2 May 2013

Liberia: J.J. Roberts Legacy in Peril? Highest Bidders Get Properties Earmarked for Education

Monrovia - In his last Will and Testament, President Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the First President of the Republic of Liberia left $10,000 and his estate to the educational system of Liberia. Liberia's first President directed that his property, including a coffee farm at Mamba Point, be used for "supporting the education of Liberia's children. These properties today include the area occupied by the Dukor Palace Hotel, the Grand Masonic Temple and several foreign embassies.

Today, much of the properties have been leased or sold to Lebanese businesses accruing huge amounts of money but students whose education the former President intended his property to be perpetually managed for are beginning to face difficulties as the current Trustees of the Foundation have engaged in a technique that requires students to pay some huge sums of money in their various schools even though they are on the scholarship.

"This thing was not like what we knew about JJ Roberts Foundation Scholarship, before our children only used to go to school and study to make their grades," said a struggling parent whose son is on the scholarship but has paid over US$ 100 as fees even though the child has met the requirement of 3.0 grade point or B average.

Like this parent, many parents who have their children on the foundation's scholarship are worried about the future of their children as the managers of the scholarship continue to add monetary requirement to the scholarship.

J. J Roberts, the first and seventh president of Liberia (1848 - 1856 and 1872 - 1876), established in perpetuity the "Joseph Jenkins Roberts Educational Foundation" in his LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT admitted to Probate 6th day of March A.D. 1876 leaving his entire estate (coffee farm) and a United States Bonds in the amount of US$10,000.00 for increasing the educational facilities of the country.

At over 135 years of existence and operation, the JJ Roberts Educational Foundation has positively impacted the lives of many young people by giving them quality education and a better way of life for the advancement of the Liberian through the awarding of scholarships, payment of subsidies to schools and provision of office equipment, furniture and stationeries, and regular and prompt settlement of all fees to include but not limited to tuition, WAEC and teachers' salaries.

The Foundation's Educational Development Program coverers the fifteen (15) counties in the country, including Bomi, Bong, Gbarpolu, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado, Nimba, Rivercess and Sinoe. The Foundation Scholarship Guidelines requires a Grade Point Average of 3.0

Leasing to the highest bidder

Revenues generated from properties left by the former President is what powers the operation of the foundation that is managed by a three-member board set appointed by the First United Methodist Church executor of the Roberts estate.

The properties which are mainly spread around the diplomatic enclave of Mamba Point where the former President owned a coffee farm and currently Liberian tenants are finding difficulties paying their leases because the board has increased the lease in a move to get the highest bidder and secure more funds. But the irony is that more despite this stride by the church to see more money coming to the foundation; it is the trustees who receive huge yearly remuneration as they are paid in the tens of thousands of US dollars, while students are now asked to pay huge fees.

One of these properties in question is about to be taken from a Liberian and given to a Lebanese firm. Many Liberian tenants have complained about the manner in which they have been treated by the board during the period of their lease. One Lessee complaining to the new Board Chair Mr. Dewitt Von Ballmoos, in a letter dated April 6, 2013, stated that the foundation had arbitrarily increased the rent for the property occupied by U.S$600.

"I want to bring to your attention how the foundation has been unfair to me as a tenant, a Liberian, and a Methodist. I have lived in House #2 for more than 10 years and have made extensive renovations on the premises," said the tenant.

"The lease agreement of October 9, 2009 is in dispute because when my rent was increased by US$600, totaling my annual rent to US$ 4, 600.00 in the same lease."

The foundation which is an autonomous body outside the jurisdiction of the Annual Conference of United Methodist Church headed by Bishop John G. Innis seems to be in trouble and if steps are not taken to correct the problem, the intent of President Roberts may not be realized.

Robert born March 15, 1809 and died February 24, 1876 was the first (1848-1856) and seventh (1872-1876) President of Liberia.

He was free in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, Roberts emigrated to Liberia in 1829 as a young man and he opened a trading store in Monrovia, and later engaged in politics.

Roberts was elected the first president, upon the country's independence in 1847, serving until 1856. In 1872 he was elected again to serve as Liberia's seventh president.

Graduate Program

In place and as part of its Founder's desire to ensure education for all, the Foundation has awarded a over ten scholarships for graduate school in the area of Master of Education (MSED) at the University of Liberia.

Some Beneficiaries Of JJREF

True to the dream of the first President Towards nation building and enlightenment of the Liberian population, the following persons have benefited from the scholarship opportunities provided by the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Educational Foundation and are serving in both the public and private sectors of our country with distinction:

Augustine K. Ngaufuan - Minister of Foreign Affairs; Amara M. Konneh - Minister of Finance; Patience karngbe - Norwegian Refugee Council; Augutus M. Zayzay -FLY; Francis Dopoh -Baba M. Borkai;John B.S. Davies II -Myers Cheda -Boimah Kamara - Central Bank of Liberia; Steve Marvin -The affairs of the Foundation are conducted by a 3-member Board of Trustees with the assistance of a full-time administrative staff.

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