Vanguard with 

Melbourne Garber commends Anthony Kamara(Snr) and PV

 - Tuesday 28 July 2009.

Gibril,

I would like to thank you and Patriotic Vanguard for publishing such an informative and historical discourse on the state of education in Sierra Leone. I would like to personally thank Anthony Karim Kamara (Snr) for lucidly explaining how our educational system has to a great degree impacted on the development of Sierra Leone.

On the positive side, we can be proud that despite the myriad of problems that are evident in the article, Sierra Leone has produced some of the finest brains in that region of Africa and continues to do so. On the flip side, the lack of significant investment in education over the decades has probably deprived Sierra Leone of the much needed brain power required to transform it to a model for other nations. It is a stunning indictment on our previous governments that not "a single Government Secondary School" has been built since our indepenence.

As an active alumnus of the Prince of Wales School, I think this article is a must read for all school alumni that are active or otherwise in their respective Alumni Associations and I will be forwarding this to my fellow Prince Waleans.

Articles like this are what helps to make this forum a vibrant destination for intellectual discussion of our beloved Salone.

Once again thank you Anthony, Gibril and PV.

Sincerely

Melbourne

Editor’s note: Here is Mr. Kamara’s article for those who have not read it yet:

The struggle for control of schools and the pathetic state of education in Sierra Leone today.

Veteran teacher Anthony Karim Kamara (Sr) examines the system, its rapid decline and offers suggestions for a way forward to avert a total collapse.

Commentary

By Anthony Karim Kamara, Snr. Winnipeg, Canada.

This above issue is the subject of this commentary and it will require answers for all Sierra Leoneans both at home and the world-wide readership from past and present Sierra Leonean administrations since independence.

When I recently read the article by Bakar Mansaray, the PV Special correspondent in Woodstock, Canada on ’Education in Sierra Leone’, I felt morally compelled to add my concerns to the current state of neglect of the system which has brought shame, scandals, disrepute and even laughter to the one time ’Athens of West Africa’.

What brought the country to this low ebb is the focus of this commentary. We will need answers as to who bears the blame for this retrogressive state. It must be stressed that this country has made no visible progress in Education because all our leaders from 1961 to the present, see no need for post secondary education for the masses; they seemed to look for bare literate population who peddle second-hand text books on the streets of Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni. They have so far been successful, for these text book peddlers provide a pool from which they recruit party thugs in their quadrennial elections. Second hand text books peddling began in the long reign of the APC under the late Siaka Stevens and have continued under the Tejan Kabba administration of the SLPP, and now under the re-cycled APC of President Ernest Koroma.

To understand who to blame, this piece will attempt to take readers to the end of the colonial era which ended on April 27, 1961. Prior to this date, the British colonial government left this country with only nine Government secondary schools, six of which are in the former Protectorate. These included the Bo School which was opened in 1906 initially as a primary school for the first thirty years (from 1906 to 1936), and in 1937, was upgraded to junior secondary school status and started presenting candidates for the Junior Cambridge Exams; and further upgraded three years later to full secondary school status in1940 when it began presenting candidates for the Senior Cambridge Exams.

The second colonial school was the Prince of Wales School (an all boys institution ) opened in 1925 in the former colony for colony children, and so named after the visit that year by the British Prince of Wales, followed by an all Girls Secondary school, the Freetown Secondary school for Girls (FSSG) commonly known as ’Osora’ in 1926. The Prince of Wales and the FSSG schools became in fact the first government secondary schools in Sierra Leone (1925 and 1926 respectively) followed by the Bo school only upgraded to secondary status in 1937.

Koyeima school was opened as a central school to feed Bo school with students when it attained full secondary status in 1940; there was also Jimmy Government school with similar status as Koyeima: all three schools in Southern Sierra Leone. Then in May 1950, the Magburaka Government secondary school for Boys was opened in Northern Sierra Leone, to be followed nine years later in February 1959 with the opening of the Magburaka Girls’ Secondary School located at Mathora Village outside Magburaka town.

In Eastern Sierra Leone, the Kenema Government Secondary School was opened in 1955 to provide secondary education for students in that part of the country. The Government Secondary Technical School (GSTS) in Freetown was opened in1957. For all the 150 years of British tutelage, the colonial government left our country with only this number of schools built with colonial funds. Our population was then put at two million, five hundred thousand (2, 500,000). But why the colonial government in the first place chose to build the only government secondary school in the district headquarter town of Magburaka and not in the provincial capital of Makeni as they did in the South and East is a question for which all Northerners need answers from the surviving old SLPP guards now in their sunset years of life. The SLPP must provide answers because they were part of the colonial administration when that unfortunate decision was made, and if Sir Milton Margai were still alive today, we would put pressure on him for the answer.

But what Sierra Leonean intelligentsia should remember is the fact that the British colonial governments in all the British Empire were never in the colonies for any sort of development be it economic, infrastructural or educational, despite the fact that all colonizing powers made a commitment to occupy colonies’ effectively’ at the Berlin West African Conference of 1884-1885, which was convened to partition Africa among European powers. Effective occupation implied that the occupying power made an undertaking and commitment to develop the colony and its people and to prepare them for eventual self-determination. The British commitment for effective occupation of her west African Territories was just lip service. Our badly planned capitals, in all former British West African capitals with narrow streets are a clear reflection today of the equally badly planned and narrow streets of London, the imperial capital.

But after 48 years of sovereignty since 1961, what have successive governments of Sierra Leone done over the years to turn the tide of educational retardation? We cannot blame the colonial government forever. Colonial administration is after all an alien exploitive government not concerned with the development of the colonized peoples. This was in fact the major reason for the rise of militant nationalist movements in the bigger British West African territories starting with the former Gold Coast (Ghana) and Nigeria with the exception of Sierra Leone and The Gambia, two tiny colonies which were only allowed Independence not to be left alone, and because both countries received their sovereign statehood out of British sympathy, therefore, had no reason for militancy or hate against the British.

It was to please her Majesty’s government that in spite of our sovereign statehood in all these forty-eight years, no effort was ever made to change anything; Sierra Leone being the only sovereign nation in the whole of Africa whose status quo remains unaltered apart from describing herself as ’Republican’ which means nothing to the ordinary man in the street. Sometime, one wonders how many Sierra Leoneans even among the so called educated do understand that independence gives the new nation the power to do away with anything that painfully reminds them of their colonial experience. In our case, nothing British troubled our leaders in spite of the economic exploitation of our iron ore, diamonds, bauxite and our agricultural produce, not to mention the brutal suppression by the British of the 1898 Hut tax uprisings and the arrest and exile of Bai Bureh of Kasse, Chief Nyagua of Panguma and Be Sherbro of Yoni to the Gold Coast , the 1955 populist strike in Freetown over rising cost of living and low pay, followed by simultaneous peasants’ uprisings in the Protectorate in 1956 over the manner of tax collection in Samu Chiefdom, Kambia District against the repressive and exploitive rule of Late PC Yumkella, in Lunsar, Marampa Chiefdom against PC Bai Koblo Pathbana, in Maforki Chiefdom, Port Loko District against the oppressive rule of PC Alikali Modu, in Buya Romende Chiefdom against the harsh rule of PC Bai Banta and in some parts of Pujehun district in South-Eastern Sierra Leone.

However, with the advent of Christian Missionaries to our shores, a human educational catastrophe was averted by these missions of God. To all these missions, we owe a huge debt of gratitude. All our national leaders since independence from Sir Milton Margai to the present Ernest Koroma were mission school products be it at the primary, secondary, or even University as Fourah Bay College where most Sierra Leoneans with a post secondary education received their learning.

Fourah Bay College was the initiative of the CMS Missionaries. It will therefore be an act of outright ingratitude or lacking in foresight and knowledge of Sierra Leone’s educational history and Christian Missionaries’ contributions to the educational development of our country if any government past or present should ever covertly or overtly try to provoke a confrontation with these philanthropic men and women who came not just to preach the message of Jesus Christ, but opened our eyes to the benefits of Western education. It must be pointed out that Christian missionaries were in no way obligated legally or otherwise to bring educational light to the ’blind peoples’ of Africa and Sierra Leone in particular. Their motivation was purely philanthropic and a matter of genuine human concern to help the colonized peoples open their eyes to the benefits of western education and scholarship after the abolition of the slave trade and to help with repairing the damage done by European nations especially the British government in over 150 years of economic exploitation. To this end, they also brought the message of Jesus Christ alongside the opening of schools to which African children were taught initially the three ’R’s, i.e. Reading, writing and Arithmetic.

Unfortunately, the former SLPP Education Ministry and the current APC seemed either ignorant or oblivious of the history of education in Sierra Leone. The political heads of that very important ministry don’t seem to understand that almost all secondary schools in Sierra Leone today are Christian mission assisted schools, another small number are Islamic mission assisted schools, (compare with only nine government schools) and that Sierra Leone governments , both past and present have never been competitive with mission schools because of their chronic financial penury which has always manifested itself by their inability to promptly pay the salaries of teachers for the last almost forty years, that is since 1970.

What new government secondary school has the government of Sierra Leone opened since 1961? None, I dare give the answer, and I stand to be proved wrong, and hope no one will mention the now called Government Rokel Secondary School, after it closed or upgraded the former Government Model Primary School at Berry Street to Secondary status in the early seventies. How can educational standards stay north when the government’s only commitment was paying teachers’ salaries, a commitment they have failed to live up to in the last almost 40 years, owing teachers from six months to even a year or even more in backlog? It is one thing to formulate policies in the Ministry of Education, but it’s quite another to implement such policies without demonstrating the financial might that would make the policies work. The government frustrates and demoralize teachers at all levels from University to primary schools. How many times have University and college lecturers, and schools in Sierra Leone gone on strike over backlog of salaries or low pay over the years? Countless times!

Special tribute to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) for opening the first Grammar School, the CMS Grammar School in 1845, (now the SL Grammar School) followed by the Annie Walsh Memorial Girls’ School in 1849. These two schools were not only the first in Sierra Leone, but the first in all West Africa and both schools attracted students from places as far away as Nigeria, the Gold Coast and The Gambia. We also owe the CMS a huge debt of gratitude for the opening of Fourah Bay College which started in Leicester village as a Christian Institution in 1814. By 1827, the Christian Institution was upgrade to a university status becoming the first western-style university in West Africa to train Africans as school masters, catechists and clergymen. Without the CMS missionaries, it is doubtful whether Sierra Leone could have ever started a university institution considering her never-ending pecuniary cries? Fourah Bay College, the CMS Grammar School and the Annie Walsh School made Freetown a ferment of intellectual activity in the late years of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Fourah Bay College was in 1876 affiliated with Britain’s third oldest university Durham and its students started studying for English university degrees. There were also the Methodist Missionaries, who started the Methodist Boys’ and Methodist Girls’ High schools in 1874 and 1880 respectively in Freetown.

The United Methodist Mission commonly called the Mende Mission, also started the Harford School for Girls at Moyamba in 1900, to be followed by the opening of the Albert Academy Secondary School at Berry Street in 1904 initially for boys from Mende country hence its popular nickname “Mendeman College’ as the CMS Grammar School, the Annie Walsh, and other older schools mostly admitted only Creole students. For very many years, most students of the Albert Academy came from Mende country especially from Moyamba district and Moyamba and Rotifunk towns in particular. In fact it was not until 1956 that the CMS Grammar school admitted its first protectorate student, the late Sorie Bom Sankoh into that institution since its foundation over one hundred years ago, during the era of Mr. Frank Wood, a British expatriate. Since then the doors of the CMS Grammar school have been opened to all students irrespective of their places of origin.

Apart from the CMS and Methodists , there were the Roman Catholic Missionaries (from Ireland) who became fierce competitors not only in Freetown, but also in the South and East of Sierra Leone opening their first secondary schools , the St Joseph’s Convent Secondary School at Brookfields established since 1868 by Roman Catholic nuns from Italy, Ireland and France: the school moved to her permanent site at Brookfields with modern buildings completed and officially opened on February 23, 1965 by the Late Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai. The St. Edwards Secondary school now at May Park Kingtom, was opened on February 6, 1922, with seven foundation students including the second Prime Minister Sir Albert Michael Margai.

The Christ the King College (CKC) in Bo was opened in 1955. Then came the ’Miracle’ Xaverian Missionaries from Italy who brought not only the message of Christ to Northern Sierra Leone, but also the light of education. Today, thanks to their relentless efforts, we can see what our forefathers never saw; and those beneficiaries of western learning from Catholic mission schools were not merely mission converts, but include in a majority of cases, those students from hard core Muslim homes. In Makeni the Xaverian missionaries opened the first two secondary schools , with St Francis in 1958 and St Joseph’s in 1962 followed by schools like Kambia’s Kolenten secondary (1960) initially with a preparatory class, Kabala Secondary School (1961) in Koinadugu, the Our lady of Guadalupe School in Lunsar in 1965. In short between 1958 and 1978, the Xaverian missionaries have opened a secondary school in every major town in Northern Sierra Leone, including Bumbuna, Makali, Binkolo, Port Loko, Mange Bureh apart from Makeni and Lunsar in a region where, the British managed to open only two secondary schools, a boys’ and a girls’ school in Magburaka town.

For readers’ better understanding of ownership of schools in Sierra Leone, let it be clearly understood that government-assisted schools are not government schools; they are mission-owned, and the lands on which such schools are located are lands leased from local authorities by those missions. All those school buildings were constructed with grants from humanitarian agencies overseas. The only government-owned schools in Sierra Leone are the nine schools already aforementioned. They were built with colonial funds before independence; hence their names-Government secondary schools. All the others are mission assisted schools.

Let me also underscore the point that the Sierra Leone government has not even built a single primary school in all of Sierra Leone; the only primary schools it had were Bo School; but from the moment that primary school was upgraded to secondary status that ownership ended. The second primary school it had was the Government Model Primary School which was again upgraded to Secondary School in the early seventies. All primary schools in the country are either mission-owned and therefore government- assisted by way of salaries payment, or District Education Committee schools (DEC)schools whose maintenance are the responsibility of the District Councils, while their salaries came from government hence their name. These DEC schools are some of the most backward of primary schools in the country in terms of infrastructure. I hope readers can see that the government never wants to shoulder any responsibility about schools. Then where really lies government’s power to wield control over schools in Sierra Leone?

We cannot blame the present government for this situation of embarrassment although the Siaka Stevens’ APC could have done a better job about school ownership, but the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Sir Milton Margai’s SLPP government which started the whole mess, and has been inherited by successive government over the years. Can we all see now why government is so powerless when it comes to the struggle for control of schools in secondary schools in Sierra Leone today? All successive administrations over the years have been neglectful of schools knowing the huge responsibilities involved and which they are not ready to shoulder, yet they want to show control. I hope Dr Minkailu Bah can find time to read this article for a clear understanding of the operations of the ministry over which he presides. The former SLPP’s Dr Alpha Wurie did not seem to get it, but hope the current Minister of Education will get it this time.

Indeed, the SLPP government of Sir Milton Margai almost wrecked education in the protectorate on the eve of independence. The year 1960 saw a serious setback for most protectorate students in government Secondary Schools, supposed to provide affordable and quality secondary education at minimal cost to parents, and it was a year all secondary students in government secondary schools in the protectorate will never forget, including the author of this article. In 1960 I was in form 1 at the Magburaka Secondary School for Boys, and memories of that year will remain in all secondary school students of the period when the SLPP government of Sir Milton Margai, not wishing to be blamed for the catastrophic change in educational policy, caused the outgoing colonial government to announce huge fees increase in all government Secondary Schools in the country for the coming 1960/61 school year.

The increase coincided with the change in the school calendar year which previously ran from first week in February to mid-December. Instead of the traditional three terms, the 1959/60 year was changed to five terms; this meant that all students at school between Class 1 up to Upper V1 spent five terms in the same class or form to transition to the September to July new school year. The new tuition fees increase was in effect a one year notice to all students and their parents to be ready for the massive fees increase or be ready to drop out. In this, their aim was achieved. Sadly enough, no single Sierra Leonean parent or group raised a finger of protest at this injustice to the poor students of the protectorate; instead students from poor homes dropped out of government schools only to become in the majority of cases, native Administration Clerks, or went to work at that very early age at the Delco Mines in Lunsar as Apprentice technicians; some even went to join the army.

The following were the fees in all government secondary school up to July 1960. Bo Government School L10.10 or L3.3.3: (ten pounds ten shillings per annum or three pounds three shillings and three pence). Magburaka Boys Government School, Magburaka Girls Government Secondary School, Kenema Government Secondary School, Koyeima and Jimmy Government secondary schools all paid L7.10 or L2.10 (seven pounds ten shillings per annum, or two pounds ten shillings per term). These fees seem modest today, but a reasonably proportion of students returned to school weeks late while parents struggled to find the term’s fees. The payments covered everything from tuition, board and lodging, supply of text books and other stationery as well as toiletries and laundry detergents.

Such was the situation in 1960, when the government announced that effective September 1960, the fees in all government schools would increase from the above figures to L21.10 (twenty-one pounds ten shillings per annum) including L15 (fifteen pounds per annum for boarding home) for Magburaka Boys’ and Girls schools, Kenema, Koyeima and Jimmy Schools. All students in government Secondary Schools had to be in residence as there was no provision for day students. The situation is still the same today. These huge fees increase (according to available statistics of the time ) marked the end of schooling for nearly 25% of the student population in all up country government schools while another substantial number changed schools to become day students in new schools. St Francis secondary school in Makeni became one of the beneficiaries of many students going to forms 11 and 111 from Magburaka, Koyeima and Jimmy Government secondary schools; and many more would have transferred to St Francis if there was already a form 1V in Makeni.

The other beneficiary was Christ the King College (CKC) in Bo to which many older students from Magburaka School transferred in September 1960. Schools like Schlenker in Port Loko took some students from Magburaka in 1960. The fees for the Bo School rose to L25.10 (twenty-five pounds ten shillings) per annum. They too had their loss of students who either left school or went to Catholic mission schools to become day students. Quality education in government schools was none existent in those days as graduate qualified teachers were hard to come by; the few Sierra Leonean graduates at the time went to the Civil Service to fill the vacant positions created by the outgoing British administrators. In this situation, such government schools had to recruit primary school T. C. Holders to solve the teacher shortage. In many cases, the Principal and two or three expatriate teachers were the only graduates and were reserved for the forms 1V and V. As a result, a number of sixth form leavers were recruited to complement the teacher shortage, while awaiting their Higher School Certificate (HSC the precursor of the GCE ’A’ Level) results.

Those sixth form graduates were really good. Special mention must be made of some of our early sixth form graduate teachers at Magburaka like Retired Director of Medical Services Sierra Leone, Dr George N. Gage, from the POW school, Rtd Dr Musa. A. Kawa, from Bo school, Mr Osmon Cole, from the Grammar School and later Rtd. Regional Director of Rokel Leaf in Makeni, Miss Tejan from Annie Walsh, Retired Financial Secretary Mr. Saspo Bangura from Bo School, Rtd. Abdul K Dyfan Bo School etc. Without these sixth form teaching assistants, government schools would have suffered educational handicap.

What this shows is that all past Sierra Leone governments have never shown any genuine commitment to providing quality and affordable education in. They instead came to depend on the Peace Corps Volunteers, thanks to the Late President John Kennedy; a large number of Indians flooded our schools, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) from the United Kingdom and Canadian Universities Students Overseas (CUSO). They know too well that erecting buildings called schools, without the right professionals to man them is as good as not building them at all. All this serves to demonstrate how every educated Sierra Leonean today has benefitted from foreign mission schools, whether Christian or Islamic and without whose efforts all of us would have suffered educational blindness because the colonial secondary schools built with colonial funds have never increased in number since the departure of the British from our shores forty-eight years ago.

The lack of qualified teachers and government incentive to motivate locally qualified teachers explains why the system today is so rotten and plagued with all sorts of examinations scandals at the school leaving exams, ranging from leakages in school exams right up to university or college levels , illegal sales of exam papers by corrupt officials at WAEC office, leading to cancellation or withholding of students’ results, thereby delaying their plans for entry into post secondary institutions. Is this not tantalizing to students?

Indeed the SLPP government’s chronic lack of money under Sir Milton Margai was the main cause for the Kenema Government Secondary School students allegedly setting fire to their mediocre school buildings in 1962, when shortly after returning from a visit to Magburaka school, and seeing the modern buildings on the campuses of both the Boys’ and Girls’ schools, the visiting students concluded that the government had treated their school and the Eastern province unfairly and that the only way to make them realize this was to teach government the only language they could understand to draw attention to those antiquated dormitories with pit latrines on their campus seven years after the opening of that school (in1955).

Kenema school was by 1962, an antiquated school in no way comparable to other government schools in the country. They too needed a modern outlook. And so shortly after their visit to Magburaka School, the dormitories of the Government secondary school in Kenema were consumed by a mysterious fire. Government’s reaction was to expel most students between forms 111 and V, including the entire school soccer team, sent circulars to all Principals of the very few secondary schools at the time to deny admissions to all expelled students from Kenema in the Ministry of Education’s black list. Dozens of students from Kenema had to drop out of school as a result. All this took place because of the government’s endless cries for lack of money to modernize their only Secondary School in the Eastern province. But Kenema School got modern buildings as a result.

Where the government did not have money, funds were made available for a modern Kenema school from an unknown source. This is the only language a government with endless financial woes can understand especially where they cannot or do not wish go on the offensive against corruption right before their eyes in the departments over which they preside.

If the Sir Milton Margai’s and Sir Albert Margai’s old SLPP government, followed by Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh’s APC, again Tejan Kabba’s defeated SLPP and the current Ernest Koroma’s APC, all accepted that Sierra Leone’s financial woes are the result of all past and most recent administrations’ deliberate oversight of what goes on in the various departments of government, where Permanent Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, Senior Assistant Secretaries and junior accountants in the various ministries never proceed on leave, staying on the job for up to ten years or even more, then who is to blame for the rampant corruption in government service and government’s inability to pay all its work force.?

Government undoubtedly is to blame! Why would the permanent functionaries of government go on leave knowing they stand to lose the millions they collect every month by way of ghosts , and allowing a ’locum tenens’ to discover the secrets of their ministry and even inherit that fortune in their absence? Most of them have never gone on leave for more than ten years. And the government never bothered to question the Establishment Secretary why so many senior civil servants could accumulate annual leave for up to so many years. What is so sweet and secretive in the office that induces civil servants not to wish to go on leave and relax? The civil servants will do anything possible not to be served a letter to proceed on leave, knowing how much they stand to lose.

With equally corrupt Establishment secretary, it is always easy’ to buy one’s stay on the job. It is for all this that people are prepared to bribe anything to enter the public service being the only service that guarantees people mysterious wealth; and the greatest beneficiary is the Establishment Secretary who drafts those leave letters only to cancel them after hand shakes a few days later.

The people of Sierra Leone have been crying and will continue to cry until they can find a benevolent leader to bring them relief. and rescue them from the financial atrocities of the civil servants: the government makes them feel indispensable , irremovable and therefore ’untouchable’. The government of Sierra Leone will never, never be able to pay all its employees so long as it continues to give a blind eye to what goes on in the Civil Service. Bogus pronouncements about tackling corruption have been heard countless times before and are still being heard today to divert people’s attention. To the people, those pronouncements are the same old déjà vue.

On the question of who controls the schools in Sierra Leone, the answer is the government because of their commitment to paying the salaries of teachers. But the government has not lived up to this commitment. The government owes teachers up to between six months to twelve months in salaries backlog. This has been going on as already indicated for nearly forty years. This inability of government to pay its employees undermines its moral authority to exercise control in assisted mission schools. Once government undermines itself by its inability to honour its part of its commitment, then they have no legal authority to speak aloud in crisis moments. Even if government met their part of the deal on salaries regularly, the fact remains that its authority is limited because the property is mission-owned, not government. They pay the salaries of Civil Servants promptly and find excuses when it comes to teachers.

All government employees, including teachers in Anglophone countries in West Africa are Civil Servants; one finds them in the Gambia, Liberia before and after the war, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Why can’t Sierra Leone imitate? Why can’t they learn from her neighbours? Today they complain of too many teachers in the teaching field and don’t even know the thousands of ghost workers that abound in the civil service. They pick on teachers because they are the most vulnerable and cover up civil service ghosts in the departments over which they preside. Did reliable sources at the Education ministry not reveal when the NPRC took over that the late APC Minister of Education Moses Dumbuya had three ghosts secondary schools, all with graduate qualified staff? Did anyone ever bother to find out why civil service payroll vouchers always increase in employees? The government’s ministers are themselves part of the problem. Were Dr Moses Dumbuya’s ghosts schools ever closed down or inherited by his successors?

We need answers. They know too well that the ministries over which they preside are covertly super corrupt. And to divert popular attention, they send terrorizing paying teams to schools to demoralize heads of schools and give a blind eye to their corrupt civil servants. Civil servants who never die and never retire; they remain active as long as the bosses want them stay put. They become the protégés of the very politicians who occasionally make noise about corruption. All permanent secretaries have their own quota of ghosts’ salaries.

If the present government is serious about stamping out corruption and killing ghosts forever, I challenge them to have principals and vice-principals, head teachers, managers and supervisors of schools and some teachers undertake a verification of workers exercise to civil servants in the Western area and see how much salaries left-over will be realized. I bet the government, the left-over monies will pay all the backlog due teachers and will henceforth enable government to pay the salaries promptly. Grab all the previous payment vouchers for the last three months and the current, and the nation will be thrilled with the outcome. No doubt, the Accountant General’s Office will be a target for acts of arson to destroy sensitive documents and cover up the mess. How many times have top civil servants revised their age downwards not to retire?

If the government is serious about stamping out corruption and preventing ghosts from ever returning to those offices, let them get teachers from the provinces to do the verification exercises in Freetown, while teachers from the western area do the same in the provinces. Trust me, most top civil servants including those accountants will commit suicide before the end of the exercise. Only then can the nation know the culprits who deny death to civil servants for wrecking this already impoverished nation. This is not to say there are no ghosts in the school system: of course there are very many among education secretaries, head teachers, principals of schools; but these are generally an extension of the Accountant- General’s office dubious activities of the ghosts’ vouchers’ system.

Those in the Accountant-General’s office know that someone in the provincial and district treasuries will cash the vouchers and take their share back to Freetown. Corruption in the Sierra Leone is not very easy to kill; it has seven lives like a cat. You can employ several techniques to exterminate it, but there are always some top criminals out there to beat the system. That is why it will take a magician president to wipe it off the Sierra Leonean soil. But such a president must be really serious about it, not merely issuing bogus threats. In fact things get worse anytime the government threatens to do something.

President Ernest Koroma must endeavour to be “a man of the people” and when the leader earns that description, he need not fear facing the people at the poll because all the people want is a leader who strives to improve their lot. A man of the people cannot easily lose at the poll, but to earn that title, requires bravery on the part of the leader to confront the corrupt ministers and their top civil servants. Sierra Leone is still in looking for a leader to rectify and clean up this never ending mess in our country. But so long as they continue to sing the same hymnal of old and not accept teachers into the public service, the system is paralyzed. It is the government which is responsible for the commercializing of lessons in schools today whereby teachers take a fee for private tuitioning of their students; and there is nothing wrong in this as the paramount employer, the government can only pay civil servants and expect teachers to “work for God” until they can find money to pay them.

Our governments do not see teachers as humans deserving a decent standard of living. The SLPP was booted out of office because of uncontrolled corruption. The people are tired of stories, they decided to try another party and see if their lives can be improved. But if it is the same old recycled story as in previous administrations, then they will have themselves to blame at the next poll. Enough is enough of story -telling. We need a government that acts, by confronting the crooks headlong by their horns.

I have just read from the Sierra Express Media on Line that the government has made available Le1.5 billions to pay all teachers backlog over the years, and that paying teams would soon leave for the provinces to start the exercise. This has always been the craziest exercise the Ministry of Education can ever authorize.

What will happen to the hundreds of millions left over? Watch the team members; they will be spending time in bars all over the provinces boozing every night, receiving nocturnal delegations in their places of residence with stuffed huge envelopes to play the usual cover up. And the millions left over will never be returned to the treasury: rather they will spend nights going into shares from the top bosses in the ministry to the Assistant Secretary, and falsify all vouchers with scribbled signatures as having been signed, and report officially that all salaries have been paid out. These are the same old tricks. We know them all. This is outright baloney.

When will the Sierra Leone government ever pick sense and move against this never ending corruption? Most of those in the so called paying teams have been part of the problem, and yet government continues to send them to carry out a futile exercise. Those who handpick them have instructed them on what to do, and who will be visiting them in the middle of night. We saw them do it many years ago in some places in the eighties, and what will stop them repeating it again? Minister of Education, please stop treating teachers like farm labourers; they too are humans deserving their own self respect. Why does the public have to know that today is Payday for teachers?

If the government is really serious about ending these dubious and shady deals, all secondary schools teachers must be forced to open up bank accounts for the monthly payments of salaries. Of course the top criminals at the Accountant- Generals office will fight against this with hundreds of excuses on technical computer problems; only this will send all ghosts to their final resting place. Salaries will be posted directly to one’s account, and once posted in, nobody can withdraw it from somebody’s account. Trust me these teams will not report any salary returns, just as their predecessors did in previous years.

Reporting any leftover of salaries will be seen as an act of betrayal of their colleagues. Some of us have worked in the Gambia for years, and not a single month has a teacher been paid a salary manually in the bursar’s office. All salaries are sent directly to the teachers’ accounts at the bank. If this works in The Gambia, can it not work in Sierra Leone? Salary paying teams are an indirect way of condoning the activities of the crooks in the public service, and these are in their thousands. Unless we copy The Gambia’s example, it will be only months before we start hearing the same old problems on salary delays due to an overwhelming work force.

Civil servants who may read this piece will say ’Nar bad hart’. But that is of course baloney. They make their compatriots; the teachers appear like Agriculture Farm workers, or MOW workers whose salaries are collected in huge rice bags from local banks. These are terrorizing fake teams intended to scare away the nervous teachers. Sierra Leone needs a leader like Pres. Yayah Jammeh of the Gambia; if only the Gambia can lend him to us for just two years, we can become a political ’born again’ state forever. They know too well how much is going back to Freetown by way of unclaimed salaries, but this time , not to the Bank of Sierra Leone where the Le1.5 billion was released, or the Accountant-General’s office where all payment vouchers are pre-approved and signed, but to members of the paying teams.

On the selection of members of the school Boards of Governors, the proprietors nominate five representatives while the Ministry supplies six representatives including the Board Chairman because of their power of the purse. But when that power is no more, then they no longer have any authority either legally or morally to a majority in the Board representation. All teachers and the principal and his vice principal are appointed on behalf of the Board. But the proprietors have the legal right to challenge the appointment of a Board Chairman or principal not acceptable to them because the school after all is their own property. To appoint a Muslim as Principal or Chairman of the Board of a Christian mission school is provocative to the owners of the school, just as it is equally provocative to appoint a Christian Principal or Board chairman to an Islamic school.

A struggle is bound to ensue at any government attempt to impose anyone unacceptable to the proprietors because they are both the “de iure et de facto” owners of the school and not government. Government only assists with salaries, hence the hyphenated name “government-assisted” schools. Conversely, the government can do anything in government schools; here their authority is supreme and unchallenged and can easily impose or fire a principal or Board chairman without any challenge. But when government strays in such a situation, relations become tense on both sides, and the government does not wish to be seen as condescending to the proprietors, nor the latter succumbing to government. There is therefore a deadlock on both sides which never augurs well for the school administration and the students. The deadlock may be prolonged as the Ministry which is the cause of the impasse would not wish to be seen as retracting its decision. They never accept wrong. But in such controversies, the will of the proprietors prevails in the end.

My concluding advice to past and present governments is that if they wish to exert greater control over all schools, they first have to demonstrate their financial capability to pay all their work force regularly and promptly, not just those civil servants who are the very cause of government’s economic paralysis over the years; the Accountant-General’s office is the place where all evils of corruption are hatched, the office where all ghost vouchers are verified , approved and signed and encashed in provincial streasuries, a place where retirees who passed away twenty , thirty or more years ago are still very much alive and active in 2009 in the retirees pensioners’ vouchers paid out every month.

With all these monstrous activities , how can a government ,however well- intentioned, dedicated and committed, pay every workers when the number of ghosts in the government payroll rivals that of the live and active in the country and in most cases, the ghosts surpass the active workers?

Photo: Engineer Melbourne Garber.