Monrovia, Liberia – April, 12, 2019: The international iron ore conglomerate Arcelor Mittal, which is operating in Liberia, has denied that it is creating 1,000 new jobs in the sub-political divisions of Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties.
Assistant Information Minister David B. Kolleh
The claim was pushed on social media a few days ago by an Assistant Minister for Technical Services at the Ministry of Information in the Congress For Democratic Change(CDC) led- Government David B. Kolleh and a Deputy Director General for Rural Services at the state run national broadcaster – a ruling party operative Boimah J.V. Boimah whose profile identified himself in January , 2018 as a CDC Chief of Social Media & Communications Strategies.
Deputy LBS Director General Boima J. V. Boima
The social media post listed the job creation as part of Government’s achievements for the people of Liberia. Mr. Kolleh was appointed in February, 2018 shortly after the inauguration of President George M. Weah.
West African Journal Magazine conducted a scan of various social media sites and found the claim on Facebook which credited Mr. Kolleh. He has been promoting the Weah Administration on various social media platforms. Kolleh joined Twitter in July, 2011. His last post was on September 9, 2018 in which he was promoting the Government run New Liberian newspaper which featured articles on the Liberian President.
In response to an inquiry into the job creation claim by Assistant Minister Kolleh, a media representative of Arcelor Mittal told the West African Journal Magazine ion Thursday in an email that, “This information is untrue. Arcelor Mittal Liberia has not opened new employments. We will continue operating as normal.”
This is the most recent account of Government operatives attempting to lie about actual events in the country. In March, an aide to President Weah Sekou Damaro Kalasco was caught red-handed posting a fraudulent photo to show Government of Liberia road construction development in Lofa County, northeastern Liberia.
The photo was stolen from an African Development Bank (ADB) project in Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Kalasco later apologized for the mistake.
Liberian Presidential Aide Sekou Damaro Kalasco
In another social media post discovered from February, 2017, one Alieu A. Swaray challenged a prior post by Kalasco in which he erroneously charged that the annual budget of former Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai was more than that of the U.S. President.
The claim by Kalasco was untrue.
Social Media Posts from Feb. 2017
The Government is under pressure to produce tangible results to change the current dire economic situation and operatives have been trying to paint a positive outlook of Government to citizens; sometimes by embellishment or non-factual information.
Dubai and Monrovia – March 13, 2019: A would-be investor from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates who is reported by the Government controlled Liberia News Agency (LINA)on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 to have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding investment agreement with Liberia in the areas of “energy, mining, infrastructures and other crucial sectors” is linked to a report of controversial dealings involving then former Ghanaian President John Mahama.
Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of Ameri Group LLC
In an investigation conducted by the WestAfrican Journal Magazine into the business dealings, it was uncovered that a Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang( VG) reported in November, 2017 that former Ghanaian President John Mahama, in July, 2017, traveled to the southwestern African nation of Namibia to meet representatives of Sheik Maktoum.
Former Ghana President John Mahama
The paper reported that, “John Mahama brought the two men representing the sheikh to Namibia – seeking to clinch possible energy deals with yet another African nation: Namibia.
This July, Mahama travelled to the Namibian capital, Windhoek, with employees of the “private office” of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmouk al Maktoum of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This company now owns the Ameri Group, also known as the Africa Middle East Resources Investment Group LLC.
According to Namibian officials, Mahama claimed he was in Windhoek as an advocate for the African Development Bank.
At a news conference after Mahama’s meeting with Namibian President Hage Geingob, the former Ghanaian leader appeared with two men professionally based in Dubai.
Until now, it has not been officially known who these men were.
But VG can now reveal their identities:
One was Ameri Group CEO Maher Al Alili, who is also CEO of the sheikh’s private office.
Prior Reporting By Verdens Gangs Newspaper
The other was Mustafa Ahmed, who left behind a business card in Namibia embossed with the logo of the sheikh’s office.
…Not until Mahama’s delegation arrived in Namibia were his mysterious companions presented to the Namibian government, according to Aocham:
– The two gentlemen were introduced by Mr John Mahama (as working for) The Private Office of Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook al Maktoum. They were introduced as Mr Mustafa Ahmed and Mr Maher Al Alili. The names of the two gentlemen or the name of the company were not mentioned in the letter from former President Mahama.
– Among his delegation were these two gentlemen, as well as the former ambassador of Ghana to Namibia, Alhaji A. R. Haruna, Aocham adds, then continues:
– Mahama informed President Geingob that he was in Namibia in his capacity as an AfDB (African Development Bank) advocate for African energy self-sufficiency, and brought UAE representatives to Namibia after they identified the country as one of the most attractive destinations for electricity infrastructure investments.
Since July there has been no further contact between the parties.
One of the men, Mustafa Ahmed, denies to VG that he had a role in the Namibia visit.
– I do not work for his highnesses private office,” he says.
– So what happened in Namibia?
– I advise several groups, not just them, he replies.
– Nothing happened in Namibia, so if you want to make a big story, that’s up to you.
– But the sheikh’s logo and your number appear on the same business card. How do you explain that?
– I don’t know what you are talking about. I have nothing to hide. I know him. I have advised him and advise him, but I do not work for him. I do not have an official position with him, insists Ahmed.
A few days later, the company’s CEO, Maher Al Alili, contacted VG and threatened a lawsuit. In 2015 the company had threatened to sue VG for USD 150 million for its reporting on the controversial electrical power deal between Ghana and Ameri Group.
The company said VG had published false claims about Umar Farooq Zahoor, the man who signed the Ameri agreement and is still wanted internationally.
– Who gave you the right to write about Umar? asks Al Alili, the CEO of Ameri Group, by telephone from Dubai.
– If there is anything wrong with the story we have the option of suing you, he says.
– The company does not want to be open with information or grant interviews with the media.
Al Alili nevertheless confirms that he was in Namibia working for the sheikh’s office.
He refuses to comment on Mahama’s ties to the Dubai company.
– You’ll have to ask Mahama about that, says Al Alili.
For seven weeks VG has tried to make direct contact with Ghana’s former president in order to obtain comment.
His special advisor, the lawyer Joyce Bawah-Motare, confirms that Mahama has received VG’s inquiry.
– Of course. Mr Mahama sees any request that arrives. I am telling you he is not available, and that I will get back to you if he becomes available, the special advisor told VG in mid-October.
VG’s many queries have not been well received by the ex-president’s inner circle.
– He has no obligation to give you an interview. You can’t force Mr Mahama to talk to you. Can you force the King of Norway to give you an interview?
The Ameri Group has repeatedly denied that Umar Farooq Zahoor, the man who signed the controversial energy agreement with Ghana in 2015, is a wanted internationally by law enforcement authorities.
That is not the case.
He is still wanted by the police internationally, Norwegian district attorney Carl Graff Hartmann, confirms to VG.
– We have received a response from the United Arab Emirates stating they will not grant our request for the extradition of Umar Farooq Zahoor, he continues.
That means the UAE refuses to turn over the internationally wanted man, who has a Pakistani passport, to Norway.
Zahoor himself has claimed he no longer works for Ameri Group, though VG has disclosed that he still plays a key role in the sheikh’s private office, which owns Ameri Group.
This was also confirmed by a PR officer at the sheikh’s office.
– Yes, he is working there, said Ahmed al Baloushi to VG.
In September, Zahoor travelled to Pakistan with Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmouk al Maktoum and CEO Maher Al Alili to further discuss yet another Ameri-related deal with Pakistani company FWO.
Zahoor has declined to comment on his professional affairs in Dubai.
– He sees no reason to comment on his working relationships or assignments to a Norwegian newspaper, and it is beyond my mandate as a Norwegian defence lawyer to express an opinion about this,” his Norwegian lawyer, John Christian Elden, writes in email to VG on Zahoor’s behalf.
Zahoor also points out that the Ameri-deal is still ongoing in Ghana.”
The African Development (ADB) at the time denied that former President Mahama was representing them in Namibia, according to the Norwegian newspaper.
As part of the former Ghanaian President’s engagement with associates of Sheik Maktoum, the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) also reported in August, 2016 that former Ghanaian Power Minister Kwabena Donkor signed a $510 million dollar deal with one Umar Farooq Zahoor, a Pakistani Norwegian individual from Oslo who the paper alleged “was wanted by Norwegian and Swiss police for spectacular acts of fraud committed the last ten years…”
Former Ghana Power Minister Kwabena Donkor
The paper reported that when it showed a photo of Mr. Zahoor to the Ghanian Power Ministry official, he responded, “I know him; he is the Chief executive of Ameri Group”.
In a press statement issued later the Ghanaian news website Citifmonline reported that, “UAE-based Ameri Group LLC, has rejected claims that its former CEO, Umar Farooq Zahoor, is a criminal who is on the wanted list of Interpol for financial crimes in Norway and Switzerland.”
A statement signed by His Royal Highness, quoted Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Emirati Company and a member of the ruling family of UAE, as saying Umar Farooq Zahoor, “is not the same person who signed as witness in the Ghana and Ameri power deal.“
The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang alleged further that Umar Farooq Zahoor is a well-known name among investigators at the Financial Crime Section of the Oslo Police District.
Citifmonline website reported that, “The deal brought ten turbines to Ghana to generate electricity in order to mitigate the power challenges in the country.
However, the Newspaper suggested a possible inflation of the cost of the turbines by more than 200 million dollars, adding that Ghana is paying $510 million for ten power turbines when the market value of the turbines is $220 million”
But the statement from the Ameri Group said Mr. Umar Farooq served as CEO of the company until lst August 2015, but was never a shareholder or a partner of the company, adding that “Mr. Farooq resigned as CEO in order to pursue other bigger business opportunities. Mr. Ziad Barakat was appointed as CEO of the company and is working in this position to date.”
“The tabloid article targets Mr. Umar Farooq, only wrongly portraying him as the owner of the company, but also tries to malign his character. Moreover, it states that Mr. Farooq attempted to swindle the Government of Ghana through this transaction by inflating the price of the contract. A ridiculous claim since the contract was agreed upon by the Ministry of Power and thereafter, ratified by the Ghana Parliament with full pricing transparency.”
“Another falsehood is that Mr. Farooq, on his own caused the transaction to occur. It is a matter of record that the sole owner of the above mentioned company is His Royal Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, member of the ruling family of Dubai UAE” the statement added.
Research Documents Compiled
The Ameri Group company of Sheik Maktoum was apparently angered by the reporting of the Norwegian newspaper and had threatened legal action.
LINA reports that, “…The agreement covers foreign direct investment in Liberia and further enhances the bilateral relationship between both countries.
During the International Defense Exhibition Conference last month, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan, said President George M. Weah holds a “special place in the hearts of my compatriots,” while also expressing his country’s interest to explore investment opportunities here…”
President George M. Weah
The Weah Administration is under serious pressure to halt the deteriorating economy and attract foreign investors who can generate much needed hard currency and jobs for Liberians.
However, attempts to attract investors have been dismal and two major loans from non-traditional lenders ETON and EBOMAF have failed to materialize.
West African Journal Magazine has not linked Sheik Maktoum to any illegal activity and can report that the allegations contained in the Norwegian Newspaper Verdens Gangagainst Sheik Maktoum have been denied.
The UAE Billionaire has termed reporting of The Norwegian newspaper as “unfortunate”.
With the heightened focus on dealings of the Liberian government by ordinary citizens, and the controversial business history of Sheik Maktoum, from the reporting of the Norwegian newspaper, any formal business deal with the Liberian Government will be heavily scrutinized for probity.
Washington DC, USA and Monrovia, Liberia- February 11, 2019: The International Justice Group (IJG) says it has dispatched a team of Investigators to Liberia as a result of increased security threats to several civic and human rights organizations and activists.
International Justice Group (IJG)
According to a representative of the IJG, it says it has received credible information through its contacts in the West African country and social media monitor. and is concerned that senior operatives of the ruling party and auxiliaries, some of whom are disguised, are intimidating, issuing threats of death and bodily harm to others who freely express critical views of the Government.
Liberia’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah last year lashed out at the media over its reportage against the Government and openly threatened to “weaponize” supporters against the media.
Ruling CDC Party Mulbah Morlu
Two weeks ago, the Chairman of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Mulbah Morlu, at a hastily arranged partisans meeting at his party’s headquarters in Monrovia, accused the opposition bloc and supporters of supporting the assassination of President George M. Weah.
“There are a few supporters of the three political parties, that we’ve documented, that post on social media calling in people to take up arms against the President. And one of them came out to say that the President should be assassinated…” Morlu quoting social media charged.
He, however, presented no evidence to substantiate his accusation that the posters were opposition supporters.
Dolakeh Jonathan Saye Taryor
A member of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) Dolakeh Jonathan Saye Taryor, in a strong reaction to Morlu’s accusations, called them “reckless and irresponsible” and an attempt to instill fear among citizens.
He told the West African Journal Magazine, in a telephone interview on Sunday night, that the ANC and coalition of opposition political parties are committed to maintaining the peace in Liberia.
Mr. Taryor scoffed at Morlu’s “assassination” accusation, adding that, “…the assassination of President Weah, will not, in anyway, install the opposition in power..”, and called Morlu’s Statement simply false.
Coalition of Opposition Political Parties – Liberia
The opposition member challenged the credibility of the current CDC Chairman Morlu and his “ridiculous” claim a couple of years ago that, he, Morlu, met former US President Barack Obama at a summit in Ghana where he claimed, they both held “high level talks”.
There is no proof of this Obama meeting that Morlu claimed.
Taryor said the CDC Chairman was attempting to deflect from the prevailing issues of the missing “16 billion” Liberian dollars scandal, proof of the provision of 78,000 chairs to schools, as claimed by President Weah in his State of The Union Address on January 28, 2019, the deteriorating economy under the CDC-led government and other missteps.
The opposition member called for a state investigation of the CDC Chairman over the “incendiary” accusations, which, he said, have the potential to cause chaos and endanger the lives of opposition leaders and supporters.
“IJG is saying its Investigators will be fully stationed in Liberia indefinitely to monitor Human Rights Violations and has recommended several Liberians to the US and European governments for travel restrictions.”
The global research and rights organization says the IJG is currently lobbying in Washington DC, the United States Senate for full Congressional passage of House of Representatives Resolution (H.Res) 1055 which calls for the full implementation of the Final Report of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the establishment of a Special tribunal for Liberia.
Seal of the US House of Representatives
The Resolution which was introduced September, 2018, and agreed to by the House of Representatives last November, “…Supports efforts by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to advance Liberian national reconciliation…”
Map of Liberia
According to the group, it says it is collecting data on alleged crimes being committed under the current Liberian Administration and will advocate for accountability for all economic and rights abuses.
By Our Justice Reporter In Washington DC, USA and National Politics Correspondent In Monrovia
Monrovia, Liberia: January 1, 2019 – After experiencing a difficult relationship with the George Weah’s government during the first year of his six-year mandate, Liberian journalists have unanimously agreed that inflammatory statements from several officials harm the President’s repeated pledge to support press freedom and free speech in the West African country.
Logo of Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Campaigners for press freedom and free speech hailed Weah after pledging in his first inaugural speech last January, to guarantee those basic tenets of democracy.
But his actions sooner than later went contrary to that pledge when Weah labeled government critics including journalists as “enemies of the state.”
Weah’s charge went against journalists that reported plain constitutional breaches and probable corruption.
Cabinet ministers failed to declare their assets on schedule in keeping with law while Weah himself reportedly declared his lastJuly 26after accountability campaigners coerced him.
His declaration, however, remains under seal and contravenes his pledge of government transparency.
Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, accused of shady financial deals, have joined the anti media chorus, vowing “to weaponize” (sic) supporters against critical journalists.
As if these attacks against the independent press and Mr. Tweah’s sworn refusal to advertise in independent newspapers, all aimed to frustrate journalists, were not enough, the country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe dismissed the journalists umbrella organization the Press Union of Liberia as “useless”.
Liberian Journalists At A Recent General Meeting – File Photo
In response to what Union executives call Nagbe’s “unethical comments,” they promptly suspended his traditional “honorary” membership after the Minister vowed not to apologize, saying that he would challenge the legality of his suspension in court.
Meanwhile, Liberia journalists experienced a “catch-22” scenario last Friday when President Weah, perhaps unaware of a previously scheduled PUL mass meeting, called Union members to disabuse their apprehension.
According to our correspondent in Monrovia, President Weah told the willing few who attended his meeting that “as a friend of the media I will always support press freedom… No journalists will go to jail during my administration.” But he warned that “journalists must always have their facts together and correct. “
As the bulk of Liberians is viewed as a gullible public that can quickly disown rights advocates and campaigners for justice and fair play, it would be unsurprising for media practitioners to sooner than later become cagey about their aggressive reportage.
Liberian Journalists Meeting President George Weah – File Photo
One media executive quoted long time multi party democracy rights advocate and politician the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews who warned decades ago about Liberians: “When you remove their roasted palm nuts safely from the fire, they hail you; but if your fingers get burnt, they’ll say he looked for it.”
Boston, MA USA December 28, 2018 – Two former officials of the Pres Union of Liberia (PUL) say they will continue to strongly defend the inalienable right of freedom of speech of every Liberian and the media, irrespective of whether views expressed are contrary.
In a press statement issued on Friday, December 28, 2018 from Boston, Massachusetts, the United States and copied to West African Journal Magazine, Messers Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo, two former Presidents of the journalists Union said their attention had been drawn to a decision by the PUL to suspend the membership of Liberia’s Information Minister Mr. Eugene Nagbe for a statement attributed to him in which he referred to the PUL as “useless”.
The former PUL Executives said although the derogatory characterization of the Union by the current Information Minister was unfortunate and highly irresponsible, the attempt at curtailing his right to express an inconvenient view of the Union by suspending his membership pending his apology contravenes the very essence of the business of the PUL; to protect the alienable right of Liberians to freely and responsibly express diverse views through media reportage and serve as a watch dog in society.
According to the two, the PUL has a duty to encourage and defend the right of every citizen who expresses an alternate view in the public square, even if that view makes the PUL, Government or public officials uncomfortable.
Meantime, Messers Bantu and Abalo have strongly criticized a statement calling for the expulsion of the Information Minister from the PUL without due process.
Liberians must be reminded, they said, that for some who are calling for the extreme position of the expulsion of Minister Nagbe from the PUL for expressing a contrary view, it was some of the same individuals who presided over the arrest, incarceration and mal-treatment of media personnel, including the closure of media houses for their reportage which were viewed as critical of past Governments.
The PUL must not be used to repeat the tactics of marginalization of free speech as was done in the past by public officials, according to the former PUL officials.
“The current climate of intimidation and threats against the media as enunciated by senior governments officials are unacceptable and the Government of Liberia has a duty to protect all citizens, equitably enforce the Constitution and sanction its officials who threaten press freedom and media personnel. Freedom of speech and press freedom are scared rights that all Liberians should enjoy in a democratic environment,” the two media executives concluded.
Monrovia,27 Dec 2018: A bitter row between the umbrella media organization known as the Press Union of Liberia ( PUL) and the West African country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe Wednesday entered its third day running after his membership was suspended for allegedly describing the body as “useless”.
Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe
PUL executives quickly suspended the Government’s spokesman’s membership demanding an apology of the charge against the PUL before his status can be restored.
For his part, Minister Nagbe clarified that, he, instead said PUL executives were ” useless ” for failure to regulate contents of the local media they accredit.
Our correspondent in Monrovia reports that The Liberian government official also rebuked the media organization’s leadership for failure to seek the welfare of working journalists, some of whom he says are paid the Liberian dollar equivalent of 10 to 15 USD monthly.
PUL President Charles Coffey
The PUL Vice President Daniel Nyan Konah told state radio that Minister Nagbe must recant his Statement against the media organization before his membership can be restored.
But Information Minister Nagbe says he will challenge his suspension in court.
In a separate development, Truth FM 96.1 local radio remained off air for the fourth consecutive day Thursday as its 36 employees including journalists are striking to press demands for nine months of salary arrears owed them since April 2018.
Truth FM Radio Owner Musa Bility
Truth FM Editor in Chief Joseph Koon told state-runned ELBC Radio on Wednesday that the strike action was their last resort after Truth FM management including the CEO Musa Bility gave “deaf ears” to all verbal and written appeals from the employees.
Business magnate Musa Bility owns the RCI media conglomerate comprising radio, TV and a newspaper.
Mr. President and officials of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the United States, my fellow Liberians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
I am deeply honored by your invitation to speak to you today.
Given the current state of affairs in our country and the unique role that journalists play in a democratic society, I thought to speak to you today about how we can use journalism as a tool for promoting accountable governance and development in our beloved Mama Liberia.
As I gave thought to my speech, it dawned on me that exactly 73 years ago this month—on October 24, 1945—Liberia was among the countries that led the world in founding an organization that, despite its many flaws, has been in the vanguard of the fight for democracy and development across the world: The United Nations.
In 1948, just three years after its founding with our country Liberia as a founding member, the United Nations held its Conference on Freedom of Information that declared access to information an essential freedom.
Let’s ponder this for a moment. In 1948, the United Nations had been in existence for barley three years. It was still faced with the daunting tasks of pulling the world out of the rubble of the Second World War and providing basic services–food, housing, health care and education—to tens of thousands of war survivors.
Yet, the United Nations found the time to focus on the importance of the right to information—the right to know. Why?
The answer perhaps lies in the fact that freedom of information is a freedom that underpins all of the other freedoms we hold dear.
Access to information promotes transparent and accountable governance.
When there is transparency, when people know what is going on, they can monitor and assess the performance of government; they can hold public officials accountable.
When there is accountability, government is more responsive to the needs of the people; it is more attuned to protecting their rights and providing them with basic social services.
So how do you as journalists fit in here? Well, the journalist is the vital link between policy makers and the people. When you perform your jobs well, you are the conduit through which the people communicate with the government and the government communicates with the people.
And what a crucially important role you have to play here. An independent media that represents plural points of view plays an essential role in delivering the information people need to participate in the debates and influence the decisions that shape their lives.
A media sector that reaches and gives voice to the broad populace can create informed citizens who can better monitor the performance of their leaders.
In short, by helping provide the public access to information about the workings of public institutions, the media vests the people with the power to demand quality performance and accountability from their government.
A strong, free, and independent media that monitors those in power and provides accurate information to citizens can also serve as an effective check on corruption—by exposing private and public sector corruption, a free media allows voters to hold corrupt politicians to account.
And we can point to very recent examples of how the media can play a very effective role in exposing corruption. Take the case of the missing containers of money. It took intrepid reporting by independent journalists to expose the fact that somehow our government printed millions of dollars that suddenly went “missing” and cannot be accounted for.
We will depend on you, journalists, to follow up on this story so that the government provides answers to questions that demand answers: who ordered the printing of the missing money? How much exactly was printed? Where was it printed? Who took charge of the money once it entered the country? Did it go through the proper channels and processes at the Central Bank before being injected into the official money supply? How is it that at one point the government can tell us that millions of dollars is missing and identify individuals who are under investigation for the missing money, but yet at another point the government through its Finance Minister and the Central Bank Governor can announce that there is no money missing? Which version is true? Does this suggest a cover-up at the very highest levels of government? Is the missing money the result of incompetence or outright thievery or both by government officials?
These are crucial questions you can help the Liberian people answer by shining the bright sunrays of fair and objective reporting as a disinfectant on the processes of government. And it is important that we get answers to these questions because as much as we have heard about corruption in previous government, we have never seen anything on this scale: the literal disappearance of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars that belong to the Liberian people. If there is anything that defines corruption, this is it
In addition to taking on corruption, your focus should be on providing the kind of information that helps the public evaluate government programs and policies.
Above all, you want to provide information that allows the public to reach sound conclusions about whether public pronouncements actually become sound public policies.
This may require a sea change in the way you operate. You must move beyond a fixation on the sensational. You must resist the temptation to politicize your stories, or to make them just about personalities.
Instead, your stories must focus on issues—issues that matter in the lives of your audience and help them to both understand and affect the policy choices their government makes.
You must also follow up on your stories to see whether the policies announced today are producing the desired effect tomorrow.
Additionally, you must write or broadcast your stories so you provide your readers or listeners the background and context they need to fully understand the issues at stake.
Recent developments in our country again provide useful examples about how journalists can go about doing this. Very recently, apparently as a result of the injection of the millions of missing dollars into the money supply, we saw a significant increase in inflation. Indeed, the President himself told us that the Liberian dollar decreased by about 25 percent under his watch, meaning that ordinary Liberians must now pay 25 percent more for everything they consume. The President proposed to solve this problem by announcing a series of measures, including the injection of $25 million dollars into the economy.
As journalists your duty should be to objectively examine the initiatives proposed by the President and ask critical questions to determine whether they have produced or can produce the desired results: Did the government actually inject $25 million into the economy? How did it do so? Have we seen an appreciable resultant decrease in inflation? Are the policies announced by the government capable of addressing the long term structural economic challenges we face or do they represent at best only short term ephemeral gains?
As you go about asking these questions and examining the results of actions taken by the government you should also examine and educate the public about the merits of alternative proposals for getting us out of the economic morass in which we find ourselves as a nation.
For example, unlike the President, we in the opposition put forward a set of policy ideas that, if implemented, can produce some immediate positive results while simultaneously and more importantly addressing the long term structural impediments to growth and development. It is worth quickly summarizing the key features of the policy proposals we put forward:
Maintain Sound Fiscal Discipline: First, we called on the government to ensure that we live within our means as a nation and avoid unwise debt we cannot afford. There are some indications that the sharp decline in the Liberian Dollar since the President came to office is a result of financial markets already taking into account the strain that servicing over $1 billion in new debt sought by the government will place on our meager national budget. We should thus look to smartly grow—and not borrow—ourselves out of the country’s current economic morass.
Adopt Smart Growth Inducing Tax Policies: We also proposed that the government focus on tax policies that can spur rather than stymie growth. It is often the case that acting out of desperation for cash to fund what amounts in many cases to unwise and ill-conceived initiatives, the government maintains a regime of relatively high tariffs and other taxes that inhibit the risk taking so essential to wealth creation. Moreover, tariffs on essential imported commodities are among the most regressive taxes, adversely affecting the poor whose cause the President claims to champion. Smart tax policies, including targeted reductions in tariffs and other taxes, can stimulate growth and, in the process, add more revenues to the government’s coffers than the current regressive tax regime.
Eliminate Monopolies: Additionally, we urged the government to do away with monopolies and exclusive licenses. The average Liberian knows that if the government gives only one person the right to import “chicken soup” or tomatoes that person, because he has no competitor, can charge supra competitive prices or bring in inferior products. There is no net economic benefit we derive as a nation from giving only a few persons or entities exclusive licenses to import essential products like rice, chicken soup, and other consumer goods. Opening the market to more people with a focus on Liberian business people, would result in lower prices and better product choices for consumers.
Enhance Environment for Exports/Import Substitution: We further stressed the need for the government to adopt sensible, cost-effective regulations and policies to increase local and foreign investment in export/import substitution sectors. Regulations and policies could include:
Creating a food safety inspection unit along with relevant regulations so that our farmers’ produce can meet standards for export to European and other markets: There are many stories of our development partners trying to help our farmers export crops such as okra, pepper or eggplant only to be stopped in their tracks because of the absence of something as basic as a national food safety inspection system or unit. Small investments in establishing such a unit could pay huge dividends.
Establishing industrial parks in coastal cities like Buchanan and Harper with built in advantages such as sea ports and easy road access to airports and Monrovia: These advantages would serve to attract investors looking to manufacture for export or local consumption.
Improving the value chain for key agricultural products like rice: Pilot projects funded by international donors around the country amply demonstrate that improving the rice value chain by, for example, helping Liberians entrepreneurs establish rice mills can produce huge results—enhancing the quality of locally produced rice and creating a market for local producers. Scaling up these projects could help us reduce the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend annually on rice imports—money that could go to build schools, hospitals and roads.
Implement Reforms that make it easy to move goods In and Out of our Ports: Moving goods in and out of our Ports is unnecessarily cumbersome, complicated and expensive. Reforms to simplify moving goods in and out of our Ports should be implemented to enhance ease of doing business and to help ordinary Liberians.
We now urge you to do these policy prescriptions of ours the same thing we urge you to do to the policy ideas announced by the government: Subject them to rigorous and critical scrutiny. Examine their potential upsides and downsides and report stories that educate and inform the public and policy-makers accordingly.
We are convinced you will conclude that while they do not provide a panacea or a magic wand that instantly cures all of our development challenges, the ideas we have advanced offer us a chance to successfully set ourselves on the journey to development.
Let me now talk briefly about the role of the media in promoting development itself.
The notion of development journalism rests on the premise that the media has the power to make positive change possible.
If there is one thing that characterizes development journalism, it is a singular focus on deliberately and actively pressing for change; on mobilizing the broad populace to pursue a development agenda.
So what do you need or what must you do to be an effective development journalist?
I believe that to be a development journalist, you must first appreciate the unique role the media can play in the development process. You must then be dedicated to using your professional skills to educate, to teach, to pass on knowledge and skills that enable others to contribute to the development of your country.
But to play this role effectively, you yourselves must be thoroughly versed in the relevant development issues and challenges. You must have the ability to evaluate the upsides and downsides of specific policy initiatives.
Much of this you can gain from reading, learning, and thinking through the critical development challenges our country faces.
To be a good development journalist also means that you must be able to target and reach the people most affected by or in need of development programs.
In our country, Liberia, those people live mostly in rural areas. To make development journalism meaningful we thus need to focus on the needs and aspirations of the rural poor.
To understand their needs and aspirations, you must spend time with them. It is not enough to report about them from the comfort and safety of Monrovia or other urban areas.
A good development journalist will also ensure that the people who are affected by development programs will have their voices heard and their views known to policy makers.
A preference for profiling innovation and success stories that motivate people and inspire them to work for change is also a very good attribute of a development journalist. You must further have a knack for presenting people with the various development options and letting them understand the pros and cons of these options.
There is more you can do. You can show why development issues are important by giving them prominent placement in your newspapers or in your radio or television newscasts.
You must also put emphasis on evaluating and reporting on how specific development projects are relevant to the needs of local communities or the nation as a whole.
So development journalism does not merely mean reporting about something that happened, about a speech, or a project. It is reporting about trends, processes, policy choices and their broad implications.
Development journalism is not about championing or promoting a political party, a government, or a specific personality.
Development journalism is about telling stories, publishing articles, and providing information that foster fundamental social and economic change—that help people make the right health choices; that educate farmers about emerging market trends, and how to employ improved farming methods; it is about exposing national policies that discriminate against the vulnerable—women, girls, the poor—and what can be done to remedy societal ills.
I must admit it is a difficult task but it’s doable task. You have your work cut out for you.
But before you give up and think it is too hard, let me remind you of how hard those that came before you had to work to bequeath us the country we have today.
Many of our founding fathers were journalists. Hillary Teage, who wrote our declaration of independence, edited the first newspaper ever founded in Liberia–The Liberia Herald, which was founded in 1826.
The Herald was the principal source of news about the new country; it provided what we will call development news today, exhorting its readers about what they could do to improve their lives.
Another of our great early fathers, Edward Wilmot Blyden, will go on to serve as the Editor of the Herald from—using its pages to promote the causes he held dear—integration between the settlers and the indigenous tribes.
Many of those who came before us willingly sacrificed their freedom, and chose the jail cell over the comfort of their homes because they steadfastly refused to compromise their journalistic integrity. You know them better than I do: Tuan Wreh, Rufus Darpoh, and Albert Porte.
Then there were those who paid the ultimate price in the performance of their journalistic duties: Moses Washington, Tommy Raynes, Klohn Hinneh, Sekou Kromah; Charles Gbenyon.
So every time you are tempted to throw in the towel and give up because you believe your working conditions are not the most optimal; or because you believe that powerful forces are out to frustrate your efforts to inform and educate your audience, think about these men; think about the powerful examples they set for you; the heroic roles they all played in making it possible for you to enjoy the freedom you enjoy to practice your craft today.
And as you do so, I have no doubt that you will resolve to carry on—to be the best possible journalist you can be; to practice your craft in service to a larger goal: building a stable, truly democratic and prosperous Liberia that serves the interest of all of its people.