19 March Press Brief

Monday, 19th March 2007

Members of the Press:

Welcome to another session of our weekly Press briefing.

The President, as you may know by now, concluded her visit to a number of European countries last week and has since returned to the country. The President visited Spain, Japan, and Brussels. As a result of the visit, Japan has agreed to join the growing campaign toward Liberia’s debt relief, under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPIC) Initiative, during the pending G-8 meeting in May. Liberia owes Japan more than 50-million dollars in bilateral debt and is looking forward to a waiver of that and other bilateral and multilateral debts. As a result of the President visit, Japan has agreed to provide $6.5-million U.S. dollars in assistance toward Liberia’s development initiatives.

During talks between the President and Japanese officials, Japan expressed interest in the Health and Private sector. The Liberian-Japanese Maternity Center comes to mind when we recall Japan assistance to Liberia. The Japanese are keen on resuming that cooperation, in addition to resumption next year to diplomatic ties.

A Mission under the auspices of the Japan International Corporation will be sent to Liberia in May to follow up on discussions held in Tokyo between the President and Japanese Officials. The President is, meanwhile, considering a request to serve as Spokesperson for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which takes place next May in Japan next year? As regional Director of UNDP, the Mrs. Sirleaf participated in the first TICAD conference in 1992.

The President also held talks with Dutch officials while in Europe.  The Dutch would be looking at government’s land reclamation initiatives and what assistance the Netherlands can give in that direction. The Dutch government is also interested in our Ports and what assistance they can render toward the rehabilitation of the Ports.

Another major stop during the President’s visit was Spain. The President held a series of meetings including meetings with the Spanish Prime Minister, Rodriguez Zapatero.  As a result of that meeting, the Government of Spain will organize a Mission to Liberia, to assess the possibility of undertaking renovations at the port of Monrovia as well as the removal of sunken vessels in the harbor on a bilateral basis. Spain is also expected to assume the leadership in the renovation of the port on a multilateral basis.

During a meeting between the President and the President of the Madrid Regional Government, Ms. Esperanza Aguirre, that body will provide practically new ambulances and fire trucks as well as a sixty (60) bed mobile hospital.

Accompanied by Representatives Elizabeth Williams of Rivercess and Representative Bofal Chambers of Maryland County, the President held a meeting with the Spanish Parliament. As a result of that meeting, Spain will provide technical support for the training of legislative staff from Liberian engaged in budgetary and other technical matters for the Liberian legislature. There’s more to report on the outcome of the President’s European trip. Accordingly, the President will be giving more highlights on the trip when she appears tomorrow, Tuesday, on the regular monthly radio call in program, ‘Conversation with the President. The Program will be broadcast from ELBC and relayed by UNMIL, Radio Veritas, Star Radio, Truth and SKY-FM.

Finally, I like to inform you that a meeting between Executives of the Press Union of Liberia and a number of media Executives will take place on Thursday this week at the Foreign Ministry.  The te-ta-tet between the President and media executives is intended to discuss issues of mutual concern between the Press and the Office of the President.

Invitations are being sent out to media institutitions invited to attend Thursday’s meeting.

I now welcome whatever questions you may have.

Cheechiaye Jablason, Daily Observer Newspaper:”… yes Mr. Badio, there has been this report in the media about attacks on press freedom and this accusation is coming from some International Media Groups, and I’m told in relations to this same issue, there are reports that there is a complaint on the president’s desk toward that effect, concerning the closure of the Independent Newspaper, turning it as an attack on press freedom, is it so …?

Presidential Press Secretary Badio: “There is no truth into that, absolutely, there is no truth in that accusation that the government has launched an attack on press freedom”. The President of this country and this government will do nothing to muzzle press freedom in Liberia.

“This President has been in the full front of press freedom in our country; and has also been in the full front of freedom of speech in the Liberia. This government has always stood for press freedom, so ..; there is absolutely no truth into that accusation.”

“I think what is happening here is that there are individuals in mind view engaging in a calculated attempt to make it looks like this government is stepping on press freedom.

…But you know and I know that in this country (Liberia), there is an abundant degree of press freedom that being enjoyed by the media, and we’ll continue to maintain and up hold press freedom”.

“One of the best ways of accentuating our own development is upholding press freedom, so those who think that they can make this government look bad, by painting the wrong  image of it, must be made aware that such provocation will not deter us from our main focus.

No amount of falsehood will make this government to go against the press.
!!.. And in fact, because of our unwavering commitment to upholding of press, the President has consented to meet with the Heads of all media institutions in the country, so as to put on the table where all these concerns are coming from, if they are legitimate. But as far as this office is concern, there is nothing to suggest that this government is curtailing press freedom in any form or fashion”.

Jablason: “…Yes Mr. Badio, if you said they are legitimate, then could you comment on the legitimacy of these complaints.
Mr. Badio: “If someone is making an accusation like that, then it means that they may know something that we don’t know. They can tell us exactly what they are taking about.

D.K. Sengbeh: The Informer: “As a follow-up to the first question; has the president’s office received any formal complaint from any group concerning attacks on press freedom by this government ..?”

Mr. Badio: Oh yes, you know most of these organizations have branches all over the world including this country, so when there is issue like this, they would be concerned; so yes, we have received a complaint from the World Association of Newspapers.

We’re responded to their concerns, to let them know that we’ve taken note of their concerns, to let them know just like I’ve told you, that there is absolutely no truth in what they have been told; and that there is no threat to press freedom, or the abrogation of press freedom in Liberia. You all are witnesses to just what I’m saying that there is no threat to press freedom here, and if you think I’m lying, you are at liberty to include that in your reports when you leave from here.”

Patrick Honnah: What is the content of the letter from the Group?

Badio: “The content of the letter is that they got this report that the independent Newspaper is been closed down by government and Mr. Dean is in hiding and is a wanted man, but you all know that Mr. Dean is a freeman walking freely everywhere around there, and of course you all know that the independent was shutdown under the statutory responsibility of the ministry of information, which granted the independent the right to publish and revoked that accreditation. So these are the issues that are being raised in their letter to the President.

Patrick Honnah-Truth FM: “We are told that there is some serious warning in that letter concerning the same issue to government; is that true …?

Badio: I don’t know if any institution like a Journalist group is in the business of warning governments. I think the best we can do is to collaborate and work together, but to say a media institution has warned government is an overstatement.

Jeremiah Sarnor-King’s FM:  “Does this information worries this government ..?

Badio: “No! This information does not worry this government because we are up holding press freedom. I listen to your radio stations every day with people speaking their minds without any one being arrested or harassed. I read the newspaper’s headlines and their stories, and nothing in there suggests that press freedom is under threat.
“What is actually worrying” is that people are very much calculative in what they are doing…. And you know that there are individuals in this country who worked for past governments which are no more.

There are also individuals running newspapers owned by political institutions. You know and I know that on the surface these are real newspapers, but deep down, they are political papers; so that is why they going to the extreme to make it appear that this government is clamping down on press freedom, so as to make a case suggesting that’s this government is not different from previous governments. No amount of provocation will force us to clamp down on the press.
We’ll not give anyone, any notoriety, because what they are doing is to provoke this government to react, and than they’ll sit back and say, ‘we told you so.’

This government is different from previous governments and we are not going to clamp down on any media institution.”

Jeremiah Sarnor-King’s FM “There is this report in the public Agenda Newspaper that this government is trying to revenge on newspaper for the Mr. Knuckles issue, is it so …?

Mr. Badio: “Public Agenda can publish whatever they want to publish. All I can say is that we will continue to uphold all the tenets of good governance.”

Carolyn Myers-Love FM: “There are reports that the coordinator of Special Project was involved in a scuffle with some private citizens yesterday; are you aware of that..?”

Badio: “No!! I’m not aware.

Patrick Wrokpoh-Inquirer: “I am told that the President was informed about the recovery of some stolen money during her trip to Japan and other places, and some citizens are concern as to where this information is coming from; is it so …?

Mr. Badio: “This is not the first time the president to making such revelations. When the President visited Switzerland sometime last year, she did raise the issue and cautioned the Swiss government to return stolen funds to the people of Liberia which may be in their banks. It is not a hidden secret that when our people steal money, they keep it in foreign banks.
They siphon the resources of the country and keep them in those banks.

Jablasone: “The International Community had asked you to seize the assets of former Taylor Associates accused of embezzlement. As of now, government has taken no action. Why has the government not made any move on these officials?

Badio: The Previous government tried to effect the asset freeze on some of Mr. Taylor officials, and you know what happened. That move did not good down well with the courts. There are shortcomings in our laws concerning what a government can do and can not do as far as asset freeze is concerned; until those laws can conform to international standards we will be losing legal battles in such cases.

Jablason: “So it means that government will not take any action?”

Badio: Well, I’m saying that we tried that before and it backfired; we have to go back to the drawing board.”