It appears the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the Government of Liberia and the Newspapers Publishers Association of Liberia in September 2012, aimed at seeking means to settle arrears the government owes local dailies for advertisements has turned into a floodgate against the interest of newspaper publishers.
An available copy of the GOL/NPAL MOU entered into on September 20, 2012 reportedly committed both parties to terms and conditions that could be used to settle payment of advertisement bills the government owed concerned newspapers (various dailies and tri-weeklies from January 2006 thru August 2012) and beyond.
In the MOU, both parties seek to establish and determine GOL’s outstanding arrears to NPAL, pursuant to which an amicable resolution would be derived, aimed at liquidating the agreed amount as stipulated by the MOU.
The document further indicates that GOL is agreeable to dealing with the leadership of the NPAL on terms and conditions as set out by the parties.
A striking component of the MOU resolves that GOL shall promptly settle arrears to NPAL and said settlement shall be broken down into two parts wherein arrears for the period January 2006 thru December 2011 which constituted part I is resolved to be US$150,000 while part II of the agreement sets to reflect arrears covering the period January 2012 thru August 2012 and same shall be separately and thoroughly validated and vetted by the Ministers of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism and Finance prior to any payment being made.
According to part I of the payment arrangement which resolved that US$150,000 would liquidate the arrears covering January 2006 thru August 2012, each individual daily (Daily Observer, The Analyst, FrontPageAfrica, New Dawn, In Profile, New Democrat, Heritage, The News, The Informer, Insight and National Chronicle) was allotted ten thousand United States Dollars each, while five thousand United States dollars was allotted to each individual tri-weekly (Liberian Express, The Independent, Concord Times, Public Agenda, New Republic, Women Voices, Focus and New Vision).
The In Profile investigation has discovered that the US$150, 000 payments was done and coined “Golden Handshake” on October 3, 2012.
However, part II of the MOU seems to have since experienced hiccups due to alleged manipulation by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism due to its failure to live up to the spirit and letter of the MOU, thereby ignoring separate and thorough validation and vetting by Information and Finance before any payment would be made as the MOU requires.
Scores of publishers who accepted the first payment vehemently rejected having another “Golden Handshake” insisting that the government through the requisite authorities should validate and vet their bills and pay them.
It is not clear who might have suggested another “Golden Handshake” during the course of the Christmas and New Year Seasons, many newspapers that could not have received ten or five thousand United States dollars due to less advertisements they might have published, pleaded and benefitted while those that resisted the “Handshake” remained resolute.
Accordingly, the decision taken at the time was that those who refused to take the “Handshake” should wait for a vetting process in January before they could be paid.
However, the process of vetting has taken place, it seems a tactic designed to frustrate the concerned publishers has made the process very repressive and intimidating to the effect that at vetting site, exchanges of harsh words between some publishers and government officials over the manner in which the exercise has taken place characterized the process.
Subsequent article may disclose startling pieces of information.