Who does Finance Minister Tweah think he is fooling—himself or the Liberian people? From outward appearances, it may seem the Finance Minister is fooling the Liberian people with a series of half-truths and outright lies concerning monetary policy which he has now zeroed to the printing of new Liberian dollar banknotes.
In reality, however, the Finance Minister is fooling himself although he may harbor the belief that the Liberian public is buying into the stories he is spinning out about the money situation in the country. This newspaper recalls that following public outcry and the massive public demonstration about the missing billions of printed Liberian dollar banknotes, President Weah was quick to respond by commissioning two independent investigations into the whereabouts of the missing money.
Both reports clearly stated that their respective teams of investigators were denied access to the vaults of the Central Bank which they had requested in order to carry out verification checks. Here was a government claiming on the one hand that no money was missing, that all the printed Liberian dollar banknotes were fully accounted for, but was yet refusing to submit to verification checks of its vaults.
The government followed this up with criminal indictments filed against former Governor, deputy governor and other former officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). The Daily Observer also recalls that the “Liquidity Mop Up” exercise, in which US$25 million was allegedly infused into the economy under the direct supervision of Finance Minister Tweah, was characterized by systematic fraud, although Minister Tweah has since vigorously denied having supervised the exercise, shifting blame instead to former CBL Governor Nathaniel Patray.
Patray who accepted blame has now quietly gone away laughing all the way to the bank and to his new assignment as Ambassador to Qatar. During the period of investigation, a key CBL staff, Matthew Innis, who had reportedly expressed strong disagreement with Finance Minister Tweah’s fraudulent handling of the Mop-Up exercise, got killed in mysterious circumstances. No suspects were ever arrested or charged, and the case has since gone cold.
Another female CBL staffer claimed she and others who worked under the supervision of Minister Tweah during the exercise were being framed in order to absolve the real culprits of blame. Finance Minister Tweah had previously declared on radio that rather than using commercial banks for the mop-up exercise, he opted instead to use side-walk money exchangers, some of who denied ever being involved in the scheme. There has meanwhile been absolutely no evidence of who and how many money exchangers were involved in this exercise, and most certainly no receipts or any other documentation of the so-called “mop-up” exercise.
On hindsight and reflection, it appears that, had commercial banks been involved in the exercise as should have rightly been, the virtual theft of millions of dollars would not have been as easy. Fast forward to November 2019, the GOL finds itself in a liquidity crisis of its own making and the CBL, which had denied and stoutly refused fraud investigators access to its vaults for verification checks on monies held in CBL’s vault, is now requesting to print new money.
Enter now, GAC Auditor-General (AG) Yusador Gaye, who has added her voice to the ongoing debate on the printing of new Liberian dollar banknotes. The AG, in a letter to the Senate noting that the printing of new currency banknotes will have adverse consequences on the nation’s economy, observed the following:
“In fulfillment of part of my constitutional mandate aimed at providing support to your oversight of financial management role, I firmly suggest that you do not waver on your resolve not to print additional Liberian currency/money at this time.
“I am strongly of the opinion that giving your approval to print more currency is unfathomable, but will be very misplaced, granted we are yet to understand all what happened at the last currency printing, as evidently, the US$25 million mop-up exercise does not engender much confidence in the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).”
Additionally, the AG wrote, “it has not been verified whether the CBL has implemented measures to address the lapses noted by the Kroll’s Scoping Report (3.2.8 non-reconciliation of vault balances and 220.127.116.11 in constancy in finance department); b) the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) report 2.2.25 –raises alarms of no security in place for the protection of reserves; and c) the GAC’s Agreed-Upon Procedure on the US$25 million mop-up exercise highlighted (1.1.3 unsigned, and not dated minutes, 2.4.2 lack of procedure for posting, and 2.4.3 disbursement not processed through the bank).”
Clearly, the issue is one of accountability and not the printing of new money. Just what happened to the billions of dollars of banknotes printed and brought into the country in 2017 and 2018, including the US$25 million infusion to mop-up excess liquidity, remains a mystery. Currently, it appears the Liberian public is being punished and starved of access to Liberian dollars only to convey a false sense of urgency that would serve to pressure legislators into acquiescing to Finance Minister Tweah’s quest to spend US$35 million to print new Liberian dollar banknotes.
Dishing out lavish sums of money to “cooperative” media houses to put a positive spin on this will not cut it because all the spin placed on previous official lies about the missing billions have not cut ice and there is no guarantee that the splurge of gratuities on “cooperative” media houses will convince the public otherwise, let alone mitigate the immeasurable harm and impact of such policies on the people.
Perhaps Finance Minister Tweah needs to be aware that he is playing with fire because, in the end, it will backfire with unforeseen consequences because he is stoking public angst, which is good neither for his own political survival nor that of the George Weah-led government; but, “Baboon muh divide kola befo dey know?” God forbid!