24 April 2019

Liberia: U.S.$300k for PUL's Headquarters 'Not Forthcoming'

-PUL President Coffey

The President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Charles Coffey on Tuesday, April 23, 2019, said there is no assurance that President George Weah's administration is releasing anytime soon, the US$300,000 previously allotted for the union's headquarters project in Monrovia.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in the 2017/2018 National Budget, allotted the amount of US$300,000 for the PUL's headquarters project against the projected US$650,000 required to complete the project.

But responding to a lawyer's question about the status of the project that has long been stalled, Coffey said they have not abandoned plans for the project, noting, "it was the government that still holding back the money to finish the project." The lawyer served as one of the facilitators at the ongoing USAID-Internews organized specialized media law training for Public Defenders in Monrovia at the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill.

According to Coffey his leadership, for the past months, has lobbied with the government to see reason to make available the US$300,000, "but we are not yielding any fruitful results".

President George Weah is expected to complete PUL project.

"The money is not forth coming, because it was given to the union by laws enacted by the government. So why can't we get the US$300,000," Coffey told the group of lawyers, who expressed interest in knowing the status of the union headquarters' project.

"Look at how Ghana's former President, John Agyekum Kufuor, built the headquarters for the journalist union in that country. So why can't our government do the same," Mr. Coffey wondered.

He continued, "we are bitter enemies of the government. They fail to know that we are only there to ensure that public servants account for the resources entrusted into their care to the people. But, we need the money for the project."

On the issue of collaboration with the public defender, Coffey assured the lawyers that the Press Union is prepared to work with them to protect journalists that would come in conflict with the law.

"I like to inform that the union is going to work with you to ensure that you represent us whenever we are being sued for libel or any other crimes for performing our social responsibility," he added.

Answering questions about disciplinary action taken against journalists, particularly radio talk show hosts accused of using profane language and spreading hate messages, Coffey, in response, blamed the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) and the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA).

"It is the LTA and the MICAT that you people need to blame for the hate messages and profanities being used on local radio stations because they are the ones that issue frequency to those stations and not the union," the PUL president maintained, arguing that the union does not have any role to play in the issuance of frequency or registration of radio stations and newspapers.

Coffey said on countless occasions, the union has suspended journalists that were linked to spreading hate messages. "Even if we were to suspend them, do we have the power to revoke their frequencies or their licenses?" Coffey asked.

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