US$100,000 Stigma On The Liberian Media: A Challenge To PUL New Leadership

By Atty  Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Today let me first apologize to my readers for departing from the objective of this column which is primarily intended to look at ethical and professional issues, relative to the development of the media, especially in writing, reporting and editing of news stories. But today, it is not the issue of reviewing some errors or mistakes in the media; rather it is about the rigmarole surrounding the headquarters’ project of the media. Although it is similar to the issue of bringing improvement to the media, as the construction would also help to develop the media, today, is all about this US$100,00 given the media by President Sirleaf many years ago.

In all fairness, one thing that continues to remain a stigma on members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the mother organization of media practitioners and institutions in the country is obviously so because of the failure of the Union to utilize US1000,000 given it many years ago by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as a contribution towards the construction project of the headquarters of the Union in Sinkor.

Up to press time, the purpose of the money is yet to be fulfilled because of controversy and hullabaloo surrounding the money as a result of some actions the then leadership in the utilization of the funds. As a result of this, the matter was taken to court by the new administration headed by the former president of the Union, Peter Quaqua to stop the enforceability of a contract that was entered into with a Liberian company for the construction of the headquarters by the then outgoing leadership headed by George Barpeen.

Indeed, this article is not intended to look at the reason why the Union entered such a contract, or why the leadership of Mr. Quaqua decided to stop the enforceability of the contract because the matter is still in court and remains sub judice. In other words, I am not looking at the merits or demerits of the actions of the Barpeen or Quaqua’s administrations. Therefore, I would only limit myself to other issues that may not be seen as prejudicing the matter in court.

I decided to look at this issue from a different perspective because it continues to be cited as one of the government’s commitments and contributions to helping strengthen the Liberian media by identifying with the Union in its headquarters’ project.

Just last week during a one lecture series organized by the NEWS Newspaper on the theme: “ “The Liberian Media 25 Years Back- A Comparative Analysis,” as part of activities marking its 25th anniversary, unsurprisingly, Deputy Information Minister, Isaac Jackson, who proxied for Minister Lewis Browne, cited this issue of the US$1000,000 to the Union, as one of the Sirleaf’s government’s desire to assisting the media, as part of its commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. He even went further to say how the government has given duty free privilege to community radios to bring in equipment to the country for their operations.

As previously stated, while I do not want to go into the merit or demerits of these acts, one thing that is clear is that the failure of the Union to use this money for its intended purpose thus far, would continue to cast a negative aspersion or stigma on the Union and its members. The donor did not expect that this would have ended in such a way. Intuitively, I surmise that by now the donor envisaged that there would have been high visible sign of the project at some levels, whether at its super structure or roof levels. But this is not the situation today.

It is an open secret that media practitioners have been very critical on other issues of accountability and transparency and so to see that US$100,000 continues to linger on is indeed regrettable. Indisputably, this means that once this matter is not resolved, it would continue to be a stigma on the Liberian media and that it would always be used to bring the Union and media practitioners to public disrepute or ridicule. We cannot be critical of others on similar matter, when money given us for a purpose, is in conflict.

I hope I would not be misconstrued of pointing accusing finger at anyone. NO!  This is not the case because I have no evidence to thread such a path, because our law says, he that alleges a claim, must prove it.  My only concern is that once this matter remains as it is, we should always be prepared to be faced with this disgrace of not making use of a fund intended for our headquarters’ construction.

Notwithstanding; as it is often said that every new leadership comes with a new vision and so, there is still a window of opportunity on this matter. To say it another way, “all is not lost.” It was the Union that took the matter to court, the same union. Under this leadership it can pursue the path of seeing what can be done on this matter. The court is not a party to this matter. Therefore, the court, as a neutral body has “no fish to fry.” As it is said, the court cannot do what the party litigants should do for themselves.

As the Union prepares to celebrate this year’s World Press Freedom Day, in Gbarpolu County, the new leadership of my junior brother, Kamara A. Kamara, would see reason to look into this matter and have some good results before next month’s celebration. This would be the first major achievement or breakthrough in such a matter.

One of the reasons why I campaigned and voted for Mr. Kamara is by belief in his ability to develop the media, something he has begun, and also work to review the proposed head1quarters project, as well as the issue of “Collective Bargaining” that was initiated by his predecessor, to bring sanity to the income of media practitioners, especially those who are underpaid.

Once more, let the Kamara-leadership consider this very important matter, as all of the parties involved are “on the ground,” as such would help to accelerate the process on the issue.  Failure to act promptly will undoubtedly perpetuate this stigma on all of us, directly or indirectly. More importantly, it may even affect us morally to question others on the issue of accountability and transparency. A HINT TO THE WISE IS QUITE SUFFICIENT.