be broad-based to covers tuition, admission fees, teaching and learning materials, text books, examination and assessment fees – the whole yard. This sounds like a more ‘pro poor’ education policy objective to me, than just free tuition. Do you agree?

Lofa Community College
Lofa Community College

Look, I give credit to President Weah for this gesture, since it will help ease the burden on students and parents who are making a lot of sacrifices under extremely difficult economic conditions. However, by just reducing school fees without adequately studying the situation is the wrong approach of stretching an already cash strapped government that has no wiggle room because of large budget deficits. I would have felt better if the President had proposed to reduction in salaries of top government officials to pay for this initiative first. Well, the damage is done.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

So, I caution this administration to do itself a favor and learn from this lapse in judgment. This isn’t how government works. Moving Liberia forward requires new mindset and new ways of looking at the world by enabling policy makers to do their homework first. The ‘status quo’ is not sustainable. An initiative requires taking a systematic approach by examining both formal and informal impediments such as political, legal, bureaucratic, organizational, economic, financial, and social factors that affect it. Decisions that impact a lot of people cannot be hastily done. These things take time and effort to get it right. Be smart people. The world is watching!

The Author:

Dr. A. Joel King
Dr. A. Joel King

Dr. A Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from University of Oxford and Executive Coaching from University of Cambridge, UK. He is a Wharton Online Scholar and an academic tutor at Cousera and volunteers at the American Academy of Management (AoM) and Strategic Management Society (SMS)

Liberia: Central Bank Memo Confirm Receipt of Bank Notes

Internal audit documentation have surfaced from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) verifying receipt of a consignment of 56 boxes of Liberian bank notes in various denominations of L$5, L$10, $50, L$100 and L$500.

Headquarters of Central Bank of Liberia

The audit documentation, copies of which are in the possession of West Africa Journal Magazine, are contained in a memo dated April 4, 2018 to then Bank Governor Milton Weeks from the Director of the Internal Audit Department one Adolphus Forkpa. Mr. Weeks separated from the Bank in July, 2018.

The memo confirmed receipt on April 3, 2018 of a consignment of $374,750,000 (Three Hundred Seventy Four Million Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand) Liberian dollars from Crane Currency in Sweden through the Freeport of Monrovia on Bushrod Island.

Attached to the memo is a breakdown of the denominations totaling $374,750,000.

Also in possession of the African Journal is documentation of Currency Shipment received by the CBL on Oct 17, 2017, November 17, 2017, December 17, 2017,January 18, 2018, February 18, 2018 and April 18, 2018. Total boxes of currency consignment in various denominations received during this period was 3,276 for a total amount of $10,359,750,000 (Ten Million Three Hundred and Fifty Nine Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty Liberian Dollars).

By this time the George M. Weah Administration had been in office for nearly three months.

In a memo cover letter signed by one “Peter” and addressed to one “Miatta”, a reference to a Ms. Miatta Oberly-Kuteh, a bank executive, he tried to explain the confusion of the packing list of the consignment of money and admitted to over production of currency. “…what happened is that the factory needed to order extra boxes to accommodate the over production.Tailor made boxes would take some time to arrive so the factory made a number of its own boxes, which are not the same dimensions as those used for the bulk production…” the letter said.

It is unclear what “Peter” meant by over production or how much in over production of minted currency was made and who authorized it.

Liberian Currency

 

On March 29, another memorandum address to the Deputy Bank Governor for Operations Charles E. Sirleaf from the Deputy Director of Banking and PS Ms Miatta Oberly-Kuteh advised of the transfer of 8 pallets of printed materials from the National Port Authority (NPA) to the Central Bank reserve vault at the National Housing and Savings Bank in the commercial district of Waterside. The transfer was expected on March 30, 2018 and the memo also requested approval of a budget to facilitate the transfer.

On Thursday, former Central Bank Governor Milton Weeks, in a press interview, disclosed that the total local currency minted was $15 Billion (Fifteen Billion) Liberian dollars which arrived in the country between October 2017 and April, 2018 in various denominations.

Former Central Bank Governor Milton Weeks

There is controversy over how much of the cash entered the CBL after the Bank took receipt of it as documentation is disclosing.

Former Governor Weeks has strong denied any involvement or knowledge of the “missing containers of money” and says he is committed to cooperating with the authorities to get to the bottom of the matter. He has not been charged with any crime.

The Government of Liberia is requesting local and international investigation assistance into the matter. President George Weah has yet to make any comment on the matter.

Meantime, there are reports of a planned demonstration on Monday, September 24 in the Liberian capital.

According to social media posts, its appears some civil society groups and activists are planning to protest and demand the return of the “missing bank notes”.

In anticipation of the demonstration and as a precaution, the US Embassy in Monrovia is alerting US government personnel to avoid the areas of the demonstration, monitor local media for updates and keep a low profile.

This is standard practice by US diplomatic missions to safeguard their citizens in volatile areas around the world.

By Our Staff Reporters