General News of Thursday, 17 July 2003

Source: Emmanuel Edukugho /Vanguard

WAEC in dire straits; member nations default payments

THE West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is going through financial difficulties, with each of the national offices experiencing budgetary constraints threatening their operations. Five English-speaking West African countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and The Gambia make up membership of the examination body.

According to the Registrar’s Report to Council for the year ended March 31, 2001, made available to Vanguard in Lagos, there are huge shortfalls in the contributions from all member countries, except Ghana.

The details of contributions received as at end of the financial year in December 31 are as follows:

WAEC received $402,597.25 out of Nigeria’s approved contribution of $1,847,837.46, creating a shortfall of $1,445,240.21.

Ghana’s approved contribution was $1,022,186.22, in addition to the rent obligation of $120,000.00 as the host of the Headquarters, giving a total of $1,142,186.22. The amount received was $1,200,000.00 showing a surplus payment of $57,813.78.

Sierra Leone paid $55,093.10 out of its assessment of $235,365.10, leaving a shortfall of $180,272.

Of the amount of $222,762.34 expected from The Gambia, $146,940.37 had been received with a balance of $75,821.97.

Liberia had a shortfall of $11,832.04 after paying $66,167.95 of its contribution of $78,000.00 (see chart).

The total amount of $1,870,798.00 received so far represents 53.05 per cent of Headquarters’ approved budget of $3,526,152.00 for the 2000 AD financial year.

The Registrar, Mr. M.P. Ndure said that the net result of this has been the near collapse of operations paid for from the Headquarters’ budget.

Affected by the financial shortfalls are International Subject Award meetings scheduled for Lagos in September 2000 which were cancelled.

Training courses for staff and examiners could not be held as planned.

Research activities were curtailed as were many other important activities.

The London office, which forms part of the Headquarters, edged very close to bankruptcy at various points.

Salaries of staff of the Research Division and Headquarters Office, Lagos, were paid for most of the year from loans from the Nigeria Office.

The pension contributions of these staff have now been in arrears for two consecutive years.

Because of the heavy reliance on the amounts received from Ghana for the Headquarters’ operations, loans are taken from the Ghana Office in advance of receipt of the monthly payments of the contributions due.

Ndure stated that unavoidable defaults in the repayment of the loans received have led to the Headquarters owing the Ghana office C600 million and Nigeria office N20 million. A debt of N6.5 million has been overdue for settlement at the Excellence Hotel for nine months and WAEC is now barred from holding meetings there until the full amount is paid.

In Accra, more than one and half billion cedis (C1.5 billion) worth of bills from contractors for the completed guest house are yet to be settled.

A good amount of money is also required to furnish the guest house and to make it fully operational.

The WAEC Registrar cautioned that if for any reason, the Accra and Lagos offices are not able to come to the organisation’s aid, then the activities of the Headquarters could grind to a halt.

Saying this is a rather dismal picture of the WAEC Headquarters, but Ndure added, he was glad to report that the need to redress the situation has been receiving serious attention in the past few months.

First, in Nigeria, a committee was set up by the Federal Ministry of Education to look into the funding of the council and to address the issue.

outstanding subvention/contributions accumulated in the past years. The Headquarters made a submission to the committee as requested. However, WAEC is not yet privy to the findings and recommendations of the committee, but there is every reason to believe that something positive will come out of it.

He explained how the Federal Government nominees on council formed themselves into a Standing Committee to plead the cause of WAEC with the Ministries of Education and Finance in Abuja, and to talk to any public official who might be in a position to assist.

After consultation with the committee, Ndure said he wrote a letter to the Minister of Education making a special appeal for the payment of at least the full contribution for the year 2000 to alleviate the plight of the Headquarters. He felt assured that the full payment of Nigeria’s contribution would be restored, moreso when the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, after a meeting, promised to do something about the current contribution, including the arrears.

In respect of war-torn Liberia, the Registrar disclosed that for some time now, payments from the Government of Liberia have not been regular.

But the chairman and vice-chairman of WAEC, in the past year, worked hard to ensure that some funds were released. A system is being worked out on payment of subventions to the National Office and Headquarters on a regular basis. He was optimistic there would soon be a turn around in the financial situation of the Headquarters, considering the so much goodwill shown recently.

How the national offices fared

Nigeria: The Lagos office experienced a major deficit in the budget for the year when it was forced to reduce the fee for West African Secondary Schools Certificate Examination (WASSCE) from N2,000 to N1,000. The office managed to meet its responsibilities by digging deep into the reserves and investments it had built up in the preceding years.

While a request has been made to the Federal Ministry of Education for an upward review of the fee, the prevailing circumstances over NECO make it prudent to continue with the N1,000 for the year 2001 examination.

Ghana: Government subvention fell by about 24 per cent of the Accra Office request. The office received C3,321,080.377 as against the estimate of C4,354,612,053.00 which was an improvement on that of the previous year.

In addition, while in the past, the Government of Ghana had reduced the recommended fee for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), it approved the office’s recommendation of a new fee of C50,000.00 during the year under review. But the office still had cause for concern as the continued fall of the local currency (Cedi) hiked cost of operations.

Sierra Leone: The Freetown Office fared badly in the early part of the reporting period as the small number of candidates and very low Government Subvention resulted in difficulties as regards payment of salaries and cost of operations.

There was marked improvement in funding later as the Government provided two hundred and fifty-five million Leones ( i.e. 255m) in November. Part of this amount was used to purchase a computer and paying the backlog of staff salaries and pension contributions.

In addition, the Government approved new examination fees and rates of subsidy for each examination. By the end of January, the office had received a total of eight hundred and thirty-five million Leones (i.e. 834,000,000.00) as subvention. The bulk of the funds used in underwriting the January 2001 international meetings in Accra came from Sierra Leone. With the end of the bloody civil war, payments are expected to be prompt and regular.

Liberia: The Monrovia Office received U$31,880.00 or L$1,227.477 as Government Subvention during the reporting period. But a major problem faced by the office is the late receipt of the payments due. The Gambia: Banjul Office recorded a reduction in the subvention from Government. But on the whole, there was some improvement in its finances over previous year.

With the assistance of the Department of State for Education, the year under review witnessed fewer difficulties in colleting examination fees. However, a debt of D658,473.16 is still being owed by candidates and schools as fees for the period under review.