By Robin Dopoe and Hannah Geterminah
Eugene Lenn Nagbe, the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism, has admitted receiving the diplomatic note that has gone viral on social media, which accuses the government of irregular withdrawals of donors’ project monies from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and used outside of their intended purposes.
The letter in question was signed by nine foreign diplomats, including the head of the European Delegation to Liberia and ambassadors from the United States of America, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
They are Hélène Cavé, EU Head of the Delegation; Ambassador of France, Terence Wills; Ambassador of Ireland, Catherine Campbell; Ambassador of Sweden, Ingrid Wetterqvist; Ambassador of the United Kingdom, David Belgrove; Chargé d’Affaires of Germany, Günter Plambeck; and United States Ambassador Christine Elder.
In the communication, the diplomats demanded prompt action to ensure that, any funding that has been removed from the donors’ accounts for expenditures outside of agreed use, be restored without delay, and such unacceptable practices cease immediately.
The letter, which has been referred to as an “informal diplomatic note to the Government of Liberia,” was not conveyed on official letterhead and was not shown with a date. In an effort to authenticate the document, a spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia told the Daily Observer, “We do not comment on government-to-government communications.”
The diplomatic letter said that “the so-called ‘borrowing initiative’ damages donor confidence in your government’s use of donor resources and in its ability to serve as an effective partner on development programs. We are apprehensive about the potential negative impact that such conduct may have on assistance levels to Liberia overall.”
Min. Nagbe said the use of donor funds by the government, against intended purposes, in Liberia is something that has been going on for a very long time.
According to him, the practice was introduced during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and is nothing new. This pre-supposes the Liberian song, which the lyric says: “Dig hole, cover hole, that’s the whole hustle.”
“I challenge anyone of the development partners to come out and say that they have never raised the issue before with the past government,” Nagbe said.
He added the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning moves money at CBL from donors’ accounts into government coffers to handle its expenditures when the need arises.
“This has been an age-old problem, so it is nothing new. However, when your cash position improves, because of the improvement in revenue generation, you re-capitalize the accounts, “its dig hole, cover hole,” Minster Nagbe admitted amid public outcry.
He further said the issue of withdrawing donors’ project monies is an accounting administrative issue, which occurs when the government has problem and wants to solve it by accessing donor-funded projects funds to the government consolidated account to handle expenditures, particularly wage bills.
“The move of donors’ fund is not illegal, and it does not mean that someone has stolen money,” Min. Nagbe defended, noting, “The only problem here is that the donors do not like the way it is done since the process is against international best practices. Itdoes not mean the government is corrupt; it is just administrative and technical issues.”
Meanwhile, Minister Nagbe said when the CDC-government took power a year and a half ago, it paid back the US$2.2 million of donor funds, which the government of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had withdrawn.
“As a matter of fact, the government has been engaging the donor partners in setting up the proper perimeter to comprehensively deal with the situation comprehensively, and has mandated the Finance Minister and CBL Executive Governor to put a ring-fence over donors’ account, and only allow the use of domestic funds for other development projects,” Mr. Nagbe added.
In a related development, the diplomatic note came two weeks after the United Nations had also expressed concern about lack of accountability for aid monies provided to several government ministries and agencies.
“Several [UN] agencies have experienced challenges in getting timely and accurate reports from their Government counterparts, thereby delaying implementation of essential services and advisory support to the people of Liberia. The delay of the reports would in the long-term lead to withholding of fund for UN programs in Liberia and other adverse consequences,” the UN said its April 25 letter addressed to Nathaniel McGill, Minister of State.