We want a building, reads a placard of the protesting students
The students of Cape Palmas High School, the leading public high school in Harper, Maryland County, have been protesting - demanding a renovation of their dilapidated school building. Following the apparent eradication of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, the Sirleaf administration announced the opening of schools in March of this year. But, when the students of the school returned to classes later this month, they found their building in ruins - much to their anger. “We want a building”, reads a placard of the protesting students.
Situated on Maryland Avenue, a major street in the provincial capital, the two-story building had been a spectacular landmark in the city for several decades. The school had invariably been one of the best public high schools in Cape Palmas, if not in the entire southeastern region. Many of Liberia’s contemporary ruling elites, including a past president, senior civil servants, legislators and clergy alike who in their prime pursued tertiary education in Harper over the past sixty or so years, may trace their trajectories from this legendary high school. Seeing the school dilapidated while its former students are key policymakers in government is not simply mindboggling; it is scandalous.
The paradox has even provoked critical comments on Facebook from some concerned Marylanders residing in the United States.
“Liberia will change only when the people begin to refuse to allow the government to continue stealing their wealth while they suffer” , wrote Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, poet and professor of English at Penn State University.
Professor Wesley further said: “But here is the other truth. There are many so-called proud graduates of Cape Palmas High school who go around talking blah blah blah, but have no clue or do not care about their institutions today”.
It can be recalled that Superintendent Betsy Kuoh visited the United States this year. In a teleconference, she made a passionate appeal to Marylanders in the Americas for the roofing of Cape Palmas High School. Superintendent Kuoh estimated that sixty-seven bundles of corrugated roofing sheets would be needed. The superintendent also appealed for the purchasing of medical equipment and drugs for the J.J. Dossen Memorial Hospital in Harper.
Taking a page from the superintendent‘s book, Professor Elliot Wreh-Wilson of the Tubman University in Harper recently commented on Facebook in these words:
“Graduates of Cape Palmas High. Come show your juice. Sons and daughters of Cape Palmas. Don’t just claim Cape Palmas as your home. Come show your juice. Maryland County Development Fund is nowhere to be found. Please come show your juice. Prepare to send your $10 or $20 or whatever you may have and to “Save Cape Palmas High Fund” at Eco Bank, Harper, Cape Palmas…”
We do understand Professor Wilson’s concern and the motive of his appeal, but the lack of money should not be the problem. Nine years on, millions of US dollars have poured into the coffers of the county as into the coffers of all other counties. Besides the $200, 000 that is annually allocated for the development of each of the fifteen counties, Maryland County has certainly received its own share of the millions of dollars that donors have doled out to the various counties for infrastructure development. The International Community has, for instance, given each county what is called the “Ministry of Health Pool Fund” of which Maryland County received $7m during the past five years, as recently reported in the Perspective. If the $7 million had been used for its intended purpose, J.J. Dossen would not have lacked requisite equipment and drugs.
“The problem must be the lack of sensitivity to the development needs of the county”, said an incredulous Marylander who is knowledgeable of how the so-called county’s development fund is allocated but who had never thought that the current ruling elites of Maryland County would grossly neglect health and education. He revealed that, like all other legislators in the country, Representative James P. Biney of the Harper District (where Cape Palmas High School is situated) has received $20,000 for this fiscal year so that he can fund any development project, known as “Legislative Project” in the district, while both Senators Dan Morais and Gbleh-bo Brown have received $40,000 per district to carry out development projects in each of the districts in the county. Needless to say, the Maryland legislators have received $180, 000 (apart from the annual $200,000 for county development!) this year alone. Yet infrastructure in the county remain in tatters
Honorable James Biney has represented Harper District for many years—since the Taylor years. He is currently siting on $20,000 earmarked for the development of the Harper District, while students of Cape Palmas High School are forced to wear umbrellas in class.
Like every Liberian lawmaker, Hon. Biney has the final say in how county development fund (CDF) is spent. Over the past nine years, more than 1.8 million dollars of CDF has been “spent” in Maryland County, but there is nothing to show for the money.
It has even been alleged, quite recently, that Nathaniel Toe, the Development Superintendent of the county, has not been able to give account of $85,000 ($50,000 to build a bridge over the Nehdilloh Creek and $35,000 allotted to Pleebo-Sodoken District). But the lawmakers are mute on the allegations against the development superintendent.
The people of Maryland County should therefore hold accountable their lawmakers and the county officials. The legislators must give full account of the county’s development funds and the money set aside for the “Legislative Projects”. They are the ones standing in the way of infrastructure development in the county, and they must therefore be blamed for the dilapidated school. The immediate renovation of Cape Palmas High School squarely lies with them. Requesting help from Liberians in the Diaspora might be a good idea, but the money will undoubtedly end up in the pockets of these corrupt lawmakers and county officials.