Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Executive Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones has broken his silence, scolding critics who have used their freedom of speech to accuse him of using the Bank’s reserves to promote his political ambition.
Dr. Jones urged them to adduce (bring forward in an argument or as evidence) reasons to support their statements or their claims.
Addressing a news conference in Monrovia Tuesday, March 18, Dr. Jones confidently noted that his critics have nothing with which to make a case against him; and as such, they have engaged in empty talk.
“Empty talk is empty talk,” Jones said plainly.
At Tuesday’s meeting, concern was written on the faces of Governor Jones’ supporters, including CBL staff, as he faced the media in the Bank’s Board Room. They had thought—wrongly—that the Governor was going to resign after weeks of political pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers recently passed a bill that seeks to ban CBL governors and other executives from contesting any political seat for three consecutive years after their tenures as executive governor and board of governors, respectively are over.
Flanked by the Board of Directors of the CBL, Jones showed calm as he delved into the “real” issues while putting a number of side matters to rest.
In attendance were former Finance Minister John Bestman; former Finance Minister David Fahart; former Deputy CEO of LBDI Mrs. Mildred Reeves; and former National Bank Governor and former Minister of Finance, David Vinton. Also in attendance were Deputy CBL Governor for Economic Policy, Boimah Kamara and Deputy CBL Governor Charles Sirleaf, among others.
The Governor began with what the public wanted to hear when he insisted that the CBL is under obligation to continue its loan scheme and to ensure a continuation of the fight against poverty in Liberia.
Those who alleged that the CBL is making loans directly to businesses are misinforming the public, Jones asserted.
“The CBL has not been engaged in directly making loans to any business entity. Also, the CBL did not give any funds under the initiatives directly to the Liberian Business Association (LIBA),” he clarified, stating again that “those who continue to say so are misinforming the public.”
According to the CBL boss, commercial banks are involved in all of the initiatives, “and they were consulted on many occasions before these initiatives were launched.”
A few weeks ago, the National Legislature passed an Act amending the Act creating the CBL and the Financial Institution Act of 1999 to ban Governor Jones, his deputies and other board of governors of the Bank from contesting for any political seat for three consecutive years after the expiration of their tenure at the Bank. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill said their action was intended to protect CBL’s reserves.
They accused the Governor of harboring political ambitions. But Dr. Jones, who maintained his silence on the issue, on Tuesday, March 18, challenged his accusers to provide evidence that he is using the CBL reserves for political gain and that the CBL is making direct loans to businesses.
Dr. Jones explained that not only were the CBL’s agreements with banks notarized, but they were also duly probated and registered at the Probate Court of Montserrado County.
“Does this look like an operation of the Executive Governor dividing public funds? A baseless statement no matter how many times it is repeated, no matter how important the office of the one making the statement, no matter how loud the voice of the person making the statement is, is nothing more than, and will remain a baseless statement,” he said in simple terms.
“We have heard much talk about the need to ‘protect the country’s reserves, because the nation’s economy is in danger, if things continue this way’; about the need to ‘stop the Executive Governor from dishing out public funds’; about the need to stop the CBL from giving out loans. I want to say that all of this has no basis in fact,” the Governor stated.
He clarified that the foreign reserves of the CBL are not the government’s revenues deposited at the CBL. According to Governor Jones, the CBL does not touch government revenue, except upon instructions from the Ministry of Finance to make payments on behalf of the government.
“So those who talk about the CBL using taxpayers’ money for its purposes are just simply wrong,” he said.
Critics of Governor Jones believe that the foreign reserves of the Bank are the Liberian people’s taxpayer money. But with the latest clarification by the Governor, analysts believe that the debate on whether the CBL’s foreign reserves are taxpayers’ money will change.
The CBL boss noted that the launching of the rural community finance institutions project, the enhancement of the mobile money framework, and deposits with commercial banks to support the capacity of those banks to make loans to Liberian-owned businesses, are all part of the commitment of the CBL in the context of the objectives of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.
The Governor disclosed that since 2010, the CBL has sold over US$242 million in treasury bills to the market (commercial banks).
“The fact that today the CBL, has over 48 times the amount of reserves when we came in 2006, despite these sales, suggests that the management of the CBL has not been in the business of misusing the country’s reserves. This is for-nothing talk.
“Where is the evidence of misuse of the country’s reserves”? The silence that ensued (followed) left it plain that to the contrary, the Bank and its personnel have been hard at work, trying to do what the Central Bank was mandated (told) to do, in the interest of the Liberian economy.
He pointed out that the CBL has also cooperated in helping the government smooth out its spending to keep certain development programs on track by providing short-term borrowing facilities.
He assured the public that the CBL intends to continue such constructive engagement with the government, as evidenced by the present discussion with the government for a short-term facility to support the country’s infrastructure program.
CBL Breaking New Paths
Governor Jones has insisted that the CBL is not doing anything strange, except that the Bank is breaking new paths in the Liberian economy. “But is that a politicization of the Bank, he asked?
According to the governor, the Liberian people appreciate what the CBL is doing to empower them financially. He urged critics to see the program for what it is.
He explained that economic empowerment contributes to a better distribution of income, strengthens the purchasing power of the people to support local investment and helps people get out of poverty.
“If there is any lesson to be learned, it is that we all should do our jobs well. The people will appreciate all of us. What the CBL is doing has broad international appeal and support. It has nothing to do with “dishing out the people’s money”
CBL’s First US$5 million Loan Scheme
Meanwhile, the CBL boss has disclosed that the first US$5 million deposited for three years to help promote lending to Liberian-owned businesses in December 2010 was repaid with interest and received by the CBL on December 31, 2013.
According to Dr. Jones, the interest received on the loan was much higher than what would have been received if those funds were held abroad.
He reported that a total of 125 businesses received loans under this initiative, 39 of which are owned by women.
The Governor noted that those businesses employ about 3,000 individuals.
“Many of those who are raising issues about the impact of this initiative have already been told about what we are saying today. Reasonable people may disagree, but we do not think that the help received by these Liberian businesses is about politics,” he said.
“We should all be worried when people, some in strategic positions, see economic empowerment of the Liberian private sector as politics. We submit, instead, that such empowerment is sound economics—an idea whose time is long overdue.”
(Editor's note: The full text of the speech is attached in a PDF document.)