Sunday, October 12, 2008

No Motive Attached To US$100, 000 Gesture

…Pres. Sirleaf Clarifies ‘Gift’
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has clarified that there is no motive attached to the US$100,000 assistance given by her to the Press Union of Liberia. The President recently dispelled public criticism that her gesture was intended to influence the reportage of the media; but she instead said the gesture was made out of her desire to put the PUL on par with other equal umbrella groupings of media in other countries in West Africa and elsewhere
The President told the Union that she generated the funds donate to the PUL from friends and has placed the money into a special account at the International Bank in the name of the Press Union of Liberia, a PUL release said. The release, signed by the Union’s Secretary General Peter Quaqua, said the President made the clarifications when she made the presentation of the US$100,000 deposit slip as her assistance to the Construction project of the PUL at a brief ceremony attended by an eleven-member Executive Committee at the President’s Foreign Ministry office.
PUL quoted the President as saying that she made the appeal for the money to friends because she did not have any allocation for such amount in the budget. President Sirleaf said while she anticipates additional donations from outside sources, her government was contemplating including the media in the next national budget.
Receiving the deposit slip of US$100,000, PUL President George Barpeen expressed gratitude to Madam Sirleaf for the money and added that it was a manifestation of her government to develop the media. While describing the gesture as magnanimous, Mr. Barpeen assured the President that the donation will be used for the intended purpose.
Meanwhile, there have been massive criticisms of the president’s gesture to the PUL. Two former PUL Officials and another journalist, Charles Nance along with a group of student calling itself Students’ Intellectual Committee have barked at the US$1000 Assistance from President as “poor judgment’ on the part of the Barpeen Administration and the biggest “kato” ever. Kato is the Liberian name of the brown envelope prohibited by mass ethics of journalism.
In their criticisms, Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo, former Presidents of the Union have served notice distancing themselves from the soliciting and subsequent accepting of the amount from the Unity Party-led Government of Liberia. Both men said it is ‘monetary award’ toward, but the fall short of stating what they were Barpeen Administration of the PUL was being awarded for.
Although the two former officials, currently residing in the United States could not back their criticism with financial or material contributions that would enhanced the Headquarter project of the need-stricken PUL, they view the acceptance of assistance from the President as “an exercise of poor judgment and a grave compromise of the stated goals of the Union - to remain a watchdog and conscience of the Liberian society.”
Bantu and Abalo said the position of the PUL President Mr. George Barpeen that "this will in no way deter the Union from upholding its social responsibility" is highly questionable and presents a major challenge to the image and perception of the Union locally and internationally. Prior administrations of the PUL, Bantu and Abalo indicated, have always made the effort and sacrifice of upholding the highest principles of propriety.
They said the Press Union of Liberia has some of the best trained media personnel and we encourage the Union to exploit the talents of these individuals and undertake a well organized and long range platform aimed at raising the needed funds in a dignified manner for the completion of the Union's headquarters. Considering that the two are some of the best trained guys, Bantu and Abalo fall short of stating their contribution to the noble objective of removing the PUL from rented buildings.
On the other hand, they said “we encourage the Union to maintain a constructive engagement with the Government and all stakeholders in Liberia in upholding the God-given and constitutional right of freedom of speech and press freedom without fear or favor,” not saying how constructive a hostile PUL that will refuse a national donation would be.
However, PUL President George Barpeen has continued to say that receiving an assistance requested for will in no blind individual media institutions and their diverse patterns of thoughts on national issues.
Appearing on a talkshow of the Love TV recently Mr. Barpeen replied critics when ha said though plans are being finalized to receive the donation from the Liberian President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf later this week, this will in no way deter the Union from upholding its social responsibility. “We will remain resolute in exposing the ills in society that tend to undermine freedom of expression and corruption in Liberia.”
Mr. Barpeen said the US$100,000 assistance to the union was a request made to the President to help financially to complete the construction of the PUL’s headquarters. Mr. Barpeen heard on the LOVE TV during a talkshow said the President and government owes every Liberian institution a responsibility to develop, and added that PUL request and the gesture by the President to positively response was in no way an error or an ethical transgression.
The PUL’s three-storey complex for which it made the request to the President costs an estimated US$375,000. If it is completed, it will contain offices, guest rooms, internet café, an auditorium, amongst others features.
“The fear that some of us continue to have is that one day our major grantor, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), would say enough is enough. You are the oldest grantee by now you should be able to crawl and do things on your own. What if such a decision is taken? Would we move around here with our documents in brief cases? We say no. So there’s a need to exert all efforts so that we can have a home for Liberian journalists,” Mr. Barpeen defended the Union.
During the celebration of PUL’s 44 anniversary, Deputy Information Minister Cletus Sieh announced a financial contribution of US$100,000 to assist the PUL in its construction of a Union’s headquarters. He recounted the role the media continues to play in the country’s fledging democracy.
He pledged government’s support in what he described as forever marriage between the media and government. However, the Union has come under sharp criticism, including from practicing journalists about the union’s independence in their reportorial duties if it accepts the Liberian president’s gesture. The Press Union has been grappling with the construction of its own headquarters building on 14th Street in Sinkor which began during the administration of Mr. Abraham Massaley.
He said rather than complain about the donation, Union members and others should rather be concerned about the utilization of the funds and how it will be managed for the desired purpose. “This is not a gift, rather this something that we begged the government for,” he said.
Barpeen questioned the rational of declining the offer. “In Cote d’Ivoire, the building that the Union is using and hosting the press center was bought and donated by the Robert Guei Government. That government has expired and the Union lives on. Likewise in Ghana, the same happened to the press union there where the government assisted the association; even the International Press Center based in Washington, D.C. Journalists could not have been built all by journalists themselves. They have to solicit the support of others,” he reacted to his critics.
He noted that the appeal for assistance to build a Union headquarters first began last year when media executives met with the president following one of her press conferences. “We beg the government to help us with our headquarters project,” he said; adding, “the second time we met with her this year, we reiterated our appeal. She consented to assist the Union, but requested to take a look at the building plan and the budget.
Already four years ago, during the administration of his predecessor, Mrs. Elizabeth Hoff, in whose administration Barpeen served as Vice President, they spent US$15,000 to construct the foundation for the Union’s headquarters which was completed. In addition, they made an estimated 3,000 blocks to begin the project before it reached a standstill, Barpeen disclosed.

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