Two stories making headlines in the news last week have claimed the attention of the Daily Observer. Although both stories, from casual observation, may appear unrelated, yet there appears to be common threads linking both.
And those common threads are the state of the economy and measures being taken or proposed to be taken to deal with the worsening economic situation.
The first thread is linked to the surreptitious arrest and illegal deportation of the former president of the Indian Community Association of Liberia (ICAL) following what sources say was his expressed opposition to attempts by the management of the National Port Authority (NPA) to impose a mandatory Cargo Tracking Note charge of US$150.00 on each container imported into the country.
It is alleged that the former President of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Wendell Addy, was similarly forced to flee the country for expressing opposition to the imposition of the cargo tracking system.
Addy had insisted that the CTN was unnecessary because under BIVAC’s pre-shipment inspection regime, cargo tracking numbers are assigned to each container at the Port of Lading in order to help importers track the movement of their cargo daily.
Now, eighteen months later, questions are being asked why the President of the Indian Community was deported without due process of law.
He was reportedly arrested by agents of the National Security Agency and subsequently expelled from the country absent neither formal charges nor due process of law.
For his part, Wendell Addy, former President of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce remains in exile, fearful of returning home to face an uncertain fate.
The CTN scheme is said to be the brainchild of a Sierra Leonean fraudster acting in collaboration allegedly with some Lebanese businessmen identified as George Zidani, the City Builders management as well as top officials of this government.
But it was discovered, allegedly, by the deceased LRA and IAA auditors that funds/revenue generated under the CTN scheme and collected by the NPA, were allegedly not being deposited into GoL consolidated accounts but were being diverted elsewhere.
Well, the auditors are dead and, to the best of publicly available information, the whereabouts of revenue generated under the CTN scheme remains a secret known perhaps only to top NPA management. But the public deserves to know.
Also making headlines during the past week was the statement by LBDI President John Davies calling for the printing of what he called a new family of Liberian dollar banknotes contrary to the CBL’s position.
The LBDI President in essence argues that with such large amounts of LD banknotes in circulation, including the legacy notes most of which are outside the banking system, it makes better sense to print a new family of banknotes than new additional notes.
This newspaper recalling history, notes that a portion of the printed L$16 billion banknotes arrived while President Sirleaf was still in office and the remainder arrived after President Weah assumed office.
But news leaked to the public by a local media outlet and confirmed by Information Minister Eugene Nagbe revealed that the banknotes had gone missing.
According to CDC Chairman Mulbah Morlu, he personally saw pick-up truck loads of money being driven from the CBL Waterside vaults to unknown destinations.
Later, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah disclosed that GoL was infusing US$25 million into the economy to mop-up excess liquidity including the mutilated legacy banknotes.
And then later, GoL announced the launch of an official investigation into the alleged disappearance of the L$16 billion banknotes. Two investigative teams were commissioned. They included Kroll Associates, supported by USAID, and the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT).
In the wake of the investigation, several top CBL officials were criminally indicted. At the end of the day, there were, however no convictions.
Then came another CBL request (granted) for the printing of additional L$4.5 billion banknotes to ease the liquidity crunch.
But CBL officials have since declared the need for printing new banknotes in addition to L$4.5 billion already printed and introduced into circulation.
Remember, GoL had previously said no money went missing, but in less than six months, GoL was crying that there was no money – not to even pay employees, declared Finance Minister Tweah in 2019.
Thus, CBL Governor Tarlue’s declaration that 40 percent of money held in its vaults were mutilated is suspect since the money was never physically counted during the official investigation into the alleged missing money.
History recalls that during the civil war, banks around the country had been looted and millions of dollars of ‘JJ Roberts’ banknotes were being held outside the banking system including areas then under the control of warring factions.
The Sawyer led Interim government, in response, changed the entire family of notes leaving warlords and others in possession of worthless paper.
Rebel leaders Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson made it a criminal offense to be in possession of the newly introduced Liberty banknote.
The change infuriated rebel leader Prince Johnson so much that he drove from his Caldwell base every day to the foot of the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel, then hosting the Interim government to “cuss” Sawyer’s ma.
In areas controlled by Charles Taylor, several individuals reportedly had their ears cut off for being in possession of Liberty banknotes. Currently millions of LD banknotes are being held outside the banking system.
However, CBL officials, ignoring history and good economic sense, had all along called for the printing of the same family of additional banknotes.
The dishing out of millions of L$500 banknotes by CDC officials and candidates, during the campaign period ahead of the Senatorial elections in December 2020, easily conveyed and reinforced the impression that the money was indeed in the possession of top officials. But it appears the LBDI President’s remarks calling for a new family of notes may have resonated. Apparently, this is because of pervasive public opinion suggesting that millions of LD banknotes are in the possession of top GoL officials.