19 February 2013

Liberia: Bong County Authorities Lift Scholarship Ban

The County authorities of Bong County have lifted the recent suspension placed on the Madam Suakoko scholarship with an allotment of three hundred and twenty thousand United States dollars to continue the program this semester.

The authorities took the decision over the weekend in Gbarnga after meeting with the religious community, members of civil society organizations and student leaders.

The meeting which was organized by religious leaders and civil society was intended to reduce the growing tension in the county since some lawmakers headed by caucus chairman George Mulbah announced that they were suspending the scholarship for a semester to carry out major overhaul of the system.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting the Caucus' Chair George Sylvester Mulbah said though the money is outside of the budget of the county, the county will exert efforts to source funding from other areas. He said this means that the past grade point of 2.5 that students had to score to remain on the scholarship has now been increased to GPA of 3.0.

Rep. Mulbah said this time students will be vetted from their respective districts noting that beneficiaries arrears will be paid through allotments to their districts. Mulbah who has been widely criticized for infesting the scholarship program during the 2011elections continues to receive criticism in the county.

However, questions were raised after the meeting over transparency in the recruitment process, with some citizens expressing fear that lawmakers might select their closed associates.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mulbah has announced removal of the President of the Bong students Union (BONSU) Jeptha Cooper from the county's scholarship listing. Mulbah cited alleged disorderly conduct and disrespectful behavior toward leaders by Jeptha as reason while insisting that Jeptha's leadership will not be recognized by the caucus.

For his part, BONSU President Jeptha Cooper has, however, termed the decision by the caucus chair as laughable and back facing the truth. He promised not to respect the decision, saying that he is prepared to seek redress at the court. Civil society members in the county have described Rep. Mulbah's decision as a violation of the student leader's rights and asked him to reverse the decision.

The Head of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission in the county, Jessie Cole reminded Mulbah that the money the county is using is not from his pocket and should not say who should benefit from the scholarship.

"Why will leaders be making such a public statement" Mr. Cole wondered. It appears that the expulsion of Mr. Cooper from the scholarship will create another confusion in the county especially with the student community.

Many believe that the decision by the caucus to single out an individual not to benefit from the county's social development fund is a clever attempt to silence potential advocates from speaking on issues.

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