Education Minister Werner’s Work Is Just Beginning

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The President said two years ago that Liberia’s education system was “in a mess.” At that point, Madam Ettie Tarpeh, who succeeded Education Minister Othello Gongar, was in charge of the system.

Dr. George K. Werner succeeded her as the new Education Minister. A few months ago shortly following his appointment, he toured the counties observing the operation of the school system in the interior.

Last week he took his first stern action by suspending “for time indefinite,” Nimba’s Chief Education Officer, Wleh T. Sailah. Our Education Correspondent C.Y. Kwanue quoted two Nimba teachers, Larlesseh Whapoe and Mohammedd Saryon, who accused Wleh Sailah of placing on the on the county education payroll as teachers “two of his children and his girlfriend.” It was further revealed that the CEO’s two children are not teachers, neither do they even reside in the county.

According to Correspondent Kwanue, the biometric system was employed by the Civil Service Agency (CSV) to check the teachers’ names and also their “unique physical and other traits, for the purpose of identification and security.”

According to Mr. Kwanue, a cross-section of teachers in the county who had already gone through the biometric exercise accused the former CEO of introducing “fraudulent acts” during the biometric process, which included “deleting the names of legitimate teachers.”

Well, since the CEO was allegedly determined to place his own children and girlfriend on the payroll, he had to exclude real teachers to make way for his fraudulent act.

Where is the integrity? Where is the patriotism in the nation’s educational system? One of the first things that Madam Tarpeh did when she was appointed Education Minister was to tackle the major and crippling issue of “ghost teachers” on the Education payroll. And guess what: many of the very teachers resisted the exercise, some holding demonstrations outside the Education and Finance Ministries. But Ettie persisted in employing the biometric system, provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to curtail, if not eliminate fraud in the nation’s payment system. Informed sources told the Daily Observer at the time that certain Ministries, names withheld, tried to resist the biometric exercise, which was aimed at eliminating the colossal list of “ghost teachers” on the Education payroll. But Minister Tarpeh and then CSA Director General William Allen persisted and the exercise was carried out.

Alas, those who were intent on beating the system by cheating became determined to find ways around it. So did CEO Wleh Sailah, who allegedly simply removed from the list qualified teachers, in order to ensure that his unqualified and unemployed children got on the payroll.

We find it most unfortunate that it is Nimba again in which this alleged fraud has been uncovered. Remember that in the midst of the terrible Ebola crisis that afflicted the country two years ago, some Nimba healthcare workers were found commandeering a truck load of foreign-donated supplies toward the
Guinea border. The truck was apprehended, searched and returned to Ganta, but nothing came of the case because the court could find no one willing to testify or say anything! What a massive, criminal conspiracy of silence!

This newspaper has always lamented, “What kind of people are we?” Here was Liberia, faced with the worst health crisis in our history, and here, too, are the same Liberians determined to cheat, steal from and undermine government’s efforts, backed by the largesse of the international community, to deal a decisive blow to the epidemic.

Remember, too, the riotous Nimba youth who violently attacked ArcelorMittal and destroyed millions of dollars of its property only because of a disagreement they had with the company.

Remember, too, the Ganta motorcyclists and youth who angrily destroyed the property and home of one of Liberia’s few entrepreneurs.

All of these have led this newspaper to ask frequently: Do Liberians really want development?

Of course, when the alleged culprits in the recent education scandal are turned over to the justice system—if they ever will be—they will deny everything. Will whistle blowers Larlesseh Bordeh and Mohammed Saryon come forward to affirm their testimonies in court? We hope and pray that they will not take cover like Ganta’s Ebola supplies thieves.

And yet Liberians frequently severely criticize the government, even abusing the President, for the lack of development. Do we really want development?

We pray that Minister Werner has the guts to deal forthrightly and effectively with the monumental task on his hands, clean up our educational “mess” and reestablish a credible school system in Liberia.

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