-But the Bong County Lawmaker says he is not giving up
Bong County Senator, Dr. Henrique Tokpa has submitted a bill to his colleagues (Plenary of Senate) seeking the establishment of a new Ministry of Education to be named and styled “Ministry of Higher Education,” but his effort has come under serious criticism.
On OK FM’s Morning Rush (early morning radio program) yesterday, Dr. Tokpa said the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) welcomes his move and he is confident the Bill will be acted upon in the best interest of tertiary education in the country.
He boasted that he has been in the education sector for many years and as such he is knowledgeable enough about the many challenges the sector is faced with.
“I have been in the business of education for a long time and I know exactly what I have embarked on. I know the problems and I am not in this alone. Senator Saah Joseph of Motserrado is co-sponsoring this bill and the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) officials are happy that I am pushing for them to gain some independence in budget and other considerations,” Sen. Tokpah said.
According to him, NCHE does not have the leverage to debate its budget before the Senate and there are many other bottle-necks that are impeding the Commission’s operations in the country.
“The Ministry of Education is not doing anything much for or about tertiary education in this country. They are only focused on primary and secondary schools while many universities and colleges continue to be challenged and even more problems created for the learning environment,” he alleged.
In relation to being knowledgeable in the education sector, Dr. Tokpa, apart from also serving as President of Cutting University, also served in different positions, including Director for Research and Planning, Assistant Minister and later Acting Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Education before the civil war.
Reaction to Tokpa’s push for the creation of the new ministry of education, Dr. James Andrew Lablah, Acting Director of the National Commission on Higher Education, said he was taken by surprise hearing that the Bong County Lawmaker reached out to his office and that he welcomed the move.
“I received a call today from someone who said he works in Dr. Tokpa’s office and that the Lawmaker wants to see me. I am taken aback by the Lawmaker’s assertion associating us with his efforts when we have no idea about what he has written and submitted to his colleagues,” Dr. Lablah told the Daily Observer via telephone yesterday.
Lablah said a bill seeking to bring about any reform or improvement in the higher education system of the country should not be for scoring political points.
“Education is not politics. The Senator should have allowed us to make our input. We should have had a stakeholders’ conference to invite the board responsible for higher education to validate the document before taking it to the Senate, but that was not done. We are not a part of what he is doing and we are not interested in a new ministry because our economy is not doing well,” he noted.
Lablah said he will not honor the invitation of Senator Tokpa because the beginning processes calling for the reform are not good and he is now willing to be on the wrong side of history.
The National Commission on Higher Education is yet to have a Director proper following President George Weah’s withdrawal of Dr. Michael Slewion’s nomination to head the Commission.
Also opposing Sen. Henrique Tokpah’s bill for a new Ministry of education is Dao Ansu Sonii, Minister of Education.
According to Sonii, who made his points public while on the radio at the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) recently, the Legislature should concentrate on allocating more money to the education sector in order to improve the existing structures and increase teachers’ incentives rather than creating another ministry.
“There are challenges and we are aware, but the way forward is not by establishing new offices. Let the Lawmaker who came from the education sector lobby for more budgetary allotment that will help the National Commission on Higher Education function as it should. Let’s concentrate on having the right minds to do the job,” Sonii admonished.