Liberian Gov’t Shuts Media Institutions Over ‘Tax’ Payment Claims
Monrovia – The spree of shutting media institutions by the Government of Liberia under the guise of failure to pay taxes continues unabated as two more media institutions have been shut down following the closure of Voice FM recently.
“Enough is enough—this is muzzling of the free press, because of critical stance on issues, Lib 24 on 105 FM and shata FM were shut down today by heavy police presence. We will do everything within the confines of the law to ensure that our rights are protected”-Benoni Urey, political leader, All Liberian Party and owner of Lib 24 and Shata FM
On Saturday, officers from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberian National Police barricaded the premises of LIB 24 radio on 10th Street in Sinkor as the station was shut down. The radio station owned by opposition politician Benoni Urey was shut down along with its affiliate Shata FM located in rural Montserrado County.
While the Government used such large number of police to effect a court order when there was no indication of resistance to require force remains to be known but Urey later held a press conference where he displayed copies of tax payment receipts issued by the Liberia Revenue Authority.
The shutting down of the two media institutions Saturday comes in the wake of similar occurrence about a month ago when Voice FM was also shut down based on a petition through the court from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority against the operations of the station.
“Look at all these papers, we have been paying all our taxes and we even paid for the annual application fee to the Ministry of Information, so this is about muzzling the press, the Minister of Information is Secretary General of the ruling Unity party and is closing down media institutions owed by opposition”, said Urey.
He says Information Eugene Nagbe serving as Information Minister and Secretary General of the ruling party means he will use his position in government to suppress opposition institutions for undue advantage to the ruling party.
“This is why we saw the shameless violation of the Code of Conduct which was encouraged and condoned by President Sirleaf and the Unity Party”, said Urey.
Urey said it is unthinkable for his media institutions to be held over payment of taxes, expressing that he has been patience for long over what he is describing as the draconian attempt by the government to silence the critical media in order to push its agenda in 2017.
“Enough is enough, I have been patience but will do everything within the confines of the law to ensure that our rights are protected”, said Urey.
According to the presidential hopeful, the closure of critical media institutions that are exposing corruption and other ills in the Liberian society is an indication that the opposition will be given unfair treatment.
Manipulation of lawmakers
Urey also said there are glaring evidence that the President is manipulating lawmakers to remove Speaker Alex J. Tyler by giving money to lawmakers.
“There is evidence as many lawmakers have spoken that bribe is being paid by the Executive to remove Speaker Tyler, even the speaker has said that, we are urging lawmakers to respect the law”, he added.
Urey wants President Sirleaf whom he said has failed over the years to develop key areas to now use the remaining time of her regime to fight corruption and provide basic services to the Liberian people including education, health care, strengthening the economy, amongst others.
The ALP political leader says Liberians are dying due to the poor health care delivery system with the John F. Kennedy medical Hospital being poorly managed.
LIB 24 was closed shortly after popular talk show host Henry Costa began broadcasting on the station.
Costa whose popular radio program, the Costa Show which was aired on Voice FM has been off the air due to the closure of the station took to LIB 24 further airing his critical talk show.
In one of his recent shows on LIB 24, Costa identified individuals whom he said are the mystery Big Bog 1 and Big Boy 2, all codenamed in a Global Witness report that is now a subject of criminal indictment against several individuals in Liberia.
Costa was the owner of Voice FM which was shut down and a court proceeding is now taking place.
The State is claiming that Voice FM has been operating illegally prior to its closure but the shutting down of LIB 24 weeks after Costa began broadcasting his talk show is raising concerns that the government could be going after the talk show host for his stance against many issues in the country.
During the protest against the closure of Voce FM Costa vowed that closure of Voice FM will not silence him, promising that his talks] show will still be on the air to enlighten the Liberian people.
Now that LIB 24 has been closed down, the big question is where next for the Costa show but Urey hinted that online radio is another option.
Not many ordinary Liberians use the internet but in the urban cities like Monrovia, there are growing number of internet users due to the low cost of internet as a result of offers from the GSM service providers.
One source told FPA that Urey has failed to pay his license fees and taxes since 2009.
“He got two invoices Feb and April. He switched corporations to avoid taxes but you can’t transfer license except with LTA approval”, the source said.
It can be recalled that in 2015 the Liberia Revenue Authority using a court order shut down Love FM for reported failure to pay taxes.
Radio station Status not regularized
Meanwhile in a statement, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism stated that the Civil Law Court has effectuated the closure of Sarafina Ventures and Communications Inc. (Love FM 105.1 and Love TV Channel 7) based upon a Petition of declaratory Judgment from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority through the Ministry of Justice.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, the closure of the station is predicated upon the fact that since its establishment in 2009, Love FM 105.1 has not regularized its status in keeping with Part V, Section 16(2) of the Telecommunications Licensing Authorization Regulations (LTA-REG-001) which says in part “ that a license issued by the LTA under the regulation is for a period of one calendar year and under terms and conditions to include renewal upon expiration, to make full payment of the license and annual registration fees to the Government of Liberia.”
MICAT further states that in addition to the station’s failure to regularize its status in keeping with the law, Sarafina Ventures and Communications Inc. (Love FM 105.1 and Love TV Channel 7) unilaterally and without prior written consent of the LTA, transferred the frequency to another corporation, LIB-24.
The unilateral transfer of the frequency to LIB24 without the expressed consent of the LTA is in violation of Part VI, Section 25(1) and Part IV Section 15(1)b of the Telecommunication Act of 2007 that states “individuals, groups, or institutions opting to own and operate any telecommunications network, or provide a telecommunications service, must be granted a License or Frequency Authorization by the LTA, in addition to a permit issued by the Ministry of Information.”
Further stated MICAT: “The Government regrets that in the wake of the democratic atmosphere prevailing in the country with media pluralism at its core, a media institution like the Love FM will woefully engage in circumventing the established rules and procedures governing the communications sector, thereby defrauding the government of more than US$50,000.00 over the period of five years”.
The government said that prior to resorting to court action, there had been a series of discussions and exchange of communication over several months with the management of Sarafina Ventures & Communications Inc. imploring the corporation to accede to the requirements, pay the required fees and legitimize its operations.
The statement further said that it is the duty of the LTA as a regulatory agency to ensure that the public interest is protected against the abuse and illegal use of spectrum in Liberia.
With over 50 Radio Stations now broadcasting in Liberia, the government re-emphasizes the urgent and critical need for strict adherence to spectrum management laws and procedures to avert chaos in the broadcast media landscape.