Gbarnga — President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has urged Cuttington University students to change their attitude and mindset, and to be law-abiding, disciplined and honest.
The Liberian leader appealed to the students to see themselves as intellectuals who should be able to use a non-violent approach in addressing their concerns. "My appeal to you is please follow procedure in expressing whatever grievance you may have," she advised.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the comments during an interactive engagement with students at the Cuttington University campus during a recent stop-over. The appeal came on the heels of a violent demonstration staged, on January 28, by some students in demand of services that were reduced due to financial constraints facing the university.
"We cannot build and someone destroys. We cannot work together and someone undermines. We've got to be able to conclude that progress must not be continuously interrupted by those who thrive on undermining," President Sirleaf warned.
She noted that the challenges facing government are enormous, and called on Liberians to see violence and destruction as actions of the past. She reiterated that while government and its partners are striving to rebuild the country, some students were still involved in destruction. She expressed disappointment at the attitude of those students.
"Government has come a long way to develop this country. We have many challenges. We've got a long way to go, much longer than the way we've come; but we've come a long way," President Sirleaf told the attentive students. She added, "The chances of being able to go even further to meet your aspirations and expectations are verified, but there has to be a change of attitude in this country."
President Sirleaf admitted that like most Christian institutions in Liberia, the Episcopal Church is going through some difficult times, especially in light of global financial problems. She pointed out that finances to the Episcopal Church have declined over the years, particularly from sources in the United States, thereby making it difficult for them to cope.
The Liberian President assured the students that amidst competing demands that government has to meet, higher institutions of learning across the country are being considered to enable them to provide quality education as was done in the past.
She reminded the university students that government has tried to do more for teachers, civil servants and others, and this has placed pressure on the private institutions which have to keep up or do better as it relates to salaries that government pay its employees.
Earlier, the President of the Cuttington University Student Union (CUSU), David Fekpolo, on behalf of the students, appealed to President Sirleaf to increase government subsidy to the University as well as intervene in lifting the moratorium on the county's Madam Suakoko Scholarship Fund for deserving students. The Scholarship Fund has been suspended for one semester while it is being reviewed and restructured; it owes the University approximately US$500,000 in arrears.
Responding to the appeal for the lifting of the moratorium, President Sirleaf said that it was within the domain of the county authorities. She noted that the Fund is a laudable venture, but needs to be reviewed.
On the source of the funds to pay the outstanding arrears, President Sirleaf observed that if they were to come from the County Development Fund (CDF), reflecting the priorities as determined by the representatives of the people, it could be done. However, that was not the intended purpose of the CDF. "The intended purpose was to provide infrastructure, to be able to bring clean water, housing, roads and bridges to the citizens all over the county," the President clarified, adding that if it is decided that some of those funds be used to support the education of needy citizens of the county, then that was not a bad thing. However, the county has to put the program in the right perspective, she said.
"The scholarship program is a scholarship program meant for scholars, meant for those who excel in education, and for those who are taking training in the area where they will serve their country best," she emphasized.
She noted that the Social Development Fund is even more difficult to use because the funds are provided by corporate institutions who want to see the results of their funding. "Giving training to young people is a priority, but it must be done in a manner in which those who provide the funding, those who manage the program, those who benefit from the program must all understand how it goes; because if there is a misunderstanding by any group, confusion sets in, like what is happening now where they have accumulated huge arrears because it had not been properly managed or planned," she said.
On government's subsidy for the education of scholarship students, President Sirleaf admitted that, through the Ministry of Education, it owed higher learning institutions scholarship arrears. She promised that the government, through the Budget Committee, will make sure that these arrears are settled to enable its beneficiaries to continue their education.
President Sirleaf informed the group that the Minister of Finance would shortly hold a meeting with all the institutions of learning to derive a formula that will enable the government to do a bit more for these institutions. "We understand the situation of Cuttington, and we want them to continue to provide the kind of education that they do. Working with them, we will try to see how we can solve it," President Sirleaf assured.