Gbarnga, Bong County - Angeline Bedell, 23, an agriculture engineering student at Bong County Technical College (BCTC), said she has not sat in a laboratory since she enrolled in the college three years ago.
“I am studying agriculture engineering, but I have no technical knowledge about the subject, only abstract knowledge,’’ she said.
The laboratory was part of the plan when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf broke grounds for the college in 2010.
President Sirleaf shut down the construction in June following allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of the US $6 million in social development funds earmarked for the project.
Bedell, her peers and other citizens said the future of the college will be their major concern during the 2017 legislative and Presidential elections.
District three, where the college is located, has 28, 090 registered voters, according to the 2017 Voter Roll Update from the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Rep. George Mulbah, of the People’s Unification Party (PUP), has represented the district since 2005. Fourteen candidates are vying to unseat Mulbah.
Bedell, who is a first time voter, said she will elect a leader who has a vision for completing the college.
“I will be voting for someone whose dream is to see the completion of the Bong Technical College,” she said.
The initial amount budgeted for the project was $ 4 million, but the expenses increased by US$2 million.
The college was slated to be completed within a year after the groundbreaking.
According to the initial contract signed by members of the county’s Project Management Committee including Thomas Cisco and PMC Deputy Lawrence Plator, Rep. Mulbah, also chair of the Bong Caucus and the China Liberia Investment Group Incorporated – the company selected to build the college.
The contractor Xinq Sinq, threatened to sue the county on grounds that they were not meeting its financial obligations.
Though Mulbah blamed the contractor for the slow pace of the project, he said the $ 4 million earmarked for the project was not enough.
In 2015, the county’s leadership headed by former Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson-Mappy and Senator Henry Yallah, former Bong Caucus chair, amended the contract to provide an additional $1.8 million to complete the basement.
The money was paid, but the work was not completed.County officials blamed each other for the project’s delay.
Bong County Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, who is running as vice Presidential candidate to Senator George Weah, under the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), wanted the contract terminated. Mulbah refused, fearing a lawsuit from the contractor.
When the construction was halted last October, only 60 percent of the work was done. Students were forced to attend classes in unfinished buildings with no windows and in some classrooms with untiled floors.
Residents accused county officials of taking kickbacks from the contractor. Residents took to the streets, protesting the failure of county officials to effectively manage the project at the expense of the county’s youth who want a technical education.
Students and other citizens said they won’t vote for Mulbah and Taylor, the two people they blame for the stalled project.
Dennis Garsini, a Bong County citizen based in the United States of America, sponsors 14 students at the college.
He wants the Legislature to shut down the college, stop paying staff and conduct a stakeholders meeting to determine a way forward.
The project, he said, should be audited.
“Apparently, decision making by a select few is not cutting it,’’ Garsini said.
If past audits were inconclusive, the county should hire an external auditor to conduct a thorough audit of the project.’’
He encouraged local leaders and college officials to partner with Bong citizens abroad for the completion of the college.
Clarence Peters, 26, a second year student studying Agriculture, said October 10, 2017, gives him a chance to vote for a candidate who will prioritize the project.
“We as citizens of Bong County have cried for the completion of the Bong Technical College and I strongly feel it’s time for all those who are registered voters in the district to vote out Representative George Mulbah and Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor,’’ he said.
‘’I strongly feel these two lawmakers have been playing game with our education and it’s time to vent our anger.’’
Patience Bedell, 24, a freshman student majoring in Chemistry, said though she’s not registered in District Three, she is mobilizing her friends in the district to vote against Mulbah and Taylor.
“I have been telling all of my friends in District Three not to vote for George Mulbah and Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, ‘’ she said.
‘’If we need the completion of the college under a new government, we should weed these people of the caucus.’’
Sayblee Weayee, 27, head of a pro-democracy group in Gbarnga urged his peers to express their anger and punish those they think have been responsible for the slow pace of the college by voting them out on October 10.
“We have long cried for the completion of the college, but our cries have fallen on deaf ears and it is now time we elect a leader who will prioritize the completion of the college,” he said.
The 15 candidates trying to unseat Mulbah have pledged to ensure the college is completed through additional budgetary allocations from the national budget.
Steve Mulbah, a candidate for the Grass Roots Democratic Party of Liberia (GRDPL), blamed legislative interference for the project’s delay.
If he elected, he promised to ensure that legislators are not involved in the project.
Marvin Cole, a candidate on the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), said if elected he would call for an audit of the project as a means of addressing the financial problems.
Candidate Edward Gboe, of Liberty Party, said politics should not be part of the management and operational framework of the college.
“Well-meaning politicians should attract supporters and partnerships for the college to the benefit to their constituents,’’ he said.
In 2010, Mulbah and Taylor crafted the bill to construct a community college as an alternative for less privileged children who could not afford tuition at Cuttington University.
Citizens welcomed the move by the lawmakers, but seven years later, they are disappointed by how things turned out.
The two lawmakers used the college construction as campaign message to woo voters.
While contesting re-election in 2011, Mulbah assured citizens that the project would be completed during his second term.
“I lobbied to ensure that today we are breaking grounds for our own community college,’’ he said back then.
“If you re-elect me, I will ensure that the college is completed, so that our brothers and sisters who don’t have the money to go Cuttington University, can attend.”
During her re-election in 2014, Senator Taylor promised voters that the college would be completed, if she’s re-elected.
“My dream for the young people of Bong County has always been to construct our own community college, and today I am grateful that we have started a community college,’’ she said.
‘’I will not allow your dreams to die about this college when I am re-elected.’’