President George Weah has reinstated the suspended principal of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), Harris Fomba Tarnue. The action took place at the Executive Mansion on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at an afternoon meeting convened by the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill.
Present at the meeting was the Minister of Education, Ansu Sonii, and the BWI Board of Governors, led by its chairman, John Youboty, a BWI alumnus and road construction entrepreneur.
Mr. Tarnue’s removal followed a “vote of no confidence” against him, which the Board of Governors adopted on Thursday, May 16, 2019 during a meeting on the BWI campus.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with the consent of the BWI Board of Governors, appointed Mr. Tarnue, BWI principal on January 6, 2016. Following its “vote of no confidence,” and suspension of principal Tarnue, the Board, with the concurrence of Minister Sonii, appointed Mr. James Walter who, like Tarnue, is a BWI alumnus, as acting principal.
Mr. Walker has been a staff member at BWI for 19 years. The “vote of no confidence” followed eight months of investigation into alleged malpractices by principal Tarnue in his administration of the school. These malpractices included what the Board called “nepotism,” whereby Mr. Tarnue placed on the BWI payroll his wife and several other family members, and alleged arbitrary mishandling of the BWI staff, including demotions, dismissals, etc.
In his letter of suspension to Principal Tarnue, Minister Sonii said that of all of the allegations the Board had against Principal Tarnue, none was more serious than the decision by Mr. Tarnue to send 11th graders forward to take the 2019 National Examinations, something contrary to the rules and regulations of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
Both Education Minister Tarnue and the BWI Board of Governors had advised Principal Tarnue against such action, but he went on anyhow and sent the 11th graders to sit the WAEC Examinations. The 11th graders had to be ordered to leave the examination hall on the day of the exams.
But President Weah, on hearing that Principal Tarnue had been suspended, said both the Minister of Education and the Board of Governors had acted without the President’s approval or permission.
He, therefore, ordered his Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill, to order the Board to reinstate Mr. Tarnue as BWI principal, hence Tuesday’s meeting. Before the Board of Governors, with Minister McGill present yesterday, Education Minister Sonii said the purpose of the meeting was “to reinstate Mr. Tarnue as principal of BWI.
Among members of the Board present, there were two Board members solidly on Mr. Tarnue ‘s side, who had been lobbying relentlessly to have him reinstated. They were the Minister of Sports, Zoegar Wilson, and Jackson Paye, a 1975 BWI graduate.
Reliable sources said Minister Wilson had met President Weah at a Sunday morning football match in Monrovia, and informed him of the Board’s decision to suspend Mr. Tarnue. “Did you know of it?” Minister Wilson asked the President. The President replied, “No” and immediately intimated that the Board would have to reinstate Mr. Tarnue, since neither the Board nor the Minister had secured the permission of the President before acting.
The Charter of the BWI Board, adopted by the Legislature, stipulates that the Board appoints the BWI principal with the concurrence of the President of Liberia. Both Education Minister Sonii and Board Chair Youboty had assured the Board that they had informed President Weah of the Board’s decision prior to taking the action. But it turned out that, though both men showed the Board communication they had addressed to President Weah, the President apparently never received the communication. This has without question taught both Minister Sonii and Board of Governors Chairman Youboty a hard lesson in politics, and the inner-workings in the Executive Mansion.
It should, however, be clear to most people that not every communication sent to the Mansion for the President’s eyes is actually seen by him. There are innumerable political and other intricacies at play in that building, at all times. Anyone who wants the President — not just President Weah, but any President, to see a communication must make sure to secure a one-on-one audience with the Chief of Staff, rather than assume that he will receive the communication sent, no matter how beautifully or powerfully written, or how urgent and necessary the matter at hand.