Liberian journalists under the banner, “Journalists Dignity,” have begun an advocacy for the prosecution of one of their former presidents—George Barpeen.
The journalists are calling for Mr. Barpeen to account for US$100,000 donated by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Press Union of Liberia about five years ago.
The money was meant for the construction of PUL headquarters.
Making their presence felt during celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County on May 3, 2014, journalists including Eddie Harmon and J. Edwood N. Dennis assertively indicated that the misapplication of the money has dented the credibility of all journalists.
The group said they are going to continue their advocacy until tangible result is established on how the money was handled.
Speaking to the Daily Observer, broadcast Journalist Eddie Harmon said the fate of the money donated by President Sirleaf continues to be in limbo, and on many occasions journalists are attacked of corruption, receiving reproach that they are not credible to speak or write about corruption when they (journalists) themselves are corrupt and have embezzled the President’s donations to the Union.
According to Journalist Harmon, this situation has a negative reflection on the media and all journalists in Liberia as they write and report corruption in high places.
“We are all affected by this stigma of the misapplication of this US$100,000 and not George Barpeen alone. You will be questioned about it as a journalist, and you will have to justify how the money was used,” Harmon noted.
The case surrounding the US$100,000 is in court, but Mr. Harmon said considering the delay in adjudicating the case, it is better to turn it around by advocating for the indictment of the Press Union leadership that handled the money to account because if nothing is done, journalists’ credibility will continue to be questioned.
According to him, the company that was contracted to construct the PUL headquarters now no longer exists. However, he disclosed that the company now uses different nomenclature, and as such it makes it uncertain for people to know whether the company can be traced. He failed to give the new name that the company now operates under.
Harmon and Dennis in a collective view said the campaign is meant to mount pressure on the leadership of the PUL to push for the case and not to be dead as those connected to it allegedly want it to be.
Other concerned journalists at the World Press Freedom Day in Bopolu joined the campaign by chanting slogan of the campaigners, calling for judicial probe into the matter to establish the status of the money.
Reacting to the concern raised by the journalists, Press Union president K. Abdullai Kamara said expression of views about issue is one of the characteristics of free press and therefore does not have any problem with the campaign staged by the journalists during the World Press Freedom celebration.
Mr. Kamara said his predecessors—George Barpeen to whom the money was given and Peter Quaqua, who also took the matter to court, had both given written statements about the fate of the money, and a committee is investigating the matter.
He, however, assured that the company to which US$98,000 was given still exists and according to him, the company contends that the amount was small for the size of the building to be constructed.
The PUL president said at the Union leadership level, they are embarking on the company to provide the money given because it is not doing the work for which the money was intended.
He said the matter in court is about the cancellation of the contract between PUL and the unknown contractor, and that the judge is about to come out with a decision which makes it difficult for it (case) to be withdrawn from the court now.
It can be recalled that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf donated US$100,000 to the PUL for the construction of headquarter for the media umbrella organization.
Former Press Union president George Barpeen amidst protests from some quarters for rejection of the gratuity defended that it was not an ethical breach for the Union to receive the money from the President as it was meant for development that will reflect the image of the country.
Since the donation, the proposed site of the organization in Sinkor lies in ruin with no sign of development taking place there.
The fate of the money has since been in limbo and the matter taken to court for cancellation of the contract.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the installation of former president Peter Quaqua for the second term of office rhetorically praised the media for working hard to expose and report corruption in government, but raise concern about the US$100,000 in this way:
“We recognize the role of the press in exposing corruption and reporting it as government has opened the enabling environment to exercise this freedom. However, we still look up to the media to give us account for the US$100,000 given sometimes back to construct headquarters for the union.”
This concern sparked up criticism among journalists against the leadership of George Barpeen with prejudice that hierarchies of the union had shared the money leaving the project undone.