It would appear that the “hala hala” provoked by the alleged disappearance of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes would not go away anytime soon. Investigations conducted by this newspaper have raised questions to which answers may not be forth coming, probably not at all. The key question which now arises is whether local commercial banks as well as the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) are involved in money laundering activities. Claims by Finance Minister Tweah that the alleged disappeared money was actually infused in the Liberian economy says virtually nothing more beyond bare denials that any money has gone missing. The Daily Observer has repeatedly requested evidence of how that money was infused in the economy, but such information has not been forthcoming.
This newspaper for example has sought and seeks to know whether there is a paper trail showing how much in newly printed banknotes was deposited in the CBL’s vault in 2018, the date it was deposited, which banks and forex bureaux received said money from the CBL for infusion in the economy and, of course, concern is also about the US$25 million allegedly infused since Governor Patray assumed office. These concerns aside, this newspaper is greatly troubled by facts showing that to raise money, the Liberian Government has been selling bonds and treasury bills to the public.
In 2018 the CBL realized an amount of L$6 billion from the sale of securities and bonds according to the Bank’s own records. Now, that amount divided by the current official exchange rate of 150, yields an amount equivalent to 40 million US dollars. From all indications the transaction appeared not to have been recorded on the CBL’s records and this newspaper demands to know why. This newspaper also demands to know who were the buyers/purchasers of the securities and bonds sold by the Central Bank of Liberia?
Were the buyers the local commercial banks or some obscure entities who prefer to remain anonymous? Assuming, argumentum the buyers were indeed the local commercial banks we can rightly infer that local commercial banks are engaged in money laundering activities in concert with government officials or with government itself. We hold this argument relying on the strength of IMF reports that local banks were not willing to honor government’s financial instruments including loan proposals and debts from government’s contractors because government was and has been delinquent in meeting its obligations.
So, if government is selling securities to local commercial banks because it has a critical and urgent need for cash, why were the commercial banks refusing to accept Government of Liberia financial instruments? This is indeed contradictory and needs some explanation. Else, how then can the CBL be expected to enforce anti money laundering policies? Such questionable transactions which appear indistinguishable from and analogous to money laundering could very well open the door to inflows of funds from terrorist related sources. And we do not need to remind government of the implications and the unforeseen consequences they portend.
As it appears, this “Pro Poor” government is treading right in the footsteps of its predecessor even as it continues to excoriate the Sirleaf government for a host of ills including alleged culpability in the disappearance of billions of newly printed Liberian dollar banknotes. Under President Sirleaf, a dangerous precedent of the Central Bank deliberately not recording receipts of cash transactions was begun and this had to do with the sale of securities. Given the above, this newspaper would like to know what the role of the Board of Governors in such matters was.
Did the Board of Governors ever question why cash receipts were not being officially recorded as revenue and did the Board take any steps to correct these missteps on the part of the CBL? It can be recalled that Liberia, under the rule of jailed former Liberian President Charles Taylor, was often described as “Charles Taylor Incorporated. This was because rather than rebuilding legitimate state institutions, he instead embarked on a program of bastardization of legitimate state institutions and transforming them into instruments of personal control. His “White Flower” mansion and residence became the virtual depository of the Central Bank.
And this was the case of virtually every other state institution under Taylor’s reign. During his reign, Liberia became a pariah state and hub for the export of armed violence including fighters, arms trafficking and money laundering in the sub-region. This situation of course drew the attention of the international community to the point where their unaddressed concerns invited sanctions on the regime of Charles Taylor. There are growing concerns nowadays that the country is becoming a haven for money laundering activities as suggested by the unexplained but alleged disappearance of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes under the watch of the CDC led government.
Deliberately choosing to not officially record cash receipts as revenue is troubling and must be stopped. Also, the leadership of the Central Bank of Liberia, including members of its Board of Directors, must be reminded of their responsibility under the law which compels them to act to prevent the institution from incurring loss and or indulging in criminal behavior. Anything short of this is completely unacceptable and President Weah, at whose feet the buck stops, must act to end it lest he be accused of collusion with others in criminal activities, particularly money laundering. And President Weah must realize that he does not have the luxury of time to address himself to these issues.