By David A. Yates and William Q. Harmon
Central Bank Governor, Milton Weeks resignation early Tuesday has left more questions than answers as to why he actually resigned. Public speculations on reasons for his rather abrupt resignation point to the controversy surrounding the much talked about Eton Loan and the rather exacting demands placed by Eton for a Sovereign Guarantee from the Liberian Government.
Weeks’ resignation comes a little over two years, after taking the helm at the CBL from former Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones, who had come under fire for dishing out unsecured loans and for the huge number of Liberian dollar banknotes which the CBL had printed shortly before his departure from office.
Former Governor Weeks, who still had three years into his 5-year tenure, according to reports, was constrained to resign after resisting pressure from the pinnacle of authority for his refusal to allow the use of Liberia’s Consolidated Accounts as a collateral for the US$536.4 Loan deal with ETON.
This, according to sources, led him into early troubles with this administration, leading to his premature departure. Sources have told the Daily Observer that pressure came from the Executive Mansion and was based on Governor Weeks’ alleged delay/refusal to sign documents authorizing the use of government’s consolidated account as sovereign guarantee for the US$536 million loan from ETON Private Finance.
Daily Observer’s source within the CBL further said, Weeks was also blamed for the ever-rising foreign exchange rate between the US dollar and the Liberian dollar. According to observers, some individuals close to the President, it is believed, had suggested to the President that the Governor was not doing much to mitigate the worsening economic situation in the country.
However, under the 1999 Act of Legislature that created the CBL, Governor Weeks could have been removed only upon impeachment by the House of Representatives, which is clearly not evident in this case. At this point, it remains unclear whether Governor Weeks’ resignation was requested by President Weah as is being widely speculated or whether he voluntarily relinquished his post rather than cave in to official demands to pledge the Government of Liberia’s Consolidated Accounts as collateral for the proposed loan from Eton Finance.
The public is, however, awash with speculations that Weeks’ resignation was the outcome of a quid pro quo arrangement that would see Weeks voluntarily relinquishing his post and in return receiving full compensation including benefits to cover his unexpired tenure of 3 years, all in the name of getting him off the job.
Section 13 (2) of the Act creating the Central Bank states: “The Executive governor, Deputy governor or any other governor may resign his office on giving notice to the President in writing”. In Section 13 (3), it states: “A member of the Board of Governors can be removed from office upon a Bill of Impeachment by the House of Representatives upon the findings of a majority of the Board of Governors and the recommendation of the President, for any of the following reasons” (a) Gross breach of duty (b) Misconduct in office (c) Conviction of a felony (d) Being declared bankrupt and (e) Violations of paragraph (a) and/or (b) of sub-section 1 of Section 13.
Although it still remains unclear whether Weeks’ apparently voluntary resignation entitles him to full compensation for the rest of his unexpired tenure, the office of the President has, however, confirmed Weeks’ resignation on its official website. An Executive Mansion release noted, “President Weah has received and accepted the resignation of CBL Governor Weeks.”
The President, in the release, commended Weeks for his service to the nation and wished him well in his future endeavors. A successor to Governor Weeks will be announced shortly, according to Executive Mansion sources.
But Weeks’ resignation also comes at a time when the country is experiencing an economic downturn, evidenced by rising inflation, continued depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the United States dollar and high prices of basic commodities, all of which he was being apparently held to blame for his perceived inability to successfully tackle.
But according to observers, Weeks has done the honorable thing by resigning rather than committing the country to an uncertain future of debt servitude by allowing the use of the GOL Consolidated Fund Account as collateral for the Eton and EBOMAF loans totaling a little over one billion United States dollars.
And so the question is, “Did the ETON Loan Deal Bite Governor Weeks?” Though the ETON financial agreement has been ratified by the both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by President Weah, the sticky issue that remains before work begins is the issuance of a sovereign guarantee by the Liberian government — a responsibility that had been entrusted into the care of the CBL which Governor Weeks, according to reports, was hesitant to execute.
Weeks’ non-compliant posture, according to sources, infuriated President Weah and led him (President Weah) to ask for his resignation, as he was being perceived as a stumbling block to the execution of the government’s prized road project.
Appearing before the Senate at a hearing on the loan last month, Weeks confirmed that where there is default in the payment of the loan, the Central Bank would take responsibility through the consolidated account, a development that has wide and far reaching implications for the country’s future.
The US$536.4 agreement, which is to finance the construction of the country’s coastal corridor—connection of County Capitals road project, was reached with ETON FINANCE PTE LTD, a Singaporean-based Hong Kong financial entity as parties. The loan, as anticipated, will be disbursed in two tranches—with the first of 50 percent to be disbursed within fifty banking days after the ratification and the second disbursement to be done in sixty days after the first disbursement; or such amount of time agreed to in writing by ETON and the government.
This should be after the confirming date of the sovereign guarantee issued by the CBL in the form and substance satisfactory to financing agent (ETON). These are, however, yet to be done. The controversial financier, ETON, is reportedly registered and exists under the laws of Singapore at Balestier Hill Shopping Centre, 2 Balestier Road #04-665 S320002, Singapore; but independent investigative reports say it is a ghost company.
Meanwhile, in a related development, LRA Commissioner General Elfrieda Stewart-Tamba has officially ended her tour of duty as head of that institution. Madame Tamba had recently received acclaim for her exceptional performance at the LRA but, apparently, such did not prove sufficient enough to convince President Weah to nominate her to a second term of office. It is speculated that her reappointment to the post was marred by her blatant and principled refusal to accommodate CDC Secretary-General Mulbah Morlu’s demands to hire a number of individuals in top positions at the LRA.
In an Executive Mansion release, President Weah lauded her for successfully ending her tenure at the LRA.