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: Small Student Protest Held Amidst Official Independence Anniversary Program

Liberian Student Activist Martin Kollie

A “peaceful protest”called by student groups against the Liberian President George Weah over his failure to declare his assets went ahead Thursday, according to the organizers.

A smaller group of of 300 students and supporters attempted to gather in the city center close to where the government official program was being held but were driven off by police who fired tear-gas at their assembly. A smaller number of students and sympathizers, according to a source, then relocated to the Benson Street area, north of downtown Monrovia and not too far from the area where foreign embassies are located to continue their peaceful protest.

Protesting Students

Protest leader Martin Kollie says he is still in hiding and only came out on Thursday to lead the peaceful protest. Police in Liberia have not confirmed any arrests.

According to him, police made arrests of some protesters. He disclosed that one Emmanuel Tamba, a student activist has been missing since Wednesday.

In a late Wednesday night Facebook video post, student protest leaders at the state runned University of Liberia vowed that the protest would proceed as planned for Thursday, which is also the Independence anniversary of the small West African country.

The student protest leaders disclosed they were in hiding an undisclosed location because an “order” had been issued by the Government for their arrest and detention, adding that they have made their position known in discussions with the UN and other international community members.

They catalogued a long list of grievances including a constitutional violation by President Weah over his refusal to declare his assets, the expense of about $500,000 USD for Independence day celebrations when citizens are dealing with tough economic times and recent police action against some students. Three student leaders were arrested over the weekend after chaos erupted at a program held at the Monrovia City Hall but Police on Tuesday released the students without charge.

Some Student Protesters Marching on Thursday in Monrovia

Two student leaders of the Student Unification political Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia,

Martin Kollie and Butu Levi who appeared Wednesday night on a Facebook video and strongly criticized the Liberian government for pushing ahead with independence day celebrations when parts of the capital Monrovia and nearby areas are still flooded from heavy rains in the last week.

The students cited the continuing economic hardship Liberians were experiencing under the Weah Administration since its incumbency in January. They say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The student leaders say they have a constitutional right to peacefully assemble and petition their government and did not need a permit.

The country’s Justice Ministry warned on Wednesday that any persons or group of persons desiring to engage in protest, must, in keeping with law, obtain a permit.

Ruling CDC Party Chairman Mulbah Morlu and some partisans Marching In Monrovia on Thursday

On Thursday, however, some partisans including Chairman Mulbah Morlu of the the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), dressed in party T-shirts with a photo of President George Weah were seen marching in the streets in the capital Monrovia. There was no police presence to confront them. Some residents questioned if, in keeping with the warning of the Justice Department, the CDC partisans had obtained government permit.

Meantime, Thursday was a national holiday in Liberia in observance of the country’s 171st independence anniversary. National Orator Samuel Tweah

An official program was attended by government officials and some members of the opposition. Independence Day Anniversary oration was the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah.

According to the Presidential Palace quoting President George Weah, in a special statement at the official Independence Day Program, the Liberian President prayed God’s blessings, direction and guidance as Liberians endeavor to chart a new course for the country.

Program Honor Guard on Thursday in Monrovia

President Weah said developing the nation would prove fruitless and futile in the absence of peace and unity amongst Liberians.

“In order to move Liberia ahead and achieve sustainable development, we must be united and at peace with ourselves; we need a strong union and the peace that abide in our hearts for the prosperity of our beloved country. I, therefore, call upon all you, irrespective of our political persuasions, to join me and let’s build a better Liberia.  Let us begin now to move our country; let us come together to recover the lost years, ” the Liberian Leader told his people.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Justice Ministry Warns Against UnAuthorized Protest By Students on July 26

As tension mounts in the Liberian capital Monrovia over the planned peaceful protests spearheaded by some student activists at the state runned University of Liberia for Thursday, July 26th, the country’s Justice Ministry says it is encouraging “…all persons or groups of people desiring to stage a peaceful protest to strictly abide by the law relating to public marches and demonstrations.”

Liberia Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean

Justice Minister and Attorney General Counselor Frank Musa Dean in a press statement issued on Wednesday afternoon in the capital Monrovia warned the “…general public that, consistent with the Act Requiring the Obtaining Permits for Public Marches and demonstrations approved February 10, 1975, and section 22 of rhe Liberia National Police Act of 2015, any person or group of persons wishing to stage a march or demonstration must first obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) before staging such a march..”

File Photo of Protesting University Students in Paynesville

The Liberian government’s statement is in response to a ultimatum given by student groups to President George M. Weah to declare his assets or face mass peaceful protests against celebrations of the country’s 171st Independence Day Anniversary on Thursday. There have been calls by some Liberians in and out of the country for President Weah to calm tension in the country by issuing a statement. So far, State House in Monrovia has made no indication that the Liberian President will.

An official independence day program on Thursday will hear an address by the national orator, the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah. Student leaders have called for mass peaceful protest to register their concerns over the failure of President George M. Weah to declare his assets in keeping with law and the growing economic hardship Liberians are facing.

Public demonstrations in Liberia have a history of violence and heavy-handed response from state security.

A bloody “rice”: riot in April, 1979 led to the subsequent violent military takeover in the capital Monrovia. The opposition Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) mobilized citizens to peacefully protest an increase in the price of rice; the staple food of Liberia. Dozens of citizens were killed and wounded by government security in an attempt to put down the riot and looting which followed. The event led to disenchantment among some non-commissioned officers in the military. Led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe in the early morning hours of April 12, 1980, soldiers attacked the Presidential Mansion and killed President William R. Tolbert..

At the onset of the country’s civil war and in advance of rebels led by now jailed former rebel leader turned former President Charles Taylor, massive peaceful demonstrations by citizens called on President Doe to step down to from power; a call he refused to consider. The Doe government which was under siege with massive loss of support from citizens, targeted would-be opponents with arrests, disappearances and death squads.

The West African country devolved into years of political and economic stability for nearly over two decades including back to back civil wars between 1990 – 2003.

Liberian President George M. Weah

Liberians are expressing concern over deteriorating economic conditions; especially since the incumbency of President George Weah who was inaugurated in January, 2018. The Weah government has asked Liberians to be patient as it develops an economic plan to rescue the struggling country. Liberia has enjoyed relative peace since 2005 with the help of the international community and UN peacekeepers who departed the country in March, 2018.

Student groups have accused President Weah of refusing to comply with the law which requires public officials to declare their assets. They say officials of government have no incentive to also declare their assets since the President has failed to lead by example.

Coat of Arms of Liberia.

With just a few hours to the Independence day anniversary, the Liberian Justice Ministry said it “wishes to stress the need for all Liberians to abide by the laws in the exercise of their right to peaceful assembly so that there is no disruption of normal traffic, business activities and free movement of people…”

Liberia Justice Department Press Statement

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberian Students Urge President Weah To Declare Assets In Keeping With Law; Threaten Protests

Student March Led By SUP in Monrovia

Student groups in the small West African nation of Liberia say they condemn the latest crackdown on students by the Mayor of the City of Monrovia.

In a press statement issued late on Tuesday in the capital Monrovia and copied to the local and international news media outlets, the Student Unification Political Party (SUP) of the state operated University of Liberia said, “…it is with utter regret and outmost displeasure, we, over 2.3 million Liberia youths and students through the Student Unification Party (SUP), the Federation of Liberian Youths (FLY) and the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU) categorically and vehemently condemn the flogging and subsequent arrests of student and youth leaders on the order of Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee…”

SUP Activists Addressing the Press

The student groups, in their statement , said they were informing Liberians and the international community that the George M. Weah Government “…has become severely brutal against peaceful students, youth leaders and armless civilians..”

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According to the press statement, under the signature of student activist Martin K.N. Kollie who recently led a small pop -up protest against the convoy of President Weah in the Paynesville suburb of the capital Monrovia are calling for President Weah to declare his assets in keeping with law on or before July 25 or they will stage a mass protest on July 26th.

The government of Liberia printed into handbill on June 20, 2014, “An Act of Legislature Prescribing a National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees of the Government of The Republic of Liberia” in line with the 1986 constitutional requirement to curb certain vices which are inimical to the economic and social well-being of our common patrimony.

” Part 10.2 of the Code of Conduct also made provision for the repository of all declarations as quoted below:

“The declaration of personal interest, income, assets, liabilities and the performance bond as may be required shall be lodged with:

In the Legislative Branch, with the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House of Representative;

In the Executive Branch, with the General Auditing Commission; and

In the Judicial Branch with the Clerk of Supreme Court; and in the event such receipt shall be notified to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC)…”

SUP Sec General and Activist Martin Kollie

Student groups are increasingly becoming disenchanted with with new national government which was inaugurated in January, 2018.

Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee

In challenging the authority of the Monrovia City Mayor, SUP student activists declared that academic campuses of the state operated University on Capitol Hill near the seat of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branches of the Liberian government and its suburban Fendall facility are “No Go Zone” for the Mayor and the Liberia National Police (LNP). They have vowed to resist police presence on their campus.

Flag of Liberia

The statement from students called for a national boycott of National Independence festivities scheduled for July 26, adding, ” …there is nothing to celebrate when extreme poverty, economic hardship, and police brutality are on the increase…” Liberia, the oldest independent African country, is celebrating 171 years of independence on July 26. Various official programs have begun in and around the capital Monrovia.

It is unclear if the call for a national boycott of Independence anniversary activities and a mass protest will be headed.

Police Chief Patrick Sudue

The latest students agitation spilled into the open at formal program for a “dialogue” between youths and students and President Weah in Monrovia on Monday. Some students objected to the recognition of another student faction at the program citing illegitimate leadership of the other student group. Pandemonium ensued leading to police beating and arrests of some student leaders including Flomo Mau, head of SUP, Augustine Tamba of FLY and Amos Williams, Abigail Freeman and Seawon Liewaye by police. The student groups are calling for the unconditional release of their leaders and have accused the police of the use of disproportionate use of force against them.

Reports just received say the students arrested have now been released by police without charge. The Liberian Justice Ministry and police have yet to officially comment on the matter.

SUP Logo

Meantime, some supporters of the current government are accusing the students of attempting the foment a civil crisis to embarrass the government.

Students at the state University and others have a history of political advocacy for rights and freedom in Liberia since the 1970s.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Following Violent Student Protests, University Extends Registration Process

The Administration of the University of Liberia (UL) on Monday announced in a meeting the extension of the registration process which has caused academic impediment
on its Fendell and Capitol Hill campuses in recent weeks.

Meeting of University Administrators and Government Officials
Meeting of University Administrators and Government Officials

Announcing this with students on the Fendell Campus, the president of the state institution Dr. Ophelia I. Weeks said in consultation with President George M. Weah and it was agreed upon that, that the registration process should resume for a period of one month.
The meeting was prematurely aborted due to reports from the university main campus on the Capitol Hill that students were seen protesting in continuation of their advocacy for the unconditional reopening of the registration process and demanding the resignation of the university president.

Students have been staging violent protests over the decision by the administration of the University to cut off registration of nearly 8,000 students for the academic year. The students are also calling for the resignation of the President of the University over the decision.

Speaking to the leadership of the student community and the student body, Dr.
Weeks disclosed that the government under the leadership of the former Football
icon President Weah has assured that they will not tolerate behavior that will taint the image of his administration though he promised to run a “pro-poor government.”

In a rather polite tone, the UL president cautioned that students of the university should be aware of the registration process and schedules to avoid behaving disorderly because according to her this could damage the image of Liberia to other partners who have interest in developing the educational sector of the country.

Dr. Weeks clarified that the Administration of the University has not denied any student from completing their registration process; adding that students at the state-run university are in the constant habit of causing unnecessary delays during
registration.

“Students need to behave orderly for us to have a better educational system because we are trying to provide an environment that makes us better prepared for the challenges out there,” she indicated.

Speaking on the impact of the civil conflict in Liberia, Dr. Weeks said since the end of the 15 years of war, Liberians have been trying to regroup and rebuild the university but the lack of funding has impeded the rebuilding process of the university.

She stated that the country is at the stage where students need to abide by schedules, the rule of law and principles because in Liberia when things happen over and over people think it is normal but “we need to remind ourselves that those things are not normal,” stating that these are some of things that are keeping our country backward.

In an interview after the pronouncement, University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU) Interim president Mawolo Flomo expressed disappointment in the decision of the administration of the university without stating any condition as per their demand for the unconditional reopening of the registration process.  The ULSU president condemned the act of the Liberia National Police (LNP) by manhandling their colleagues while they were peacefully protesting at the main campus of the University of Liberia on Capitol Hill.

Protesting University Students In Liberia
Protesting University Students In Liberia

He said the protest was in continuation of their recent call for the immediate
resignation of the president of the University of Liberia because according to him
she is not in the best interest of the student populace and as such she must
resign.

Interim President Flomo said though he lauded the reopening of the process
but he is still confused as to whether the over eight-thousand students will be absorbed for the 2017-2018 academic year.

According to him some of those students have already completed 90% of their
class activities including their mid-term exams and other class activities like
assignments, field trip etc.

Meanwhile, the reopening of the registration process will take effect on Wednesday with more details on the schedules of the registration to be announced later.

National Coat of Arms of Liberia
National Coat of Arms of Liberia

In a related development, the Government of Liberia has assured the University
of Liberia of its readiness to solve the institution’s registration problem which led
to student protest last Friday on two campuses of the university and parts adjacent.

The assurance to digitize and automate the University’s entire registration system and provide resources to upgrade the University’s ICT infrastructure to enable students and faculty to perform regular academic functions digitally was made at an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Liberia held Saturday afternoon, February 3, 2018, on the Capitol Hill campus.

Attending the Board meeting as special guests were very high profile Government
officials, including the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Hon. Nathaniel F.
McGill; the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Hon. Samuel D. Tweah
Jr; the Legal Advisor to the President, Counselor Archie Bernard and Minister of
Education-designate, Prof. D. Ansu Sonii.

By Lincoln Barcon in Monrovia