Thursday, March 22, 2012

Liberia: Education gets 50 percent oil revenue


A friend asked recently; how would you spend Liberia's oil revenue if the decision was yours to make? Without hesitation I replied: fifty percent will go towards education. 

As if I had committed a dreadful offense, the man's facial expression changed…appearing shocked and amazed, he said, that's too much money, Mr. Harris. 

Immediately, he began calculating in a low voice: at such and such amount for a barrel of oil and daily production of so and so, that's…suddenly he spouted out a huge amount of money. Are you saying fifty percent of that will be spent on education? He inquired. Again, he exclaimed, that's too much! 

Perhaps, I said. But have you tried calculating the percentage of Liberia's oil revenue that will likely be lost to corruption? If fifty percent is too much money to invest in education, how about thirty, sixty, or ninety percent ending up in the pockets of corrupt individuals? Isn't that too much money to vanish into thin air? 

The possibility of losing up to ninety percent of Liberia's oil revenue is real; therefore, steps must now be taken to guard against theft, misappropriation and the consequence of inadequate planning. Historically the country's resources have been mismanaged to the detriment of the citizenry. As a result, Liberians have nothing to show for the billions of dollars generated within the past decades from gold, diamonds, iron ore, rubber, round logs, and other invaluable resources. Why would crude oil be any different?

It is regrettable yet factual that illiteracy is the primary reason corrupt and immoral individuals are often elected to high offices in Liberia. This malignant democracy must be dealt with aggressively; otherwise, the largely illiterate electorate will yet again heap praises upon and reward criminals that are smart enough to invest as little as ten percent of the country's oil money into infrastructure development while pocketing the rest. Similar practices are occurring in post-war Liberia. Due to mass ignorance and illiteracy persons bearing the greatest responsibilities for the fourteen-year carnage and destruction of the infrastructure have been elected to national leadership, even though they have raped, tortured, maimed and murdered tens of thousands defenseless men, women and children. But who can forget the infamous campaign slogan: "You killed my pa, you killed my ma; I will vote for you!" Education is the answer. 

Liberia's ninety percent illiteracy rate is the major impediment to lasting peace, stability, reconciliation, growth and development. No amount of money is too high to rid the nation of this scourge. 
High quality mass education, in our estimation, is the best remedy for the ills plaguing Liberia. Therefore, a large portion of the expected crude oil revenue must be used to fund an aggressive educational program that will raise the literacy rate significantly. To this end, we propose a national oil policy, backed by strong legislation, that require up to fifty percent of the country's oil revenue be deposited into a special account accessible only for the implementation of a comprehensive national education agenda designed to produce a hundred percent literacy within the shortest period possible. 

The special educational fund shall be used not only to provide scholarships but also for payments -- where necessary -- of the entire cost of food, housing, transportation, health care, books and all other academic related expenses for any and every LIBERIAN CITIZEN that enrolls into and successfully completes a course of study at an approved institution within the country or abroad. 
Furthermore, the special educational fund shall also be used to upgrade facilities and the curriculum of all academic institutions – public as well as private -- within the Republic of Liberia to bring same in line with international standards. Highly qualified teachers shall be recruited at competitive wages from around the world in order to produce world class graduates. 

The comprehensive educational initiative shall include one hundred percent financing of pre-school, kindergarten and day care programs which will lay the foundation for academic excellence. In short, LIBERIAN CITIZENS of all ages that wish to pursue formal education will receive complete funding and may also receive monthly allowances as long as he or she is enrolled in a government approved academic institution at home or abroad and successfully completes the required course of study.   

This initiative to radically increase Liberia's literacy rate is no doubt bold, aggressive and costly. However, it will do more to move the country into the 21st century and insure lasting peace, stability, sustained development and prosperity. Therefore, let us not focus solely on cost, but rather on the merit and value of this transformative undertaking and its potential impact on a nation that has floundered for more than a hundred years. A national oil policy that prioritizes education and raises the literacy rate from ten percent to one hundred percent may be the wisest decision Liberians could make. Together we can prevent the discovery of crude oil from going the way of rubber, gold, diamonds, iron ore and round logs; all of which have profited us nothing. 

About the author: Mr. TQ Harris, Jr. currently resides in Liberia. While living in the United States where he received his education, Mr. Harris founded Media Support Group – an international engineering consulting company -- and served as its chief executive office until 1995 when he entered Liberian politics full time. He is a former presidential nominee and current CEO of Fantastic Games Incorporated – a Liberian lotteries company. 


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