Paying Off All Private School Loans: Mills Jones Has Done It Again

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He is truly an A student with a difference.  For there are many like him who sailed through school with top academic   honors but are missing in action in life.  Not Joseph Mills Jones, who topped his classes from the time he entered school and sailed through Cuttington in three years;                    worked briefly at Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs; and got a fellowship to study  Economics and Econometrics (the Mathematics of Economics).  He returned   home the very next day after receiving his Doctorate—didn’t spend a day more in America doing other people’s business.  He wanted to serve his country, so returned to Planning.  Later he opted for broader international experience and got employed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where he rose to the position of Senior Advisor to the Managing Director.  Dr. Jones then moved on to another senior post at the World Bank.  It was from there that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf tapped him to head the Central Bank of Liberia.

After turning the Bank’s reserves from a meager US$5 million in 2006 to over US$300 million a few years later, Dr. Jones started reaching out to small business people, including marketers, savings and loans associations, credit unions and various cooperatives, empowering the small people throughout the country to improve their businesses and develop a better stake in the money economy.

Now he has done it again.  In a speech last Tuesday, he made two major announcements: first, that the Bank’s Board of Governors, in response to the Ebola crisis that has turned the Liberian economy upside down, had decided to work with Rural Community Finance Institutions to take steps “to revitalize the rural economy.”   

To do this, he announced four key measures: first, a six-month grace period to beneficiaries under the CBL microfinance program; second, recapitalization of some beneficiary institutions to restart and enhance economic activities of group members; third, the extension of new loans “to impact rural businesses;” and four, to withdraw the remaining funds from a bank he did not name and channel those funds through microfinance institutions—why?  This bank, like several others, was too slow in reaching out to the small business people in need, even though the money was CBL’s, not the bank’s.

Governor Jones did two big things more in his speech: he declared that the Central Bank would offer a major “financial sector stimulus” in which the Bank would “reduce interest rates on existing stimuli with banks for Liberian businesses.”  Second, this visionary banker and his Board of Governors came up with another highly significant move that no one, not even the beneficiaries, were thinking about: the Bank would pay off “the outstanding loan obligations of all private schools, from kindergarten through high school.”  The Governor was not treading in the dark.  He said, “The commercial banks have already provided the CBL with the list of schools and the amounts involved.”

The aim here, said Governor Jones, was to help out not only the schools, all of which have been closed due to the Ebola crisis and have consequently lost money, but also banks, which would have been under great strain servicing these bad loans.  The other, probably most important group at which this stimulus package is aimed is the parents.  The pressure of the schools on parents because the schools owed the banks so much will now be considerably reduced, giving   parents ample time to raise school fees.  Because of the CBL’s intervention, the schools themselves would be under far less pressure to increase fees at least for the coming semester.

The CBL deserves high commendation and thanks for these timely moves, and most especially for what it has done to help the schools, the parents and the students. 

We hope that the private primary and secondary institutions in the country, in response to the CBL’s largesse, will refrain from increasing tuition and do everything they can to ease the pressure on the parents and students. 

The Ebola crisis has placed a great strain on every citizen and resident and we are all under tremendous pressure.  What a wonderful thing for CBL to reach out to where it matters most—the struggling private schools and the parents and students they impact.

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