The Daily Observer editorial of August 13, 2020, headline, “A Sword of Damocles Hanging Over the Liberian Nation”, must have ruffled the feathers of the former President to the point where she, rather than summoning the editors to her office as would have most likely been the case during her tenure as President, she instead invited the Daily Observer to her residence in order to, as she put it, provide clarifications in light of the editorial and its perceived implications.
An agreed time and date of August 14, 2020, 3:00 p.m. was set and arranged with the former President’s publicist, the managing director of the Analyst newspaper, Stanley Seakor. Later, at the request of the Daily Observer, the time was advanced to 5:00 p.m. On arrival at the home and residence of the former President, the Daily Observer staff were met by aides of the President who ushered them into a palaver hut situated in the tarred paved yard of the fenced compound.
Seating in the palaver hut was carefully and neatly arranged with chairs and side tables with a small bottle of mineral water atop each side table. Minutes later, the former President entered the Palaver hut and greeted her guests with rather cool aplomb.
Notably absent was the throng of well-wishers, including close friends and supporters who often crowded her courtyard in former times, when she served as President of the Republic. It appeared as if the former President is now confined to a very unfrequented existence in the company of no more than a finger-ful of attendants and well wishers. And it appeared that she was not in a combative mood as had been expected. Save short strident comments that the editorial was malicious, she maintained that she harbored no intention of seeking legal redress.
She instead lurched off into a rather detailed explanation of how things transpired concerning the alleged missing L$16 billion banknotes. At the end, she politely thanked her guests for showing up and listening to her clarifications. Here now is the full text of her remarks:
(Full text, as delivered)
In 2016, some time before Executive Governor Mills Jones left the Central Bank, he wrote a letter to me as President of the nation to inform me that the quality of Liberian banknotes had deteriorated so much that it required bringing in new notes and also to meet the requirement of a growing economy. Governor Jones left after. Charles Sirleaf was acting governor. He sent another letter, reaffirming what Governor Jones had said. In keeping with the Constitution, the amount of this was L$5 billion notes that need to be printed. In keeping with the Constitution, that gives the legislature a certain right for the printing of currency, I wrote the Legislature, justifying the case as was presented to me by Governor Jones because I felt I had no reason to disagree with the points he had made. These were technical points. The Legislature, I then recommended to them – I asked them – to grant approval in keeping with their right under the Constitution. They did.
They passed two resolutions – one from the House of Representatives, the other from the House of Senate. They sent those resolutions to me. I took those resolutions, sent them to the acting Executive Governor: “You now have the approval from the Legislature to print the currency. All I ask is that when the printing has been made, write me and let me know the denominations of the printing so that it can be on record.
After this, Milton Weeks became Executive Governor and as far as I know, they proceeded to be able to bring the notes in, to be able to disburse them in keeping with the CBL requirements and laws and policies and practices.
I do know 2017, being a political and toxic environment, that there were a lot of maneuvers going on. Executive Governor Weeks then required that what they had imported was not enough to meet the requirement. Therefore, he needed to print an additional L$10 billion notes. Again, we passed it to the Legislature.
I did not get from the Legislature resolutions as was the previous case. Maybe, at that time, Legislators were very adamant about their role in the printing of currency and they were very difficult – meeting directly, calling people from the Central Bank for meetings before their committee to exert their right.
I’m told that finally, they did approve it through a letter. That letter was not sent to me. So I have no proof of the L$10 billion and the processes that it went through for it to be able to be imported and printed and all of that.
As I said, in 2017, in all the things that we all were going through, I frankly did not go back and check them, because we do have a board of governors in the bank. And they’re quite able, experienced men and women who also have certain say over the bank. We also have a lawyer who sits in the Central Bank as the lawyer for the Central Bank, so that if any procedure or law had not been totally complied with, somebody should have raised an issue about it. But I do know that the Legislature was very very difficult and adamant about their role. And they started negotiations with the Central Bank on their own, on the basis of the exercise of their right – what I perceive to be because of their interpretation of the law – that they did not want any executive action in the approval. They wanted to deal directly with the Central Bank.
The L$10 billion, as you know, finally came in, I moved out of government. The money finally [was brought in ‘18]; I have no part to play with all of that part. There are people who are in the bank who should really speak to the process. They should produce the evidence. What kind of authority did they get in the case of the L$10 billion? Where is it? Who signed it? Who received it? What they did about it? Who approved it? I don’t know.
I can say that when it comes to the L$5 billion that I know came through me, we have the documentary evidence that the process was complied with.
So an article that suggests that I should be on trial because I knew; I demanded it; because I knew who approved it for nefarious reasons – because election was coming – I was not going to elections. I was not. I was barely trying to keep a government, to land it safely and turn it over.
So, I think this was really unfair to me and I think you can ask — not a single one of either the Executive Governor or the Deputy Governor (my son), or any member of the board of directors ever raised an issue with me to say there is a problem here, something that needs to be addressed; something, information, they did not. I was one who believed in the autonomy of the Central Bank. I respected their autonomy, I did not interfere in their work, unless there was something in keeping with the law where I had a role and I played that role in the interest of the state. That’s all I did. If there were any issues they raised with me or I need to call an issue to their attention, because an issue raised by somebody in the country, some officer, some minister (Ministry of Finance, for example, with issues with them all the time), we would send for them, send for the committee we have and we would sit down and try to figure it out. That was how I respected the work of the Central Bank.
So I do believe the way this is put here is frankly… malicious, if I may use that word. Because anyone – Counselor Jallah, the lawyer of the Bank is still there. Today I hear that they say that the procedure was not met because there is no date on the approval of the bank; there was no proper signature. Where was Cllr. Jallah? He’s not before the court, answering. He should be. Where was he? The Board of Governors – I heard none of them raise any issue to say there’s a problem here. Your sister was in the bank – Lilian. She was special assistant to the Executive Governor. She can answer some questions. None of them raised any issue. You know?
If somebody just asked you people just to take a little bit of time to just call somebody and say, “there is a story here or there is a problem here, in which we think you violated the law or you did not act in the national interest. Do you have a comment?” Give me the opportunity. If I comment and you don’t accept my comment, that’s fair.
I think Daily Observer is a well-respected journal. And everybody looks to it to get a story, they look to it for information, they look to it for the truth. So when they see something, they have a tendency to believe it. So if you don’t give somebody the little benefit to hear another side of the story, then it’s just not fair.
And so I’m very glad that you responded to my request to Stanley, to just hear my side of the story, which requires – if you really want to get all the information and all the documentation and you want to take on that, then I think they should be assembled. Whatever I have, I will be very glad to give it to you. The Legislature must also provide what they have. And the Central Bank itself must provide what they have, for you to get the full story on everything to do with this L$16 billion, or all these other things they are talking. There are documents that need to be read. There are documents that need to be looked at, so that opinions based on facts can be found.
So that’s all my short plea to you, you know. Like I say, I don’t come here to make fuss with you; I don’t want to make fuss with nobody. That’s why, with all the things people write, most of what they write based upon rumors and untruths and, you know, at some point you just say, “When I die, the right stories will be told because then, people will take time to go deep and to get information, to get documentation to really tell the true story. I may be dead when that happens. I don’t have the benefit of enjoying the truth while I’m living, because that’s the Liberian way. Once you reach a certain level, you become a target. So, da all.