Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must take note of how the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) has dumped the free-flow of information environment that she has been striving to establish in the country into the dustbin. The Golden Hand-shake is being viewed by many as a cunning scheme devised by MICAT to strangulate the huge debt that government owes the National Publishers Association of Liberia (NPAL), an advocacy group for the rights of newspaper publishers in Liberia.
It can be recalled that on the 20th September 2012, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was between the Government of Liberia (GOL) represented by MICAT, and the NPAL represented by its President Stanley Seakor for the amicable liquidation of the huge debts that government ministries and agencies owe publishers accumulated most especially between January 1, 2006 to August 31st, 2012 through advertisements published in various newspapers most whom are members of the NPAL.
AS part of the terms of reference for the payment, the total debt of one hundred and fifty thousand united States dollars (US$150 accumulated between the period January 2006 thru December 2011 constituting part-one of the arrears were to be paid in the amount of ten thousand dollars to: The daily Observer, The Analysts, FrontPage Africa, New Dawn, In Profile, New Democrat, Heritage, The News, The Informer, Insight and The National Chronicle.
Moreover, five thousand United States Dollars was to be paid to each of the following individual newspapers and Tri-weekly namely: Liberian Express, The Independent, Concord Times, Public Agenda, New Republic, Women Voices, Focus and New Vision. That part of the arrears shall cover the period January 2012 to August 2012 and same shall be separately and thoroughly validated and vetted by the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism and the Ministry of Finance.
It was also agreed in the MOU that either party may request changes to this MOU and that any changes, modifications, revisions or amendments to this MOU which are mutually agreed upon by and between the parties shall be incorporated by written instrument and shall be made effective when executed and signed by the parties to the MOU.
According to the MOU signed by NPAL President Stanley Seakor on the one hand and Finance Minister Amara M. Konneh and MICAT Minister Lewis G. Brown on the other, and attested to be Justice Minister Christiana Tah, effective September 1, 2012 no advertisement from ministries, agencies and institutions of government shall be published in dailies and tri-weeklies without the written consent o0f the minister, the head of the agency or institution or their deputies for administrations.
What is being perceived as corruption and a gross violation of the September 20, 2012 MOU is that during the past few months instead of honoring the terms of the MOU stipulated, government introduced a 'Golden Handshake', as a way of compensating the various media institutions, most of whom are members of the NPAL expecting full payment of their arrears under the clauses of the MOU through a full implementation of the MOU.
We view that the newly introduced Golden Handshake is not only a violation of the terms of the Terms of Payment MOU, but a slap in the face and a way of muzzling and strangulating the press in Liberia, thereby depriving them of their chances for survival. We also view that any other payment arrangement will not adequately take into consideration the transparency and equity that had already being bargained for since September 20, 2012.