For forty-five minutes this afternoon, Alfred argued with a graphic designer over the layout for The Daily Talk’s new brochure. I was content to sit in the hangar-like room, watching as women prowled the aisles selling mayonnaise and condensed milk sandwiches and plantain chips from buckets on their heads. But all of a sudden, mid-debate, Alfred received a call from the Ministry of Finance, and after a few quick words to the designer, we took off for the Ministry.
It was a call Alfred had been awaiting for weeks. Above The Daily Talk’s newsboard is a sign urging citizens to “Show your love for Mama Liberia, pay taxes as and when due!” Alfred erected the sign as an advertisement for the Ministry of Finance two years ago, for a fee of US $100 per month. The problem is, Alfred never received payment, and the Ministry owes him $2400.
He needs the Ministry’s money to buy new equipment, and after a month of unreturned phone calls, Alfred was done waiting. So, he turned to the media. Today’s big, bold Daily Talk headline reads, “System corrupt? Finance Ministry refusing to pay Daily Talk for publicity of programs. Details coming…” Upper-level officials in the Ministry called Nathaniel Konjay, the Director of Budget and Finance, questioning why the Ministry had been humiliated before the people. Konjay quickly called Alfred in for a meeting.
Once at the Ministry, the debate turned to formalities. Konjay didn’t dispute that the Ministry owes The Daily Talk, but apparently the two parties never arrived at a final contract with both signatures, which the Ministry needs to make an official payment. Konjay left the issue of the Ministry’s prior unresponsiveness unaddressed. Still, he was eager to resolve the matter. While writing a note reminding himself to secure a signed contract, Konjay explained, “The problem has already happened. Embarrassment has already happened for the Ministry. Big embarrassment. I’ll work on this, and worst case scenario, you will have the money by next Tuesday.”
Government ministries here are notorious for failing to follow through with their promises, so whether Alfred will actually receive the money by Tuesday, or at all, is anybody’s guess. What is clear, though, is that the Ministry didn’t respond until Alfred took the issue to the media – even if it that medium was only a chalkboard.