Case Closed — No Money Missing?

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Reporters could hardly reach their respective news outlets in Monrovia following a press conference hosted by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) when information began trending on social media, quoting the CBL’s statement that “No money was missing.”

CBL Governor Patray, in a release, said:  “There is no such record showing that such money has not yet been delivered to the CBL.  All the money is in the vault.” In view of this revelation, there is a concern as to whether the CBL is now considering the matter closed, although membership of the investigating team has been expanded to include foreign experts and local civil society groups.

But rather than bringing closure to the matter, the CBL’s statement has instead raised more questions to which answers appear hard to come by.

When news about the missing container of money was brought to public attention, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe publicly admitted on radio that a little over L$15 billion banknotes were printed in three countries—Sweden, Lebanon and China, and brought into the country between November 2017 and March 2018, and that government was conducting an investigation into the disappearance of this container of money.

Following Information Minister Nagbe was Justice Minister Musa Dean, who also admitted that his ministry had been investigating the matter since August this year and that international experts, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), had been invited to help with the investigation.

But coming fast on the heels of the two officials was Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, who urged the public to ignore Minister Nagbe’s statement and instead accept his version that “No money was missing.”

Minister Tweah furthered that money alleged to have gone missing was in fact infused in the economy, although he did not state when or through which commercial banks or foreign exchange bureau(x) the money had been infused.

He even conjectured that the actual amount of money reported missing was about L$9 billion and not L$16 billion as claimed.

On the one hand, you have officials declaring that money had gone missing and, on the other, you also have officials declaring that money did not go missing, thereby creating a strong impression on the minds of the public that some of these officials are not telling the truth.

On the other hand, you have government officials declaring that money was printed in Lebanon and China and now, a fallback to just what former President Sirleaf had earlier said on the BBC that under her watch, money was printed in Sweden and Sweden alone and that all could be accounted for.

Strangely, despite the fact that former President Sirleaf has been strongly accused of liability by officials of this government, the Bank’s statement yesterday appears to confirm what President Sirleaf had since declared about the money being printed in Sweden.

And so, as it appears, the public does not know what or who to believe in this all important matter. But in all of this a recurring question on the minds of the public is what role has the CBL’s Board of Governors to play in this imbroglio.

The Board constitutes the highest level or forum for decision making at the CBL. Why is the Board of Governors not being held to account while lower ranking officials are placed on a travel ban barring them from traveling abroad until the matter is finally laid to rest?

It can be recalled that the controversy surrounding the “missing” money sparked a peaceful protest on September 24, which President George Weah, upon his return from the United Nations General Assembly meeting in the United States, condemned in very strong terms, accusing its organizers of taking to the streets while an ongoing investigation of the matter was in progress.

Shortly before leaving for the UNGA, the President gave a three-minute speech calling on the public to exercise patience as government investigates the matter.

President Weah further promised that the case will be fully investigated and anyone caught in the web will bear the full weight of the law.

But observers say the Board of Governors of the Central Bank of Liberia should rightly be considered a prime suspect in the investigation.  This, according to observers, becomes all the more necessary in view of the crucial oversight responsibility with which it is charged. Did the Board of Governors, for example, without receiving explicit authority from the Legislature on how much to print, went ahead and printed an undisclosed amount of Liberian dollars? Was the Board of Governors aware that the legislative authority on which it claimed to have acted to print the banknotes was not a resolution passed by majority vote?

Further, were they aware that such an important undertaking needed or required explicit legislative approval? Moreover, was the Board aware that it had the obligation to respect the decision requiring the CBL to revert to the Legislature with details of how much money it was seeking to print, in what denominations and where the printing was done aside from Sweden, which former President Sirleaf had earlier alluded to?

Although a number of CBL employees have been placed on a travel ban, restricting them from leaving the country until they are exonerated of whatever charges levied against them, the CBL Board of Governors have remained unscathed and appear apparently purged of any culpability whatsoever.

But the troubling question is, how could the CBL, at this stage and when investigations are said to be ongoing, declare that no money is missing? What if, for example, the investigation reveals that money is missing?

From the look of things, the statement by the Central Bank could imperil the conduct of the investigation even before it has concluded and submitted its findings.

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