US to Provide $1.45 Million for Upcoming Elections

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted May 28, 2002

In preparation for the holding of "credible free and fair" elections in Liberia in 2003, the United States (US) government will provide a total of some $1.45 million to support a number of specific independent media projects in the country.

Making the disclosure last Friday [May 24] in a keynote address to the International Conference of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) in Washington, DC, the Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Robert C. Perry said his government will provide $800,000 in this fiscal year (FY-02) to support various projects, including, the provision of training and equipment for [the] West African Democracy Radio, Radio Veritas, community-based radio, traveling theater, print journalists, and the dissemination of thousands of wind-up radios.

Noting the high rate of illiteracy presently in the country, he said radio is one of the most effective methods through which political aspirants could communicate with the voters, stating that the US will seek an agreement (with the Liberian government) on equal access to the media for the 2003 electoral process similar to 1997, when the state-owned Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS) offered a special election package that give all 13 parties that participated access to the station.

Ambassador Perry also said that his government will provide $550,000 in additional fiscal year (FY-02) Election Support Funds to promote political party development in the [war-ravaged] country. This will cover recruiting members and candidates, fielding electoral slates, and reaching mass audiences, he said.

Towards this end, the Ambassador said, training would include financing an election, campaigning in accord with Electoral Commission regulations, preparing election monitors and observers, and a consensus "Code of Conduct" to be observed by all parties.

He said that the US will provide another $100,000 to establish a modest political party resource center that would be made available to all parties and provide access to computers, printers, phones, copying, and other resources that the parties could not afford on an individual basis under the present [economic] circumstances in Liberia. The Ambassador also noted that the various amounts were appropriated by his government after a number of respected U.S. non-governmental organizations had surveyed the requirements earlier this year for the holding of "credible" elections in the country.

"Free and fair elections in October 2003, conducted on a level playing field, remains key to rejuvenating civil society, promoting regional peace and stability, and building internal pressure to open domestic political space in Liberia", Ambassador Perry stressed. But as much as his remarks may sound optimistic, many Liberians are still doubtful whether the ensuing elections will take place, citing mainly the deteriorating security situation currently in the war-wrecked country and the repressive Taylor regime's apparent stubbornness not to deal directly with their arch-enemy, the shadowy dissident group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

Touching on the expressed concern for the safety of a number of potential candidates, notwithstanding [recent] assurances by Liberian government officials, he said that his government would like to see them [concerns] addressed, perhaps, by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The South African deployment to Burundi, or the United Nations' peace-building operations in Mozambique and the Central African Republic, could be a [likely] model for Liberia, the Ambassador said.

Crediting the Liberian government for, what he called, taking some positive steps, such as, allowing Radio Veritas to resume short-wave radio transmissions and authorizing the operation of an independent printing press that could possibly reduce the overall costs of newspapers and increase distribution, he urged Liberian journalists to take advantage of these positive circumstances, saying, "you, as representative of the media, can and must play a critical role in bringing good governance to Liberia and peace to the [Mano River] region."

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the US and a major democratic proponent of his time, Ambassador Perry said: "The whole of government consists in the art of being honest", and added, "Candid exposure by the media of the inner workings of government often proves embarrassing, controversial, and politically explosive even to the best of governments. However, we recognize that TRANSPARENCY is vital to ensuring that [the Liberian] government is RESPONSIBLE and ACCOUNTABLE to its citizens."

"Admittedly, securing accountability is easier said than done, particularly in current day Liberia", he also said.

Commenting on recent actions by the Government of Liberia, including the jailing and [savage] beating of the country's now-famous human rights lawyer, Counselor Tiawon Saye Gongloe as well as the [abrupt] closure of the independent newspaper, the "Analyst", he said such moves contradict the government's [Taylor's] stated interest in national reconciliation and laying the groundwork for free and fair elections next year.

The Ambassador said: "These actions are entirely inconsistent with the Government's professed desires and with its international commitments to protect human rights and freedom of peaceful expression. Although it has released Gongloe, New Deal Chairman, Nigba Wiapleh, and others who protested their arrests, we still expect the Government to formally drop charges against these individuals and to re-open the weekly Analyst newspaper."

"We also urge the Government of Liberia to lift its State of Emergency [imposed earlier this year when LURD rebels seemed to have been very close to the capital, Monrovia], which DOES NOT serve a credible or practical purpose in bringing about the peace and reconciliation Liberia needs", he added.

The Ambassador then reiterated his call made last January 19 when he spoke to the annual convention in Maryland of the Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia (MDCL) that Liberians in America [the US] do their part immediately to remedy the dismal situation in their war-torn nation.

"You have given a lot of thought to Liberia's problems and options for a better future. Now is the time to act. Don't be daunted by the size of the task [at hand] and waste this [precious] opportunity. You can rise to the current challenge and facilitate the healing of Liberia's wounds and create the circumstances under which Liberia can return to its roots as Africa's first constitutional republic", he challenged.

Among other things, the Ambassador urged the Liberian authorities to "listen to the voices of reason", particularly, leaders of the ECOWAS states, who have since called for a cease-fire and the cessation of hostilities between them and LURD [an offer that the Taylor regime, through its Minister of Information, Reginald Goodridge, has completely rejected]. He, therefore, warned them [Liberian authorities] to think twice, especially at this particular time when "their house is on fire".

For his part, ALJA's outgoing acting president, Isaac D. E. Bantu, observed that there was a dire need for support and resources to enable his group to conduct training and other educational-related programs so as to strengthen the capacity of the Liberian press to effectively play its role as a major foundation of democracy.

He then called on the U.S. government, organizations, and particularly the American media, to help them in their continuing struggle to attain press freedom and democracy in Liberia.

"Because of over ten years of the devastating civil war, the Liberian media is in a state of disintegration, and is, therefore, ill-equipped in the effective performance of its role. This is a matter of grave concern and of urgency. If the press is not trained and equipped, the idea of democracy in Liberia will continue to remain a dream", he said.

Earlier, Mr. Gabriel I. H. Williams, the outgoing secretary general of ALJA, presented Ambassador Perry an eight-point resolution to submit to his government and other interested parties.

The key portions of the resolution were: (1) Call for the timely intervention of an international stabilization force [similar to that proposed by some Liberian opposition leaders at the recent ECOWAS meeting in Abuja, Nigeria]; (2) Call for the restructuring, training and support for the country's military and paramilitary forces to create an "enabling environment" for peace and security; (3) Call on ECOWAS, the United Nations (UN) as well as the international community NOT to recognize any group that assumes power by the force of arms [undemocratically]; (4) Call on both the Taylor-led National Patriotic Party (NPP) government and LURD to agree to an immediate ceasefire; and (5) Call on the Government of Liberia to institute the following measures – (a) Lift the State of Emergency imposed in February 2002; (b) Respect freedom of the press; (c) Create [the] conditions for dialogue and divergent views; (d) Ensure the safety of human rights and pro-democracy advocates; and (e) Create the enabling environment for the holding of general and presidential elections in 2003.

"The Role of the Liberian Media in the Peace and Reconciliation Process and the 2003 Elections in Liberia" was the theme of the two-day conference that was co-sponsored by the Washington, DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

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