THE GOVERNMENT OF Liberia is paying domestic debt arrears dating as far as the era of jailed ex-president Charles Ghankay Taylor. This is not just welcome news, but a great relief to the business community of Liberia, especially Liberian-owned businesses and local vendors.
LOCAL VENDORS, INCLUDING Liberian-owned businesses have endured unpaid arrears from government that continue to affect their smooth operation despite the fact that they have tax obligations to the state.
BUT ONE SECTOR of Liberian-owned businesses that had suffered and continue to suffer a great deal as a result of unpaid debts owned by government is the local media. The media in Liberia is part and parcel of the economy, but it has been overlooked and unfairly treated when it comes to payment of domestic debts.
MEDIA INSTITUTIONS IN the country are legitimately registered businesses that are required to meet all obligations to the state, including taxes, social security and other levies. But they have suffered the brunt of deliberate neglect when it comes to debt arears owed by the government.
THE RECORDS FROM past administrations, especially, the government of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paint a very bleak future for the media. With debt arears totaling over a million United States dollars, the former administration forced media managers here to a so-called “golden handshake” at the Ministry of Information, compelling them to waive their debts.
NOTWITHSATNDING, MEDIA INSTITUTIONS like all other businesses, have staff that they must pay monthly besides other overheads such rentals, bills, logistics and equipment to procure and maintain.
THEY CANNOT MEET these obligations when government is reluctant in paying legitimate debts owed media institutions. A financially weak and incapacitated media is a disservice not only to the state, but detrimental to the promotion of democratic tenets, peace and conducive environment.
THIS IS WHY we are calling on the government to consider the media in the ongoing payment of domestic debts to vendors. The media provides important services to government ministries and agencies, including public corporations for which they should be paid.
HOWEVER, THIS HAS not been the case. On the contrary, media institutions have been used and put aside. Just imagine being indebted to a media entity for services provided over two to three years and yet, expect that outlet to pay taxes.
THE MEDIA IN Liberia enjoys no capacity building or stimulus package from the state. Government would organize empowerment programs for Liberian-owned businesses and leave out the media. We challenge the Weah administration to cultivate the Liberian media not only as a faithful partner, but a business that is contributing to the economy thru job creation, payment of taxes and other legitimate obligations. We only ask for fair treatment in the payment of debt arrears.