Buchanan, Grand Bassa County – Like 2015, another tension is brewing ahead of Grand Bassa County development sitting which is slated for Wednesday, September 14, 2016.
This time, members of the Grand Bassa University Student Union (GBUSU) are aggrieved about a recent decision by the county administration and the legislative caucus to establish a scholarship foundation thereby ending how funds were allotted for university students hailing from the county through GBUSU.
In a press statement released by GBUSU, the group claimed Caucus chair Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and Liberty Party has denied thousands of Bassa Students from achieving tertiary education from the County Social Development Fund by initiating what they termed as a ‘political scholarship foundation’.
“Hon. Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence, Deputy Speaker, Hans Barchue, Hon. Jonathan L. Kaipay, Hon. J. Byron Browne, and other lawmakers have established their personal educational foundation under the canopy of Grand Bassa County Education Foundation to re-gain state power in 2017,” GBUSU asserted in a statement.
The statement continues: “Let it be made clear, this squarely Liberty Party dominated Grand Bassa County Legislative Caucus must stop instigating or being the architect behind this divisive instrument called Education Foundation which has kept over thousands of Bassa Students out of various Universities and Colleges throughout the Republic, rather that the County administration and the Bassa Legislative caucus should settle all arrears in-order to avoid numerous protest actions in our County.”
The student group alleged that the new scholarship structure will favor the political supporters of Liberty Party lawmakers considering the appointment of stalwarts of the party including the head of Senator Lawrence personal education foundation, Moses B.K Sawaye; the former LP Grand Bassa Chapter chair, Philip Johnson and a former representative candidate on LP ticket in 2011, George Gaybuah – now head of the Grand Bassa teachers association.
One former student union leader says the selection is a ‘political configuration’ intended to give Senator Lawrence leverage in the county. Preferring anonymity he said: “I think the formation of this scholarship board is to divert funds to Nyonblee Cares Scholarship Foundation which will make her more popular amongst the young population, but this might not be good for the Liberty Party in 2017.”
And Jallah T. Sekpeh, a graduate of Grand Bassa Community College, says the decision is devastating and has an intent that is driven by politics. “If you look at the whole committee it is dominated by Liberty Party,” Sekpeh said.
Sekpeh, who is also the Youth Chair of the Congress for Democratic Change – Grand Bassa Chapter, argues that some criteria set by the foundation, is discriminatory.
But Solomon A. Kollie, Chairman of All People, One People Intellectual Forum in Buchanan, defers by saying setting up the foundation was appropriate because it opts for a broader structure. Kollie says he benefited from scholarship funds during his studies at the AME Zion University but insists the procedure only benefited few in the past.
“I’m one person who was opting for the Grand Bassa scholarship to have a broad base structure where students from across all the district will benefit…, and so this just bringing all parties together to ensure that there will be a clear cut criteria set up for everybody to apply,” Kollie said.
He added that once vast majority of students reside in the county the scholarship must concentrate those in the county.
The secretary general of the Grand Bassa civil society chapter, Victor Flomo, says the move is right but wants the civil society included on the board which he thinks will give it more balance.
Senator Lawrence Reacts
In a text message exchange with Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus chair on Tuesday evening, she said decision to establish the foundation was reached at 2015’s county sitting.
“According to the budget law, the county council is the highest decision making body of the county,” wrote Sen. Lawrence in a text.
“The county council resolved at the last county sitting that US$100,000 be allocated for scholarships and that the county leadership should set up an education foundation for the county.”
Sen. Lawrence said the foundation is separate from the caucus since it has obtained an article of incorporation and its own account, adding that the board comprises of reps of relevant institutions, principals and teachers associations, Project Management Committee, the legislative caucus and Arcelor Mittal Liberia.
Responding to allegations by GBUSU that the move intents to strangulate the student grouping, Lawrence said in the past, scholarship funds was only given the GBUSU which she claims represents just 2% of the student populace from the county.
“We are now including students in the entire county as well as Bassa students outside of Bassa including GBUSUS,” she wrote.
‘Gross Administrative Malpractice’
GBUSU, claiming to be the largest independent student based organization of Grand Bassa complains about not being consulted during the restructuring of the scholarship funds into Education Foundation.
“If this was really meant for students’ benefit, why then was it established that way? Such would have been done in consultation with the very students who will be affected at the consequences of said Foundation. This is a complete gross administrative malpractice which must be corrected,” the statement continued.
The student body wants the county leadership to dissolve the foundation and has threatened to protest at the September 14 county council setting.
Last year county sitting was embroiled with tension between segments of youth and members of the legislative caucus prompting the council chair to postpone the gathering. At the time, the students and youth groups alike demanding delegate status while members of the legislative caucus blamed then county superintendent Etweeda Cooper for inappropriately granting delegate status.
With similar tension now concocting, observers say it will have an impact of the activities but Sen. Lawrence insists GBUSU will not instigate tension which that will pushed the county administration to spending additional money.
The Liberty Party lawmaker says the student body has received nearly US$400,000.00 from the county social development funds over the year and has not been able to submit clear records and criteria on how scholarships are awarded.
She said the caucus has held several discussions with GBUSUS opting to amicable resolve the stalemate but the student group has frequently backslide on mitigating issues that were resolved.
“We closed on all issues two semesters ago, and the county gave the US$100,000 to close on the issue of arrears,” she said.