FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

Liberia: Higher Education Boss Still in Anti-Corruption Agency Dragnet

Monrovia — For the second time, the Head of Liberia's Commission on Higher Education, the body responsible for regulating the higher education sector is facing investigation by the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission.

FrontPageAfrica following up an investigation into at least three checks valued over half a million United States dollars issued in 2012 to some lower employees of the commission under questionable circumstances was informed by the LACC that Dr. Michael Slawon, Director General of the Commission is still being investigated.

Ben Kolako, LACC's Director of Public Relations confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that investigation into several payments in the name of some employees of the Commission on Higher Education but money allegedly said to have been turned to Dr. Slawon is under investigation by the LACC. "We are still investigating Dr. Slawon and once the investigation is completed, we will make that public", Kolako told FrontPageAfrica.

In 2012, the LACC began an investigation into payments made in the name of some employees of the Commission accordingly for local travels to Maryland and other counties when in fact such travels were not undertaken but checks encashed and money allegedly given to Dr. Slawon who is said to have converted the money to his personal use. In a letter dated June 8, 2012, the LACC invited one of the employees in whose name some of the payments were made to be available for investigation.

"The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is pleased to present its compliments and to inform you of an ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the payment of staff domestic travel allowances and other benefits at The National Commission on Higher Education, Ministry of Education", the LACC stated in the letter.

The LACC letter furthered "According to information available to us, several staff members allegedly received payments for domestic travels between the period January 2010 to march 2012 to travel to various counties.

As an employee at The National Commission on Higher Education, Ministry of Education, we believe that you could provide some information on domestic travel as well as provide relevant documents regarding staff domestic travel". Some of the employees concerned, according to FrontPageAfrica investigation have already made statements to the LACC about the checks.

According to the investigation, at least three checks in the amount of US$104,000; 250,000 and 200,000 were amongst the checks issued to junior employees of the Commission for which the LACC is conducting the investigation.

Dr. Slawon's long tale of corruption

The ongoing investigation is the second time he is facing investigation by the LACC as he was earlier investigated by the Commission for receiving funding to undertake foreign travel to Thailand but failed to travel but instead allegedly consumed the money. The LACC confirmed that Dr. Slawon refunded the amount received for the Thailand travel back into government coffers while the investigation surrounding the domestic travel checks is still ongoing.

Dr. Slawon is also said to have diverted a Mitsubishi Pickup purchased for the Commission from Prestige Motor Corporation on 6/11/07 for US$24,600 to his personal use as it is no longer amongst the assets of the entity. Weak follow-up on corruption related cases could be some of the reasons why the investigation into alleged corruption by Dr. Slawon and others continued to linger at the LACC since 2012, two years on.

UN Secretary General highlights LACC

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in his twenty-seventh progress report on the United Nations Mission in Liberia presented to the Security Council specifically pointed out weak follow-up on corruption mainly cases investigated by the LACC.

Secretary General Moon indicated that although some measures have been taken to improve transparency and accountability in Liberia, follow-through on cases of possible corruption remained weak. In the report, Secretary General Moon mentioned investigation of several cases by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission as some of the cases where follow-ups have not been carried out. "Some measures were taken to improve transparency and accountability, although follow-through on identified cases of possible corruption or maladministration remained weak", stated the Secretary General.

According to the UN Secretary General in October 2013, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission released its second report on the verification of assets of presidential appointees where of the 77 officials audited, 25 were found to have made truthful declarations, 22 were judged uncooperative and 30 were found to have misrepresented their assets or did not complete the exercise.

Secretary General Moon stated in the report that, however, as with the first report, the sanctions recommended by the Commission against uncooperative senior officials have not been addressed and the next steps are unclear. "The President appointed a new Chair for the Commission in November 2013. The General Auditing Commission completed audits of county development funds in 10 counties, although the reports have yet to be completed", stated Secretary General Moon.

Slawon long standing controversies

Under Dr. Slawon leadership at the Commission, there is a proliferation of Universities and colleges in the country with no indication that the Commission on Higher Education is implementing its mandate in providing policy guidelines for establishing higher learning institutions in Liberia, coordinating, monitoring, evaluating and accrediting all higher institutions of learning and ensuring that these institutions have the requisite qualified instructional staff before they are accredited to operate.

A fake St. Luke Medical School, which operated in Liberia for years under the watch of the Commission before public pressure led to its closure, is another indication of the inability of the Commission to perform its duties to expectation.

An investigation by FrontPageAfrica has gathered that Dr. Slawon is running the Commission single-handedly, making all decisions to the extent of using the entity money for his private visit under the guise of a loan. There is no such policy where the government of Liberia allotted funding is used to give loans to officials to undertake personal travels. In a memorandum, Dr. Slawon has warned all employees of the entity not to make any public statement except sanctioned by him.

Currently at St. Clement University College, which claims it has the capacity to offer courses such as Petroleum Technology, Mining Engineering, Mining Technology amongst others when in fact, such disciplines are new to Liberia with little or no expertise available to teach courses in those areas, but the College was accredited by the Commission on higher education and it is operational. On the website of the college, it offers courses in Petroleum Technology, Mining Engineering, Mining Technology, but there is no indication on the staff directory of the institution that it has the required professors and other qualified professional teachers to undertake such academic programs.

'Credential fraud' at St. Clement

FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the Vice President for Administration at St. Clement University College, Ndien Peters, has a fake credential. He claimed to have acquired his terminal degree that does not exist as a University in South Africa. According to an investigation, Ndien Peters claimed to have acquired a PhD in International Studies from Anoited or Annointed University in South Africa, but a FrontPageAfrica investigation has gathered that such university is not listed amongst universities in South Africa.

Said Dr. Slawon: "The National Commission on higher education has for long had a problem with the doctorate credential of Dr. Peters dating from his days as Vice President for Academic Affairs at the AME Zion University, because of the pressure from the Commission, he resigned and went to Cuttington University, where we also followed him and he later resigned and surfaced at the St. Clements University in Paynesville".

The Director of the Commission furthered: "We have done our research in Washington DC to find out whether Peters is a Doctorate degree holder, they said, no. We also follow up our research in South Africa by writing the university, he claimed to have graduated from, but we did not get any response, so we have instructed the St. Clements University not to allow him to make contact with students while we investigate his case".

Dr. Slawon failed to state why the Commission has been following the activities of the fake Dr. Peters, but has not been able to take action against him as he has moved from the AME Zion to Cuttington and now to St. Clement with the knowledge of the commission. It has also been established that some universities and colleges are operating outside their accreditation without action from the regulatory body as officials of the commission are associated with some of these educational institutions.

Entity in tatter

FrontPageAfrica has also gathered that the Commission on Higher Education could not be traced on the internet as efforts to gather information about the commission were thwarted due to the lack of an operating website. This further indicates that the Commission is not able to provide information to Liberians and other individuals outside the country since it cannot be traced through the global search engine, the internet.

Dr. Slawon also told FrontPageAfrica that the Commission is in the process of developing a website for the first time. "We were in the process of building our website when we were located on Broad Street but the process stopped after we had to move to this new office in Paynesville but as we speak we are in the process of building our website. The person who is doing the website is the head of STARZ computer training institution".

During a visit at the main offices of the Commission, it was difficult to locate due to the lack of a posted Liberian flag as it is done by many state entities across Liberia. The building housing the Commission, formerly used by the Forestry development Authority and the Governance Commission now resembles a residential building with clothes and other personal effects visibly displayed on the fence of the building but Dr. Slawon has blamed the situation on lack money.

"Right now what we are looking for is money to pay for our mortgage. We need seven thousand United States dollars to pay our rent we have no money in our account right now as I speak to you. I went to the minister of education, she said do you best oh so every little money we get we are saving it for mortgage, right now we don't even have light because no fuel".

He continued "We will do our best to pay for the Mortgage for this building so furnishing and putting symbols or flag is not necessary right now. We need fuel to start inspecting the various universities around the country so for someone to ask why we are here and no symbol or flag they are all necessary but secondary. We can always be seen or found, but let us do the work we are put here to do which is to strengthen the capacity of the young people of this country".

Dr. Slawon's personal loan from entity Fund

A check of US$2,190 issued in the name of one T. Nimley Nyenpan was payment for Dr. Slawon on which it was indicated travel allowance. FrontPageAfrica has gathered that Dr. Slawon used the amount to undertake a private visit to his family in the United States of America, thus shifting the cost on the Commission.

Under the 2013/2014 budget of the entity, the Commission was not allotted money for allowance for foreign travel. Based on the purported loan of US$2,190 taken by Dr. Slawon from the Commission without policy backing if it is not paid, the entity could source money from other budget items to cover the deficit spending. The Director General said he had to attend a program at the AU which prompted the borrowing from the Commission's account, but a source informed FrontPageAfrica that his trip was purely to the United States of America and back to Liberia.

"I am the English speaking repertoire of AU for curriculum harmonization and training. Normally when invitations come, they ask us to take money from our country to fund our trip. The money I borrowed is not money to use for operation, it is money we have over the past accumulated for the mortgage of this building because in our budget, the government did not put money there for a mortgage. We didn't take money to go use for our personal business".

He also stated: "I went to America last year, but I went to the AU before going to America. I have my own ticket to go to America. I could not take it to carry to the AU conference. After the AU conference in Ivory Coast, it was Christmas season, so I decided to go to the States for two weeks".

He admitted taking the money, promising to repay: "If people say I borrowed the money, yes, it is true, but it will be paid back from payment from the AU, it was not something that was hidden, it was opened and not money for the Director General to take. Normally, we receive traveling allowance, but this time around, we don't have traveling allowance because the government says no money for traveling allowance. This is not something to make an issue out of".

The National Commission on Higher Education is responsible for providing policy guidelines for establishing higher learning institutions in Liberia. It also coordinates, monitors, evaluates and accredits all higher institutions of learning. The entity used to be a Department under the Ministry of Education, but has now been granted a Commission status, and it has relocated from the Ministry of Education building to a separate office.

In the 2012/2013 national budget, the Commission was allotted US$1, 328,535 while in the current 2013/2014 budget, it is allotted US$609,872. Observers believe the Commission is currently operating like a dead entity and is further compounding the education mess facing the country. Dr. Slawon has served the Commission for over six years with no proven record of performance in improving the higher education system of the country.

Investigation continues

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