By Foday Moriba Conteh
In a recent turn of events, the Minister of Higher and Technical Education (MTHE), Dr. Haja Ramatulai Wurie, is facing severe backlash following the purportedly unlawful appointment of Prof. Lawrence Kamara as the Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal (VC&P) of the University of Sierra Leone (USL). The move has ignited controversy as critics claim it violates key provisions outlined in the Universities Act of 2021.
Investigations into the matter reveal that the appointment allegedly contradicts specific sections of the Universities Act, 2021. According to Section 8 (2) of the Act, the Chancellor is responsible for appointing a Vice-Chancellor and Principal based on the Minister’s advice, subject to the Court’s terms and conditions. However, critics argue that Prof. Kamara’s appointment deviates from the established procedures and principles outlined in Sections 8(2), (5), and 9(1) of the Act.
Furthermore, the controversy surrounding Prof. Kamara’s appointment is exacerbated by his age, as he is reportedly beyond the retirement age of 65. Sources indicate that in a 2022 meeting, 15 out of 20 USL Court members opposed his renewal due to concerns about age and competence. Despite facing opposition, Prof. Kamara was appointed on December 11, 2023, allegedly in violation of the Universities Act.
The Minister is accused of exceeding her powers by unilaterally appointing the VC&P, a role designated to the Chancellor, who also chairs the USL Court. The Act explicitly states that in the absence of the VC&P, a Pro Vice-Chancellor should assume the role, further complicating the legitimacy of Prof. Kamara’s appointment when he is not a Pro Vice-Chancellor and there are substantive Vice-Chancellors at the University of Sierra Leone.
Stakeholders are now raising questions about adherence to legal provisions and the potential consequences for the governance structure of the University of Sierra Leone.
The controversy has prompted a letter from the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education dated January 9, 2023, addressed to the Chancellor of the University, Dr. Koroma, sparking a discourse over the interpretation of the Universities Act, 2021.
The Ministry justifies its intervention by citing the vacancy created by the former VC&P, Prof Foday Sahr, who assumed the role of Executive Director of the National Public Health Agency. Referring to Section 9(1) of the Universities Act, No. 5 of 2021, the Ministry contends that a Pro Vice-Chancellor should have filled the vacuum until the appointment of a substantive VC&P. But what was expected from the Minister was to urge the Court to appoint a Pro Vice-Chancellor to fill the vacuum or appoints substantive VC&P.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the current parallel administrations led by Prof. Kamara and Prof. Mohamed Samai, the MTHE calls for the installation of Prof. Lawrence Kamara as the Acting VC&P. The Ministry accuses the USL administration of disrupting the transition and deems Prof. Samai’s actions as illegal, emphasizing the need for collaboration with Prof. Kamara to recruit a substantive VC&P, with continued support for the university.