21 February 2013

Liberia: Gov't in Scholarship Arrears

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has admitted that her government owns higher learning institutions scholarship arrears through government's subsidy but promised that through the Budget Committee the arrears will be settled.

The president did not say the exact time the arrears will be paid but said amidst competing demands that government has to settle its obligation to higher institutions of learning across the country to enable them provide quality education as was done in the past.

"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.

In a release from the Executive Mansion, the president made the statement

during an interactive engagement with students of the Cuttington University during a recent stop-over. The appeal came on the heels of a violent demonstration staged on January 28, by some students in demand for services that were reduced due to financial constraints facing the university.

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 the procedure in expressing whatever grievances you may have," she advised.

"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.

According to her, the challenges facing the government are enormous. She called on Liberians to see violence and destruction as actions of the past. The President

reiterated that while government and its partners were 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.

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 pays 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, President Sirleaf said that lifting the moratorium was within the domain of 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.

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