Says 53rd Legislature dealt directly with CBL
For the past two years—since the issues of the alleged missing L$16 billion came to public knowledge, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has not been able to escape public criticism for the role play in printing the money.
Some of this criticism, which has been harsh at times, include allegations of criminally authorizing the Central Bank of Liberia under the leadership of then Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks to print L$10 billion and have it shipped under the cover of darkness in the midst of Liberia’s 2017 elections year.
But in reaction to this criticism, former President Sirleaf said her hands are clean in relation to the printing of the L$10 billion and did nothing criminally has been speculated by the public.
“I did not get from the Legislature resolutions…”
According to former President Sirleaf, when she was approached by the then CBL Executive Governor Weeks about the need to print an additional L$10 billion, since the previous L$5 billion imported was not enough to meet the market requirement, she forwarded the issue to members of the 53rd legislature, who did not get back to her.
“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,” Sirleaf said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer newspaper. “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.”
Defending her innocence, former President Sirleaf said the Legislature then left her in the dark about the resolution, authorizing the CBL to print the money; therefore, she has no proof of the L$10 billion and the entire processes that got it imported and printed.
“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,” she said.
Adding, she explained that due to the 2017 elections and all the things that were happening, she was unable to check on the legislature and on the CBL about the issues.
“They wanted to deal directly with the Central Bank”
Former President Sirleaf also accused the members of the 53rd Legislature of disregarding her office by having direct 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.”
She continued: “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. They wanted to deal directly with the Central Bank,” she said.
Former Speaker Nuquay Denies House Issues resolution
The accusation by former President Sirleaf appears to go contrary to the testimony of the then Speaker of the 53th legislature, Emmanuel J. Nuquay, in an open court that they never issued a joint resolution for the printing of the L$10 billion banknotes.
Nuquay in testimony at Criminal Court C on, July 16, when he took the stand as a rebuttal witness for the State, said that the only issue raised at the time by the House after the printing of first L$5 billion was the continuous circulation of mutilated banknotes, contrary to the expectation that the printed money could be used to remove mutilated money from the market.
“No! The House of Representatives did not sign any joint resolution to print L$10 billion dollars and there is no such resolution,” Nuquay said. “I have no information absolutely on the printing of L$10 billion by the CBL. What I know is that members of the House of Representatives had raised issues about mutilated money on the market after the CBL, with full authorization through a joint resolution, had printed and brought in the country L$5 billion dollars to be infused in the market to replace mutilated banknotes.”
‘Still, Maintain Innocence’
Despite Nuquay’s statement, former President Sirleaf denied ever having hands in the printing of the L$10 billion — maintaining that she has no role to play in the cash importation, authorization, or printing process.
“The L$10 billion, as you know, finally came in, I moved out of government. The money finally was brought in 2018; I have no part to play with all of that part,” Sirleaf said. “There are people who are in the bank who should really speak to the process. They should produce 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 did they do 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,” she explained.
“Respected CBL autonomy”
Meanwhile, former President Sirleaf said during her tenure as president, she respected the CBL autonomy and did not interfere in their work unless there was something in keeping with the law where she had a role that was in the interest of the state.
“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 the 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.
Here, the former President was referring to a Daily Observer editorial titled, “A Virtual Sword of Damocles Hovering Above the Nation’s Judiciary“, published on August 13, 2020. In that editorial, the newspaper highlighted that “…charges against the son of the President were dropped with prejudice to the Government of Liberia, meaning in legal terms that going forward no criminal charges can ever be brought again against her son, Charles Sirleaf.”
“I was one who believed in the autonomy of the Central Bank,” Madam Sirleaf responded. “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,” she said, referring to the Observer editorial. “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… None of them raised any issue.”