By Kadiker Rex Dahn, MA, M.Ed, PhD
It is always difficult to publicly criticize an entity in which one once worked for. I made such claim because it may erroneously be construed that such criticism is intended to undermine the current occupants of that entity.
Once upon a time, I worked as a deputy minister of education, and I remain fully aware of most activities at that ministry. Be as it may, the future of Liberian children is more important than protecting individuals, who through corrupt practices relentlessly undermine education in the Republic.
This article will attempt to argue that the Ministry of Education (MoE) of the Republic of Liberia is corrupt, and equally so, a chief architect in the transmission of cultural dishonesty.
Consequently, the ministry does not need a tune-up but a complete overhaul.
Cultural dishonesty is unethical manners and practices embedded as a cultural disposition in which vices are transmitted to the next generation. The current depressing news about public education emanating from Nimba County, and perhaps other counties amounts to ‘cultural dishonesty.’
Money being collected from Liberian students through mobile money apps by the MoE for development purposes is taxation, and not fees as the ministry has made us to think and believe. We know for sure that the Education Reform Act of 2011, mandated free education for Basic Education.
That is from kindergarten to ninth grade, education will be free, totally free. However, if for some reasons students are to pay fees since in most instances, educational supplies to schools are always delayed or nonexistent, fees that students pay must be used by school administrators, but disturbingly, this seems not to be the case.
Just as indigenous parents used to pay hut taxes those days to tax collectors, so is the same that is happening at the MoE.
Here is the story as it is in Nimba County: Each elementary student is required to pay L$1,000 to the MoE through mobile money; junior high students each pays L$1,500 through the same metho to the MoE, and senior high students each pays L$3,000.
What parents are told is that 50 percent of the amount will be used for development purposes, while the balance 50 percent will be returned to the various schools.
Disturbingly, the 50 percent for the schools are yet to be returned.
On October 15, 2019, the Daily Observer carried the headline, “3 County Education Officers Suspended.” Those suspended were: Samuel K.S. Bondo of Montserrado County, Moses Dologbay of Nimba County, and James G. Gaye of Margibi County for what the ministry turned “lack of oversight.”
Daily Observer further stated, “The SMT’s engagement, which resulted in the above action was predicated upon the officers’ lack of appropriate communication of changes made to the prescribed fees the MoE charged, which was stipulated in the 2019/2020 Academic Calendar.
The act on the part of the CEOs was considered as disregard for the direct instructions and policies of MoE.
From the above statement, one can extrapolate that the MoE under the watch of Ansu Sonii is playing games with students, their parents and President George Weah.
First, the action of collecting money for development purposes is the first in the Republic by the MoE. The various schools’ share of the 50 percent has not been returned to them, but still remains in the coffers of the Ministry, which claimed that the suspended CEOs had oversight responsibilities over their schools in those counties mentioned.
Granted! One must ask, do not those suspended CEOs also have Regional Supervisors? If affirmative, what happened to them as well? Those supervisors also fall under the Department of Instruction. What has been the Minister’s decision as it relates to the Department of Instruction? Should only suspended CEOs be used as scapegoats?
Minister Sonii as the head of the Ministry, is equally culpable for the actions or inaction of those under his care.
What has been done to correct these irregularities? Is suspension enough? What about restitution?
In Nimba County, the issue of students undertaking projects to supply the needs of CEO and DEOs are uncontrollable.
Even PTA from the various twelve Educational Districts in Nimba County have become agents for the CEO and DEOs to the extent that students are also charged to pay taxes, not fees to buy motorbikes for PTAs Chairs in all the Education Districts.
Students are responsible to build County Education Guest Houses. In our opinion, this is exploitation at the highest level. In all these clandestine activities, President Weah who is not aware about these secret dealings is being blamed as a result of the Ministry’s corrupt practices.
The Pro-poor agenda is being made mockery of because, of the Ministry’s continuous illegitimate collection of money from students.
One must ask, Honorable Minister, what is the purpose of the Education Reform Act of 2011, when in these tough times, students have been forced to pay taxes against their will?
At the state-run University of Liberia, and all other public universities and colleges, the President declared “free education for mature students,” many of who are working and have the ability to work, but charging elementary, junior and senior high school students’ fees undermines the quest by the President for students to have access to higher education.
Emphatically, it also undermines the President as head of the Government. The Minister of Education as an old administrator at a state run University, and a member of the current Cabinet, we thought again, would honestly guide the President in matters concerning education.
One major issue of concern is the “free education” as pronounced by the President. As a minister of education, we are convinced that the President consulted him, and perhaps was misled in telling the President the truth.
When a trusted lieutenant does such things like the Minister of Education’ inability to continuously, rightly and timely advise the President on issues on education, equally creates uneasiness. What has been alleged in the public sphere Honorable Minister, is that you are contemplating on contesting the senatorial seat in Margibi County.
Whether true or false, in doing so, it is alleged that you have dismissed some DEOs, who may not like to be entangled with your interest, and the politics of the County. After dismissing those DEOs, it also alleged that you brought in selected individuals who will sing your political songs.
We wonder whether these appointees have interest in education or you brought them in simply, for political purposes? It is also alleged that money sent through mobile apps at the MoE is intended to underwrite your campaign’s costs.
Honorable Minister, the honest truth is that politicization of the educational sector is carcinogenic, and equally derails interest in those who have passion for the profession.
Since your incumbency, the MoE has been clouded with suspicion of manipulations and corruptions. Our fear is that the MoE that should be the custodian of civility and honesty is being besieged by claims of corruption and dishonesty, and thus serving as a bad omen for the future generation.
The omission of civic education from our national curriculum by you speaks of a downward spiral of morality and good citizenship.
Honorable Minister, the Ministry under your supervision is being tainted as a result of vices of all kinds. In view of the unjust taxes collected from students, we demand and recommend that those involved and suspended immediately without delay restitute the amount liable. To send a powerful message, those suspended CEOs must be dismissed.
We also recommend that those Regional Supervisors for those suspended CEOs must equally be dismissed. We strongly believe that those CEOs did not act alone, but with the approbation of their supervisors.
In fact, if we were you, we would have equally tendered in our resignation, because you are the chief policy maker and must take full responsibility of those corrupt activities uncovered in the system.
Failure to implement these recommendations may create more problems for the Ministry, and our Donor Partners will not have trust in a corrupt institution like the Ministry of Education, and that will be the beginning of the many troubles to come.
About the author: Kadiker Rex Dahn holds two Masters and a PhD in Historical, Philosophical and Social Foundations of Education from the University of Oklahoma. He formerly served as a Deputy Minister of Education and Deputy Director General, National Commission on Higher Education. He is a member of the North America Scholar Consortium, membership with the Highest Honor. Contact: [email protected]