…Calls for their immediate dismissal
The leadership of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) has called on President George Weah to stop shielding from prosecution Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Governor Nathaniel Patray, and members of the Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT), who reportedly played critical roles in the mishandling of the US$25 million mop-up exercise.
ALJA’s statement comes in the wake of audit and investigative reports released recently on the fraudulent manner in which the Liberian government’s US$25 million “mop-up exercise’ was conducted.
ALJA said based on the findings of separate probes conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT), and Kroll Associates, Inc, a US-based accounting firm, into how the mop-up exercise was managed and implemented by Minister Tweah, Governor Patray, and members of the TEMT, it is irrefutable to note that the accused have lost the trust and confidence of the international community, and Liberians at home and abroad.
In a press release issued on May 23, 2019, ALJA called for the immediate dismissal and trial of Minister Tweah, Governor Patray, and accused members of the TEMT for the commission of economic crimes against the state. Minister Tweah and Governor Patray are chair and co-chair the TEMT respectively.
ALJA said those associated with the so-called mop-exercise “brazenly engaged in acts that undermined the Liberian economy; and they should be held liable for the crimes committed.”
The Association called on President Weah to save the state by initiating and leading the campaign for the prosecution of the accused public officials.
ALJA believes that if Mr. Weah’s recent pronouncement on ridding the public sector of graft is to be taken seriously, then the burden is now on him and his administration to act swiftly act in the interest of the country.
ALJA said if the President refuses to act now or stalls the dismissal and trial of the accused, such action would equate to his administration’s indifference to the rule of law, which he vowed to uphold less than two years ago when he ascended the presidency.
“We are convinced that the accused are not more Liberian than the former officials of the Johnson-Sirleaf administration, who President Weah has vowed publicly to audit and prosecute for reported malfeasance,” the release said.
Beginning July to October 2018, Minister Tweah, as chairman of the TEMT in collaboration with the CBL authority, supervised the physical purchase of Liberian dollar banknotes from local businesses and foreign exchange bureaus in keeping with the government’s ostensible mop-up initiative, which it claimed focused on the rejuvenation of the economy through the elimination of excess Liberian dollars from the market.
However, ALJA quoting the GAC, PIT and the US-based Kroll Inc’s recently released special investigative and audit reports, maintained that Tweah and the CBL authority reportedly executed the US$25 million mop-exercise with widespread discrepancies.
ALJA further quoted the GAC’s special investigative report as saying that the CBL allegedly paid out nearly US$1.5 million to 15 entities for the purchase of excess Liberian dollars from the market, but when the GAC contacted the identified businesses for verification of the reported information, those businesses disputed a significant portion of the CBL’s claim regarding payments received.
ALJA said as part of the “pseudo mop-up exercise,” the CBL authority with the reported acquiescence of Governor Patray, documented the disbursement of more than US$700,000 to 27 unregistered businesses for the purchase of excess Liberian dollars from the market.
However, the GAC’s investigative report revealed that the reported information could not be verified due to the lack of public information on the cited businesses.
ALJA said the GAC’s report also revealed that the CBL reportedly paid over US$1 million to 52 businesses that participated in the so-called mop-up exercise. But again, the Commission was unable to authenticate those payments, “because the named beneficiaries refused to cooperate with the auditors by failing to acknowledge or respond to inquiries sent out to them during the special investigation.”
According to the GAC, the reported payments were also made for the purchase of surplus Liberian dollars from the market.
ALJA further quoted the GAC’s report that the CBL allegedly paid over US$163,000 to eight businesses for the purchase of surplus Liberian dollars from the market, but the Commission, during its special probe, determined that the reported businesses never existed.
“The cited reports are damaging, and they insinuate shameless robbery of the people’s money by Tweah, Patray and members of the TEMT that participated in the so-called mop-up exercise,” the release said.
Meanwhile, ALJA has informed President Weah that there is no need for arm-twisting with the sole objective of concealing the truth in this matter, “because Liberians want justice; and he must give them justice by not listening to or siding with public officials, who don’t mean well for the country.”