It was alleged last week by the Press Union of Liberia during a press conference that one of its counterparts, Lamii Kpargoi, who also formed the Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC) group alongside Mr. Thomas Nah, has been soliciting money from politicians for their participation in the past two debates organized by the group.
This story unfolded after the Press Union’s president, Charles B. Coffey, said publicly that PUL had excluded itself from the DDC because of what DDC was being accused of doing, adding, “it’s wrong and unacceptable.” Coffey noted that the PUL is a reputable institution that could not be associated with soliciting money from politicians.
Mr. Kpargoi criticized the PUL, describing its allegation as false and has asked the PUL to retract its statement or face legal action alongside Mr. Simeon Freeman, who the DDC has sued for libel.
Prior to PUL’s press conference, presidential candidate Mr. Freeman of the Movement for Progressive Change alleged that the DDC solicited US$10,000 from him to participate in the presidential debate, which he did not attend as a result.
In his reaction to Freeman, Kpargoi said he “made that crazy and false allegation because he was never invited to attend any of our debates as he didn’t meet the benchmark. There’s no way I would know why he made that allegation, but we have already filed a libel lawsuit against him for accusing us of extortion.”
It may be recalled that Mr. Freeman was once invited by the government to provide evidence to prove his claims that the Liberian government had a plot to assassinate a list of opponents that he failed to prove and later fled when events caught up with him.
Mr. Kpargoi stated that there was no financial or pay request from any of the candidates selected to participate in its debates.
“This can easily be verified by asking the seven candidates who were invited to participate in our two debates. You should also ask the other 13 candidates, apart from the one making the false allegation, who was not invited to participate in any of our debates, whether anyone from the DDC approached them demanding money,” he said.
The DDC, he said, invited candidates for both debates through results of opinion polls, which were communicated to the various parties and the public on numerous occasions.
Meanwhile, according to PUL’s President Mr. Coffey, the allegation of solicitation was not the only reason why the union decided to part ways with the DDC, but rather because of the lack of accountability and collaboration by other members of the DDC.
“It was wise to withdraw since there was no transparency on how money provided was being spent,” Coffey stated in a recent article in this newspaper.
Mr. Coffey also claimed that the DDC didn’t get to showcase PUL’s ‘defined’ role relative to the activities outlined during the debates.
“We were never recognized at the first debate. One person, Malcolm Joseph, played multiple roles, making the PUL look like an irrelevant group. Those of you who were at the first presidential debate saw the humiliation – one person serving as master of ceremony and making speeches as though we were irrelevant,” Coffey said in a recent Daily Observer article.
Regarding PUL’s report of dis-attachment, it said Kpargoi was invited on two occasions to find a solution to the concerns pertaining to the presidential debate, which Mr. Coffey claimed Kpargoi refused to honor.
Mr. Kpargoi admitted receiving a letter on August 18 summoning him to a meeting because “the PUL did not speak at the debate on August 17.”
“Though his summons was inappropriate, I convened a general DDC meeting on August 21 and PUL refused to attend though they were invited. The DDC comprises of five organizations, each of them with equal standing. No one group can summon me because I am the coordinator as I represent a partner of equal standing. What each member organization can do is to request a general meeting or await the regular DDC meeting.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Kpargoi insisted that he has never had any personal interaction with Mr. Freeman. “To the best of my recollection, I’ve never even been in the same room with him,” Mr. Kpargoi said.
The DDC was organized during former PUL president Abdulai Kamara’s administration with support from the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) and Mr. Kpargoi in mid 2016. The PUL and the Liberia Women’s Media Action Committee (LIWOMAC) were invited along with the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) to join the group.