As part of effort to ease inefficiency in salary payment for health workers and teachers across the country, Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research or mSTAR project in collaboration with the Government of Liberia, and support from USAID ends a day-long consultation with County Education Officers, District Education Officers and District Health Officers in Phebe Suakoko District, Bong County.
The one-day consultation brought together participants from Rivercess, Nimba, Grand Bassa, Lofa and Bong Counties, respectively. “Imagine the following scenario: it’s payday and you want to pick up your salary. But first, you have to navigate a series of deteriorating, hazardous dirt roads to get to the bank. It takes you a few days just to talk to a teller. When you finally do, the teller informs you that the bank is currently out of cash; you’ll have to wait some more. By the time you actually get paid, you’ve had to miss several days of work – and to top it all off, between bank fees (including bribes or unofficial fees to bankers and security guards), the cost of lodging, travel and food, you’ve spent 15 percent of your salary just to pick it up”, narrates mStar senior mobile money officer, Madam Gbodi.
She explains that to address this challenge, the Liberian government is in partnership with the mSTAR project, led by FHI360 and funded by USAID, to roll out mobile salary payments for Education and Health workers, adding that with mobile salary payments, these workers no longer need to leave their workplaces to receive salaries since the launch of the program.
She notes that the program is a flexible and responsive technical assistance and research aimed at fostering rapid adoption and scale-up of digital finance, digital inclusion and increasing the technical skills of end users in the country.
Madam Gbodi believes that the time teachers leave to retrieve their salaries, schools are short-staffed or closed, and students are denied lessons.
She says the mobile money network in Liberia is facilitated by a partnership between GSM Company Lonestar Cell MTN and Ecobank Liberia Limited with 152 “cash-in/cash-out” mobile money agents operating nationwide, which doubles the number of bank branches.
Some participating teachers share their experience before and after they were paid by mobile money for one payment cycle. Madam G. Gorpu Morris, district health officer of Lofa County, expresses excitement, noting she would no longer pay huge sums of money for transportation and to spend time away from her family. According to her, with the convenience of mobile money, she will now be able to send her children money in Monrovia at any time she wishes.
Madam Morris says she will encourage her colleagues in nearby counties to enroll in the mobile money salary payment system, as “it is reliable, faster, and there is zero tension in getting your own salary.”
For his part, Truster Mulbah, district health officer for Kolahun district, Lofa County, recounts how obtaining his salary from the bank posed major challenges for him, such as traveling long distances, poor bank service, queuing for hours, the bank system being down and much more.
Before mobile money, he once tried to send money to his children so they could pay their school fees via a relative and the money never made it to them.
Mulbah is now excited to join mobile money salary payments so he can send money to his family and pay his bills with just his phone, saving him time, money and stress.
Investigation conducted by this paper established that Liberia is new to mobile money, especially in comparison with its well-established counterparts in East Africa. But despite the country’s nascent mobile money ecosystem, digital financial services have begun to take hold. For Liberians in general, mobile money is helping to solve the kinds of banking challenges described above.
With mobile money, Liberians go to an agent, whom they often know by name. There is seldom a line, and people are free to go on their own time, unrestricted by bank hours. Since Lonestar Cell MTN, one of the largest mobile network operators in Liberia, debuted its mobile money product in 2011, about 1.6 million people have subscribed to the service. For a nation of 4.6 million people, that represents significant uptake.
By Joseph Titus Yekeryan, Bong -Editing by Jonathan Browne