21 January 2013

Liberia: The Liberianization Policy and the Growth of Liberian Businesses


In time past, the word 'Liberianization policy' was used to mean the creation of Liberian entrepreneurship and as well identified specific jobs or businesses that would be exclusive to Liberian citizens alone.

Small businesses which should be reserved for Liberians have been usurped by Lebanese, Indians, Chinese and some of our African compatriots.

On a daily basis we see Lebanese nationals selling cold water and ice cubes in addition to operating barber shops. The Chinese as well engage in selling drugs and other items along street corners of the city while the Indians import their fellow compatriots to serve as store boys and shop-keepers to the exclusion of Liberians.

Whether the Liberianization policy has been achieved is another argument for another day since what is evident in the country is the proliferation of businesses owned and run by foreigners.

Furthermore, the kind of bureaucratic system frequently employed by government functionaries against Liberian vendors during the time of payment also amounts to depriving the local vendors of what is justly theirs. Strangely though, these so-called bureaucracies are not applied to Lebanese or Indians vendors for reasons best know to the auditors and other 'experts' at the Finance Ministry.

Factors impeding the growth of Liberian businesses are numerous, but paramount among them is the attitude that Government and its officials exhibit against some businesses owned by Liberians who are determined to succeed in business.

At a vetting process for media institutions owed by government Friday January 18, 2013 at the Information Ministry in Monrovia, it was announced by the Minister of Information that the payment of advertisement money to local independent media would be done in line with the New Liberia newspaper advertisement rates. The New Liberian is owned by the government of Liberia and published by the Information Ministry.

It is totally unfair, action by Information Minister Lewis G. Brown to subject local media institutions' advertisement payment to the Information Ministry's own New Liberian Newspaper advertisement rates. This paper and other media entities are distinct from the New Liberia because they are private and independent with no sources of subsidy as compared to the New Liberia newspaper which is a government owned. It is the payment of advertisement money that enables the local media to pay government taxes as well as pay the salaries of their staff members. So for the Information Ministry to subject our payments to their New Liberia Newspaper advertisement rates is totally unacceptable and therefore runs contrary to the much publicized pronouncement by President Sirleaf that no media institutions will be closed down. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently announced that her government will not be responsible for the closure of any media institution.

Closing down of media institutions is not only defined as physical/violence means of shutting the concrete structure housing a media entity; closing media houses down has many shapes and forms, and action of the Information Minister is one of

the forms that initiate the closing down of media entities. "If we cannot do it physically for people to see and condemn, we can better do it through business transactions with them, after all, it is advertisement money that they need to stand on their own." That was the antics of the Taylor era. This helped to a large extend in self censorship for some media houses, and those who refused to be subjected to expurgation folded up. It is therefore, not strange that Minister Lewis G. Brown, a former ally of Mr. Taylor, would resort to such frolics at a time that President Sirleaf has vowed to make the media a dependable ally.

Government owes media institutions thousands of United States dollars from advertisement money. The process is that, the Ministries of Education, Finance, Lands Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Internal Affairs for example, are agencies of the state that hardly pay their advertisement money to the media - rather channeling such payment through voucher process at the MOF. This process regrettably, sometimes takes over six months to a year before the monies are paid. Even with this, the internal control system at the Finance Ministry has proven to be biased at some extent against local vendors.

If President Sirleaf is to mean well in her desire to create more jobs for Liberians than the egotistical action of certain officials and the government agency must be rescinded - as the usage of the New Liberia newspaper advertisement rates to settle financial obligations to independent media would create the platform for reduction in the work force of some of these media entities because insolvency compels any institutions to lay off employees.

It is very simple, if government does not like the advertisement rates of independent media, it would be proper if they avoided doing business with us. But, accepting to advertise with us as per our rates only to renege on payment later and revert to a government newspaper rates in paying us (independent media) which is far different from our rate is not only unfair but as well carries a semblance of fraud and bad business practices.

The Information Ministry is the official mouthpiece of government. Therefore, it is obvious that the New Liberia newspaper run by the Ministry enjoys maximum subsidy from the state, therefore, what it charges for advertisement cannot run parallel with the New Democrat or other independent media institutions' advertisement rates. The New Democrat survived long years of (intimidations, harassment, tortured, strangulation and arson attack from the regime of Mr. Taylor) because of the resilience of its late Publisher and hard working staff and so, the paper will not condone any attempt by one of its former persecutors to deny it of getting its money from government.

It must be established first and foremost that, most of the local media institutions are privately owned (independent) as such, the action of Minister Lewis Brown, a vestige of the despotic Charles Taylor regime in using the New Liberia advertisement rates to pay the advertisement fees of the independent media is a re-awakening of the strangulation of media houses which was consistent with Mr. Taylor's repressive tendency and prolonged vendetta against some media houses.

It has never happened in this country - where a government would place advertisement in local newspapers and on radios stations - using the commercial rates of these institutions only for the same government to revert to using its own laid down rates against the media when it comes to paying the institutions. This is 419 in broad day light.

The action of Minister Brown is similar to that of one Aaron Mattis- then Assistant Minister at the Commerce Ministry who used 'registration' as a tool in denying many newspapers (including this paper) the opportunity to appear on the news stance because of their critical reportage on the Taylor regime.

The Information Minister's action is tantamount to censorship of the media because, depriving media institutions due access to their money is to be putting them out of business- since all media institutions rely on adverts to sustain them on the news stand.

The action of the Information Ministry also has the propensity to put the government against the local media - because, believe you and me, some media institutions are going to demand pre-payment from gov't before publishing their adverts. This, in my mind is the only remedy the local media could have in this strangulation drive.

This is a re-birth of suppression of the media being executed gradually in a different form. If the Press Union Liberia (PUL) and related organizations do not speak to this creeping dangerous situation now, it may be very late when they begin to protest it.

The media in Liberia has travelled a thorny path in its darkest past when free speech and atmosphere of freedom of speech was besieged with violence by those who could not beat the ideas of others and so, resulted to brute force as a way of silencing dissent.

The worse years in the advocacy for freedom of expression were during the different periods of Samuel Doe between 1983 and 1990 and the sad rebellious regime of now war crimes convict, Charles Taylor from 1997 to 2003. During these horrific periods, newspaper houses (Daily Observer and New Democrat) and radio stations (VERITAS, Star radio, and Ducor radio) were attacked, burnt and looted, with several journalists forced into exile.

It is clear by the action of Minister Brown that he is acting upon the fact that because state monopoly of the media is long over, he has devised a clever attempt to muzzle the monetary standings of the independent media because state media entities cannot compete with the independent media on the levels of believability and circulation.

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