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Sierra Leone Promises Probe Into Missing Ebola Funds

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) — A full investigation will be conducted into multiple failures of accountability regarding the use of $5 million in funds sent for the fight against Ebola, the government of Sierra Leone has pledged.

An internal audit found that nearly one-third of the money received to fight Ebola was spent without providing receipts and invoices to justify the spending.

In their report released late last week, the auditors cited “inadequate controls” over the disbursement of funds, hazard payments being made to hospitals with no proof the money was actually going to the health workers on the frontline and, in some cases, a “complete disregard for the law” in procurement.

The $5.75 million in funds without spending documentation represents about a third of the total $19.32 million under review. The money came primarily from institutions and individuals donating from mostly within Sierra Leone and from tax revenue.

These undocumented losses may have slowed the country’s emergency response to the Ebola outbreak and may have led to unnecessary loss of life, the authors of a detailed report on the crisis said.

In an extensive report by The Guardian newspaper, a spot review found that army and police personnel were included on a list of workers to receive hazard money “even though funds had been transferred to both forces to meet the deployment of their officers.”

In the town of Makeni, where workers in one hospital went on strike because they had not received hazard payments, concerns were that some money was diverted to nonexistent ghost workers.

One member of parliament was singled out in the report when it appeared that payments were made to him to carry out sensitization programs, even though an amount had earlier been paid to all seating MPs.

The head of the Health for All Coalition has also been asked to explain himself after checks were made out to him personally instead of to his organization. The Ministry of Health has since disputed the amount of money allocated to the coalition and promised to hand over “all documentary evidence” to the auditors, who said this case was of the “utmost concern.”

In an official press release, the president promised to “ensure full accountability” and warned that anyone found guilty of misusing Ebola funds would face the full force of the law.

The report by Sierra Leone’s auditor general covered the months of May through October 2014, after which the Ebola response was handed over to the Defense Ministry. The auditors looked at donations received directly by the government to fight Ebola.

“It is clear from our audit conducted that there continue to be lapses in the financial management system in Sierra Leone, and these have ultimately resulted in the loss of funds and a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector,” the report stated.

St. Lucia’s at 36 Years Old: A Mature Island-Nation Moves Forward

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Much has taken place in St. Lucia since February 22, 1979 when the country took control of its own destiny.

And most of it has been positive, fueling an upbeat and can-do spirit.

In the 30-plus years of sovereignty child survival has galloped ahead at break-neck speeds as infant mortality rates fell. St. Lucians are living longer than ever before, on average 74 years, outdistancing the life spans of Russians, Pakistanis and Lebanese; and the country is considered one of the easiest places in the world in which to start a business in the 21st century.

Just as important, confidence in its ability to deal with the myriad of challenges is growing by leaps and bounds, say government officials and commentators. Little wonder, then, that St. Lucians are looking forward to even better days now that the economy is beginning to show signs of stirring from its prolonged recession that was triggered by the global economic recession; management missteps by successive governments in Castries, the capital; and the fact that its English-speaking neighbors, from Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St. Vincent to Jamaica and Guyana are all suffering from the same things: the terrible impact of tough economic times in which they are living that are characterized by a mountain of debt, gaping fiscal deficits and high unemployment rates

With a return of many of the North American and British tourists to the tourism dependent country, the 36th anniversary of sovereignty is being celebrated with renewed optimism in song, dance, national debates about the future, national sporting competitions, culinary festivals and cultural exhibitions across the 238 square mile country.

“We believe we have weathered the economic and social storm and the independence celebrations are adding to our positive feelings about our country,” said Renee Charles, a St. Lucian who has been living in New York for more than a decade and who monitors every step taken by the government, the opposition United Workers Party and the private sector. “Five years ago when we had just passed 31 years as a sovereign state we were struggling to get our country back to normal after the floods and other environmental disaster. We have seen many improvements as a result of our own efforts and the assistance of foreign countries and international agencies.”

Although beset with a mountain of debt, a wide fiscal gap between what the government collects in revenue and spends on social services and a worrying crime rate fueled by illegal drugs, the Roman Catholic oriented and English and patois-speaking country of 170,000 souls is heralding its achievements since the advent of independence.

Interestingly, even before the celebrations began earlier this month, Dr. Kenny Anthony, the Prime Minister told a gathering of national and foreign dignitaries attending the recent official launching of a historic cultural site site and “urban enhancement project” in St. Lucia that they were “becoming a more mature” nation eager to recognize the contributions of all St. Lucians, regardless of political affiliations.

“We can take a new path in striving for our own identity,” he said.

Lucians in the Diaspora in New York and the rest of the United States told Carib News in recent conversation that the maturity was evident for some time, a years now, and it was reflected in the way people dealt with economic, environmental and social adversity than ranged from the prolonged recession, environmental damage and social challenges, including crime.

They have set out repairing the damage and putting the country back on its feet without waiting on foreign assistance, they said.

Sherrilyn Ifill Calls for Renewed Focus on Housing Segregation

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By Roberto Alejandro
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Preventing future Fergusons will require dismantling the patterns of segregation established by decades of federal housing policies, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), told a gathering of law and social work students at the University of Maryland on Monday. Speaking at a series held by the University of Maryland School of Law titled ‘Beyond Ferguson,’ Ifill cautioned that rather than move beyond what happened in Missouri last August, we must thoroughly engage the implications of Michael Brown’s death.

“All too often, in this country, we are so hesitant, so nervous, so afraid of engaging in difficult conversations, especially about issues of race and justice, that we are always looking to get beyond it as quickly as possible,” said Ifill. “And as a result, we have left on the table . . . a bevy of problems that continue to bedevil us over and over again.”

The past, Ifill says, explains our present, and the problem of police killings is partly a problem of police culture, but mostly a function of America’s history of segregated housing that continues to shape cities and communities across the country.

On police culture, Ifill says that while it will be slow to change, one effective way to help spur movement in the right direction is to tie the almost $1 billion in annual federal grants to police agencies to training requirements in areas such as implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and how to handle encounters with the mentally ill.

“Several levels of training [are] needed,” said Ifill. “Whatever is happening now is not doing it, and it needs to be better.”

Additionally, the federal government should be requiring greater data collection by police agencies on matters like departmental diversity, the number of civil rights complaints against a department and the nature of any resolutions, incentives for officers to keep their weapons holstered vs. unholstered, and the supervisory and internal investigatory mechanisms in place to ensure accountability.

Arguing that data collection requirements are also a reflection of our values as a society, Ifill pointed to gaps in our knowledge of policing. “I can go online, right now, and tell you how many officers were feloniously killed last year, and the year before, and the year before that,” said Ifill, “but I could not tell you how many unarmed citizens were killed last year and the year before that, so we need data.”

These measures would help address the problem of police killings in part, but the bigger issue is the persistence of segregation in American society. The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education highlighted social-scientific findings on the effects of segregation on Black children, but left out that this same body of research also found that segregation gives White children a false sense of their own abilities and what they can achieve, as well as an overdeveloped respect for authority even where such respect is misplaced.

“I really believe we’re living with the results of that,” said Ifill. “And I think we can no longer turn away from that reality.”

Ifill said past federal policies created a segregated America that has persisted long after those policies were taken off the books. One example she cited was federal mortgage insurance which began in 1934 and whose beneficiaries were 98 percent White because most mortgages during that era required racially restrictive covenants – binding agreements that a homeowner would not sell their home to non-Whites.

“The truth is you cannot have massive amounts of money and decades of investment and policy to create a segregated society, and just stop doing it and think you’re going to get an integrated society,” said Ifill. “We have never, on the other side, created the policies or the investments that would undo what created this landscape that we all have inherited.”

Pursuing such policies and investments that would reverse the legacy of segregated housing, says Ifill, is a renewed focus for the NAACP LDF in the civil rights arena.

Blacks Underrepresented in Stem Classes

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Many young African Americans will be shut out of the high paying jobs of the future, if they don’t earn a degree in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to a new report.

The new report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 advocacy and outreach groups, said that less than 3 percent of Blacks have earned a degree in the natural sciences or engineering fields by the age of 24 and that the STEM labor force is projected to grow by 2.6 million jobs over the next five years. Researchers said that more than half of those jobs will go to people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

In a press release about the report Wade Henderson, president and CEO of both the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said that equal access to a STEM education is crucial to the future of our country and economy, and to the lives of millions of minority and women students.

“We must – all of us – examine what systemic changes are necessary to ensuring that STEM learning is inclusive, engaging, and equally accessible, so that all of our children have the same opportunities to adequately prepare for college and for careers that will allow them to support themselves and their families,” said Henderson.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM workers, specifically in computer and math careers, make more than $80,000 per year. Even workers that graduate with associate’s degrees earn about 10 percent more than those working in non-STEM jobs.

“Yet, right now, all across America, there are nearly 40 million adults – disproportionately people of color and those who grew up in poverty – who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent,” stated the report. “And they are effectively locked into the lowest rungs of the occupational ladder.”

The majority of poor children don’t know enough words or have enough math skills when they start kindergarten and confronted with less experienced teachers and limited resources are ill-equipped for Algebra, a prerequisite for higher-level math courses, by the time they reach the 8th grade.

Some states failed to provide minority students access to those high-level math and English courses altogether.

“In 2013, there were 11 states where not one Black student took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam, which allows high school students to earn college credit: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming,” stated the report. “Nearly 20 percent of African-American high school students attend a high school that does not offer any AP courses.”

The report included a number of policy proposals and necessary actions for federal, state, and local lawmakers as well the private sector and philanthropic groups designed to encourage diversity in STEM careers and to raise the awareness of opportunities in STEM in the Black community. Those proposals included provided access to STEM courses as early as elementary school, investing more resources into training teachers, developing technical job programs for an evolving workforce, and asking business and industry leaders to collaborate with colleges to make sure that students are gaining skills to fill vacant STEM jobs.

The report noted that, “The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) warned that 300,000 or so college students graduating each year with bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in STEM fields is one million off the mark.

The Department of Education launched The Equity and Excellence Commission, in an effort to eliminate the racial and socioeconomic disparities in education. That group recommended ensuring high-quality early learning programs for low-income students, distributing highly effective teachers equitably, incentivizing the development of racially and socioeconomically diverse schools, and strengthening parent engagement programs.

The Leadership Conference report said that it’s time for the United States to the examine the pressures that squeeze minority children out of the STEM pipeline and to accelerate the reforms that work to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

“STEM education isn’t merely a new feel-good fad,” stated the report. “It is now – and will continue to be – the backbone of our dynamic and constantly changing world. And it’s critical that we make sure that it’s equally available to every child.”

Black Unemployment Dips to 10.3 percent

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell slightly from 10.4 percent in December to 10.3 percent in January and is still on track to hit single digits by the middle of the year.

Last month, Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonpartisan think tank focused on low- and middle-income workers, made the prediction that the Black jobless rate would fall below 10 percent, adding that the economy is recovering gradually and lawmakers shouldn’t do anything that would stall that progress.

Wilson warned that more spending cuts or raising interest rates could slow down the economy.

“If there are no signs of inflationary pressures, I don’t see the rush to do it,” said Wilson.

Economists attributed the slight uptick in the national unemployment rate, from 5.6 percent in December to 5.7 percent in January, to workers feeling more confident about their job prospects and rejoining the labor force.

With revisions to the number of jobs added in November and December, the Labor Department reported that more than 1 million jobs were added to the United States economy over the past three months, the best 3-month average since 1997.

Following the national trend, the White unemployment rate rose from 4.8 percent in December to 4.9 percent in January and the labor force participation rate, the share of workers who are employed or currently looking for jobs, also increased from 59.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

Even though, the Black labor force participation rate fell from 61.3 in December to 61 percent in January, it still remains higher than it was in January 2014. The participation rate for Black men over 20 years-old also decreased in January, but was one percentage point higher last month than it was this time last year.

Black women and White men and women over 20 years-old had higher participation rates in January 2015, compared to December 2014, but among the adult worker groups, only Black men had a higher labor force participation rate in January 2015 compared to January 2014.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old decreased from 11 percent in December to 10.6 percent in January, and the jobless rate for White men over 20 years old also increased from 4.4 percent to 4.5 percent in January.

The jobless rate for Black women rose from 8.2 percent in December to 8.7 percent in January and for the second month in a row, the jobless rate for White women was 4.4 percent.

In a statement on January’s jobs report Chad Stone, Chief Economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and analysis group that works on federal and state fiscal policy, said that as the labor market continues to improve “significant slack” still lingers.

“Ongoing labor market slack is particularly hard on the long-term unemployed, whose skills tend to erode while they remain jobless and who often seem stigmatized for being out of work so long when they apply for a job,” said Stone. “It’s unfortunate that federal UI [unemployment insurance] benefits for the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013; it’s even more unfortunate that in recent years, several states have made it harder for people who lose their job through no fault of their own to qualify for any UI.”

Blacks disproportionately suffer from long-term unemployment and in an effort to address this crisis, Stone said that President Barack Obama has acknowledged these problems by including “a set of major UI proposals in his new budget request that would both shore up UI financing for the long term and reform the federal Extended Benefits program to make additional weeks of UI available automatically in states with high or rapidly rising unemployment rates.”

During a speech in Indianapolis, Ind., President Obama celebrated the latest jobs numbers and touted his middle-class economic philosophy crafted to help more working families afford higher education, get paid sick leave at work and save for retirement. Obama said “while we’ve come a long way, we’ve got more work to do to make sure that our recovery reaches more Americans, not just those at the top.”

Repeating a familiar theme, he said, “That’s what middle-class economics is all about – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

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BVN National News Wire