With less four days remaining for the Minister of Education (MOE) to resign in keeping with demands from teachers and civil society organizations, Minister George K. Werner says he will not resign based on a demand from ‘any surrogate group of individuals.’
“Journalists have been calling me to react to statements from all the unions that are calling for my resignation including the Teachers, Health Workers, Blackmailers, Civil Society, Facebook unions,” Mr. Werner posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday, September 14, in response to a call for his resignation.
“Tell those in the know of calling for my resignation as Minister of the Education that it is not time for me to quit the government yet,” he said.
Werner promised to complete the payroll verification exercise, teacher testing exercise, the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) initiative, and school leadership reform.
Additionally, Minister Werner said, “Tubman High will be a school of excellence. By that time, our government’s time will come an end. Then I will go! Other than this, it is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that will take me from the MOE. She’s not going do so in 48 hours.”
He recalled a time in the country’s history when the available became the qualified, noting, “It is not this time of my administration.”
On Tuesday, September 13, six civil society organizations said they have over the years observed the consistent and persistent constitutional violations in the education sector by the Werner’s administration; and therefore, they demanded his resignation in seven days, or else they would embark on a nationwide campaign of undecided actions.
The organizations are the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL), Monrovia Consolidated School System Teachers’ Association (MCSSTA), and the Concerned University Students of the MOE Local Scholarship Program (CUSMOELSP), in collaboration with National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWAL), the National Private Sector Health Workers Union of Liberia (NPSHWUL), as well as the Consolidated Human Rights Advocacy Movement (CHRAM).
According to the organizations, their demand is based on Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution, wherein the unconditional and speedy resignation of Minister Werner as of Tuesday is necessary to strengthen, upgrade and promote the education sector and usher in educators that will clear the “mess” in education.
Article 1 of the Constitution says: “All power is inherent in the people through whom all free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require…”
It is based on this Article that a consortium of six civil society organizations (COSs), which issued the statement in Monrovia, promised to subsequently embark on a series of actions that will compel Minister Werner to resign his post to pave way for those who will improve the sector.
The demand for Minister Werner’s resignation comes barely a week after schools across the country resumed academic activities for the 2016/2017 school year.
In their 16-count resolution, the groups claimed that since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed Minister Werner in 2015, his ‘brain trust leadership’ has constantly and persistently violated the constitutional rights of teachers, education workers and students at grade schools, and vocational institutions.
“It is due to these violations and Werner’s unilateral decisions, wherein he singlehandedly negotiated and brought into the country the Private Schools Liberia (PSL), among which is the Bridge International Academies (BIA) that has the record of dismal performances from where it previously operated schools such as in Kenya, Uganda and the United States of America,” said the leadership of CSOs.
Since the MOU between the Public Private Partnership (PPP) and the government of Liberia took effect last year, Mr. Werner has always maintained that after more than a decade of civil war, post-conflict stress, and the Ebola health crisis in 2014-2015, Liberia’s children have a right to quality education, which is the responsibility of the government. “Without a radical change in the existing strategy of the government, it is unlikely that a child’s right to quality education will be actualized,” Mr. Werner has often said in reference to the MOU.
He said the agreement is the first part of a pilot project to serve up to 120 Liberian public schools, and that it is part of a wider PPPP – the PSL. Schools will be managed with autonomy within existing laws to deliver on improved learning gains to the extent that the MOE and Bridge agreement covers 50 schools.
But in the minds of the six civil society organizations, Minister Werner unilaterally decided and brought BIA, which they said is a for-profit school management company, to implement the PPP, before calling the first ever stakeholders meeting in January.
For the leadership of the CSOs, this act violated Article 6 of the Liberian Constitution and the Revised Education Laws of August 8, 2011, which guarantees equal access to educational opportunities for all.
“Currently, these selected public schools, under the leadership of Minister Werner’s BIA Program privatizing public schools for profit making, have denied many students and teachers their fundamental and constitutional rights to education and employment,” the CSOs said.
According to the group, prior to outsourcing the country’s education, Werner did not consult stakeholders, including the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) and the House’s Standing Committee on Education.
These bodies, they said, are supposed to approve major concession agreements before they take effect.
For these reasons, the CSOs want Werner to resign, adding, “Anything short of Mr. Werner peacefully leaving the education sector to go and establish his first aid private clinic, which he is qualified to do, we will take the appropriate action available to us that will compel the authority to listen to us.”
The group promised that their pending action will go nationwide to include all county leaderships and teachers.
Since the group’s statement on Tuesday, various education stakeholders who spoke to the Daily Observer expressed fear for the worst should the teachers take any action that would be contrary to moving the sector forward.
As of yesterday, Minister Werner remained persistent; promising to remain and not negotiate with any group he described as ‘surrogates’ calling for his resignation.