The Press Union of Liberia is calling on government ministries and agencies to pay their overdue advertising debt owed to media institutions in the country.
Press Union President Peter Quaqua says the union considers the protracted government indebtedness as counterproductive to the survival and sustainability of media institutions.
“One of those areas where the media gets its income to operate is through advertisement, and I was amazed to know that the government is owing for as long as three to six years. And I thought this was alarming that the government should be owing this amount. Now we are getting to the point where they [the government] is even asking for waver of some of the debt,” he said.
Quaqua said the Press Union has learnt that the Liberian government has also requested tax clearances in some cases before processing payments, something he describes as “strange and troubling.”
“We are confused by such development and refuse to accept that the government will choose to do business with a media institution in the first place without checking its tax status, but would request clearances only at the time of payment. This is strange and troubling,” Quaqua said.
But Information Minister Lewis Brown says the government is doing everything possible to pay its debt. He blamed the delay on what he calls a shift in the government’s budget preparation process.
“I do know at the level of the Ministry of Information, we are in discussion with the publishing association and heads of electronic media houses, going over issues of debt and payment by the government. You also may be aware that there was a shift in our budget preparation process, and so it has caused a bit of unexpected delay. But as I speak to you, everything is now being done to get copies of those bills and to settle them,” he said.
Brown said it is not uncommon for governments to demand to see the tax clearances of institutions it does business with.
“The usual practice everywhere is once the government accepts a bill, especially in terms of a payment, if you are owing, the government naturally takes its taxes off and give you your money. So this is not a new practice. This is not a quid pro quo as you might want to put it, but this is a normal course of doing business with all governments everywhere,” Brown said.
Quaqua said the Press Union is also calling on media houses to do their part in improving the condition of service journalists in Liberia.
He said the union will begin consultations August 27 with media owners and practitioners on drafting a “Collective Bargaining Agreement to enhance the “labor and ethical standards for journalists, including wages.”