Special Feature

Lookin’ Inside From Outside: The Widening Division in the PUL

A Guest Article

The Press Union of Liberia, PUL is the umbrella organization of all journalists, media institutions and organizations and media NGOs within the borders of Liberia. To succeed in achieving its primary objectives of protecting and defending journalists and advocating social justice in Liberia, the PUL must have at its core, unity of purpose, i.e, the unification of all journalists, media institutions and organizations, as well as media NGOs  to achieve such objectives.


From the founding of the PUL in 1964 to the departure of Veteran Liberian Journalist James Kiazolu as President in 2002, Liberian journalists had always remained united with one voice and action in consonance with the objectives of the organization. Many past presidents of the Press Union, as well as other active members with whom I have spoken on the current trends of events within that noble organization, attributed such togetherness before to the cordialities which existed between and among those who made up the various administrations.

Even when the country was divided during Liberia’s war years, previous officials of the Union exerted all efforts to re-unite media practitioners to keep the organization going as a unite by  visiting those within the “territories of the then NPFL” and emphasizing the need to hold together no matter which side of the divide they found themselves. As a result of such efforts, all Liberian journalists became re-united when the wars ended and the parties found themselves in Monrovia under various interim and unity governments.

Things began to fall apart in 2004 during the Presidency of Mr. Terrance Sesay because the center of the Union-the administration, could not hold together. Most decisions were take and public pronouncements made by the Vice President, leading the other officials, without the knowledge and approval of Mr. Sesay. The President could not access the PUL’s email because of a change in the password. Local and international trips and representations which should have been made by Presidency Sesay were all done by the Vice President, Mr. Malcolm Joseph. I’m even informed that projects coming to the PUL, through its email, were all diverted to the personal email of either the then PUL Vice President or the newly formed Center for Media Studies.

Such undermining actions on numerous occasions resulted to conflicts and fight between the Vice President and President of the Union to the extent that other members had to intervene, but the division continued as rest of the administration ganged up against Mr. Sesay.
That was why members of the Press Union of Liberia could not trust Mr. Malcolm Joseph with the leadership of the organization during the 2004 election, which he lost.

Still in the state of desperation for control of the PUL, Malcolm continuously influenced the secretariat against the Elizabeth Hoff administration, but could not easily succeed because of the presence of Mr. George Barpeen as Vice President, whose support for Mrs. Hoff was very unflinching.
What Mr. Joseph resulted to was to rally a few journalists, including Elizabeth’s Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General and Financial Secretary, under his influence to undermine the administration, but there were difficulties, as Vice President George Barpeen and President Elizabeth held together. The same confrontations against Terrance Sesay by Malcolm were on a few occasions instigated Mrs. Hoff by her Secretary General in different forms, unlike the former which were based on the dubious behavior of the former PUL Vice President.

Following the departure of Elizabeth Hoff for a national assignment as deputy Minister for Technical Service at the Information Ministry, it was then Barpeen who became the target for Malcolm’s conspiracy –this time it was him versus the Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General and Financial Secretary of the Union. While the Financial Secretary was a very close associate of Malcolm and part of the conspiracy, his admiration for the President, I’m told, could not allow him to go against the interest of the Union which Mr. Barpeen pushed.

Following George Barpeen’s re-election in 2006 November, the division began to be made very visible as evidenced by the rejection of the position of Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee of the PUL by Mr. Alphonsus Zeon after his appointment by Barpeen during his induction at the YMCA.

This time, it was the secretariat again headed by the current President Peter Quaqua, under the influence of the former Vice President that began the undermining and confusions , but the primary focus of Barpeen was to begin the construction of the PUL headquarters, which he promised members of the Union- and truly to his promise, I and many other Liberian journalists saw the sincerity in him, as everywhere he went and met journalists, he spoke about this project as very important to us journalists.

Prior to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s US$100,000.00 initial contribution to the construction of the PUL headquarters, the  Barpeen administration had  started molding 8-inch cement bricks  totaling three-thousand-five hundred(3,500), some of which are still seen at the project site at the corner of Coleman Avenue and 14 Street in Sinkor. Initially, Peter Quaqua and some members of the administration had rejected the idea of the blocks on grounds that the amount for that project should have been distributed among officials of the Union; sources closed to the PUL office informed me recently.

A few former officials have informed me that Barpeen’s resistance to funds distribution among officials of the administration, and partnerships with media groups like CEMESP and a few others on a number of projects made have led to his frustration. Most often, he felt that these organizations were only trying to use the PUL to accomplish their selfish aims, when they should be representing the interest of the general media community, something he, Barpeen is reported to have shared with several journalists. For this, executives of these media organizations dislike him and the undermining continued up to the much publicized US$100,000.00 deposited at the International Bank by President Sirleaf in an account opened by her.
From my own investigation and analysis of the President’s contribution and construction of the PUL headquarters having visited the bank, construction company and former officials of the Press Union, and read the articles written by Quaqua and Barpeen, it’s difficult for me to believe that there was theft. Misdirection or foul play in the execution of the project! It actually started and aborted by the current leadership of the PUL. Peter and others did not want Mr. George Barpeen or President Sirleaf and her government to take the credit.

More of this in the nearest future.


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