Is President Weah’s Tuition Waiver Causing Open Defecation Crisis at UL?

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Since President George Weah announced a tuition waiver at all public tertiary institutions across the country, there are visible signs that the University of Liberia has not adjusted well to the changes. An investigation reveals that the Capitol Hill campus now has an open defecation phenomenon due to the lack of water on campus.

On October 24, 2018, Weah announced the new policy. He said the move was motivated by his discovery that the lack of funds to pay tuition was preventing some students from acquiring education.

However, the president failed to detail the full financial impact of the announcement on the operations of Liberia’s ten public institutions of higher learning, including the University of Liberia and Tubman University.

Additionally, he did not detail precisely where the funds to cover tuition would originate and the 2018/2019 fiscal year budget had already been passed many months before.

A University of Liberia source wishing to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation for divulging sensitive information informed The Bush Chicken that the president’s tuition waiver program had exacerbated problems at a university already plagued by financial issues.

One of those new issues, the source noted, was the lack of regular water supply due to the university’s delinquency in paying its bills. In 2018, the university’s Capitol Hill campus was regularly supplied by the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation. However, the school has since been disconnected.

While the university has not publicly announced the cause of the disconnection, the source said there are speculations that the administration failed to pay its bills.

Following the disconnection, the source noted that the university began purchasing water from tankers for its three toilet units that contain 32 commodes.

However, when the students returned from their 2018 December break, the source said owners of water delivery businesses refused to supply the university with water because of its failure to pay.

The source added that this situation drove the director of planning operations department, Jefferson Walker, to start purchasing relatively small amounts of water from tankers at his own expense.

“Walker has spent close to US$1,000 with the hope that he will be reimbursed by the administration,” the source said.

However, there continue to be challenges as the amount of water being purchased by Walker is insufficient.

“1000 gallons of water [were] purchased on February 1 by Walker and only lasted for 2 to 3 days,” the source said.

“Caretakers of the toilets receive water once a week and not from the university administration.”

The scenario is leading to an unsanitary situation at the nation’s flagship university. When the university toilets run out of water, students urinate and defecate in nearby bushes and near the entertainment center.

Students now urinate and defecate next to the university’s buildings because of the lack of water. Photo: Zeze Ballah

“The university is now facing lots of challenges which can be attributed to the president’s tuition waiver,” the source said.

Prior to Weah’s tuition waiver announcement, the source said university toilets only lacked water for a day at most, however, that has changed from three to four days at a time now.

The segment of students most impacted by the lack of water are female students, many of whom are being forced to attend to nature outside. Those who were shy begged custodians to fetch water from nearby Jallah Town.

Gabriel Victor, a freshman student at the Forestry College, described the situation on the campus as embarrassing.

“The most frustrating thing is to see a female attending to nature close to a male student,” he said.

Victor said the prevalent acts of open defecation and urination was polluting the campus.

“I foresee [a] serious health hazard if nothing is speedily done to address the situation,” he said.

According to Victor, the lack of water in the university’s toilets is a serious issue and should immediately claim the attention of the administration.

Gabriel Victor, a freshman student at the University of Liberia’s Forestry College. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Victor believes that it is the president’s tuition waiver that is contributing to the challenges being experienced by the university. He said prior to Weah’s pronouncement, the institution had been collecting tuition from students which was used to take care of some of its financial obligations.

While he acknowledged that the university is still collecting fees for services such as sports, science laboratory, library, insurance, student handbook, registration, and reconstruction, he said it is not sufficient to run the university.

Besides the sanitation implications, he said instructors now no longer go to classes with basic instructional materials. Additionally, he said his instructors were now often absent.

“As a freshman student, I need the instructors most,” he said.

Meanwhile, J. Oscar Tarphen of the Business College said students had been speculating that the lack of water on campus was a result of the president not following up on his tuition waiver promise to provide the university with the displaced funds. However, he said the university had not provided any explanation.

“We have not been informed by the university administration about the lack of water in the various toilets,” he added.

Oscar Tarphen, a student of the Business College. Photo: Zeze Ballah

The effect of the sanitation crisis can be felt during classes, Tarphen said, noting that students often complain of the bad odor oozing from where much of the open defecation takes place.

“I’m concerned and confused as to why water is hard to be seen in the various units since the president’s pronouncement on tuition waiver,” he said.

“The university administration needs to do something urgently or expect an imminent health hazard.”

The door to the bathroom at the university’s administration building. Photo: Zeze Ballah

The water shortage is not only affecting the student body, but also staff at the institution as well.

A visit to the institution’s administrative building showed that the toilet used by staff was locked with a notice informing them of the lack of water.

When contacted via phone, Norris Tweah, the vice president for university relations, referred The Bush Chicken to Augustine Boakai, the director for university relations.

However, neither Tweah nor Boakai were in the position to provide any information on the cause of the water shortage and whether it was connected to the president’s tuition waiver announcement.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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