For the past week, news of the alleged disappearance of Liberian dollar banknotes worth billions has played in the media amidst a huge public outcry against is being perceived as virtual theft of the country’s resources by officials of government both past and present. Finance Minister Tweah has confirmed that the Central Bank of Liberia(CBL) can provide proper account of the money now believed to have gone missing, adding that the figure of L$16 billion being reported in the media is tantamount to nothing more a hoax which has been given undeserved media attention.
The Minister has also confirmed that a full investigation has been launched into the matter and has accordingly advised journalists and media houses to change what he claims is false narrative accusing government officials of stealing the money. He has, accordingly, appealed to media houses and journalists as well to afford the investigation to proceed without hitch or undue influence peddling.
That said, the Daily Observer is constrained to point out that what is being described as a false narrative alleging the disappearance of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes has been fueled by conflicting and contradictory pronouncements coming from officials on this matter. The chief government spokesperson, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, publicly told the world that money had indeed gone missing but declared that President Weah was not in the know of this or did not have prior knowledge of the alleged missing money.
But the Information Minister’s statement was soon debunked publicly debunked by Finance Minister Tweah who called on the public to pay no heed to his cabinet colleague who, according to the Minister, had quoted a figure which did not tally with the facts. His view was strongly supported by a member of the House of Representatives and former Comptroller-General of the Republic of Liberia, Hassan Kiazolu.
But no sooner had the former Comptroller-General stated his position on the “disappeared” money, his successor, Janga Kowo, speaking on a local radio station dismissed Kiazolu’s assertions claiming that he did not know what he was talking about. According to Kowo, any printed banknotes or minted coins coming into the country is entrusted to the custody of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Any further movements from the CBL is documented and a paper trail created.
In the opinion of this newspaper, conflicting pronouncements by government officials have tended to up the ante rather than quench smoldering public discontent which has since appeared to be reigniting with each passing day. The Daily Observer welcomes assurances by the Finance Minister that the matter is being fully investigated. And as if to give the investigation some legitimacy and credibility, the Minister has disclosed that the investigating panel is being expanded to include the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU) and others including religious groups.
The attention of the Daily Observer has also been drawn to comments from some legislators calling for the Legislature to become seized of the matter and reconvene from recess to address the issue. But the Daily Observer must remind our honorable legislators of the maxim that “he who comes to equity should come with clean hands”. This newspaper recalling from history, notes that the idea of printing new Liberian dollar banknotes dates far back to the reign of President Doe who initially endorsed the minting of five-dollar coins and coins of lesser denomination.
It was then the Liberian dollar was introduced as legal tender alongside that of the US dollar. Later, the five-dollar coin would be replaced by the five-dollar JJ Roberts banknote which was in use throughout the country until 1991 when the Sawyer led Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) introduced the Liberty banknote to replace the JJ Roberts banknote which according to the IGNU had been looted from various banks and were then in the hands of several individuals notably including warring faction leaders, Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor.
In 1999 the Taylor Government introduced a new banknote called the “Unity” banknote which has remained in use. In 2009, the CBL under the leadership of Joseph Mills Jones during the presidency of President Sirleaf mooted the idea of printing additional Liberian dollar banknotes to address the issue of excess liquidity and the high volume of mutilated notes. The idea was however resisted by Senator Kupee of Lofa county, then chairman of the Senate committee on Banking and Currency who questioned the need as well as the authority to print L$170 million in new banknotes.
Again in 2016 the issue resurfaced with letters from President Sirleaf requesting the printing of L$5 billion in new banknotes. Montserrado County District#4 Representative, Edward Forh, questioning the rationale of printing new notes arguing that President Sirleaf’s tenure was just about over and should as such place a hold on the proposal. Forh was booted out of the session by then Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay for “disturbing session”.
Eventually the approval was given to print new banknotes however with a caveat that the General Auditing Commission would conduct a full audit to examine the details of the transaction. The audit was never done and up to present the full details of how much was actually printed remain murky with claims and counterclaims of 15, 16 and more recently, 31 billion Liberian dollars.
The current investigation should uncover details such as the actual amount printed, where, dates of delivery to the CBL as well as records of the disbursement to commercial banks since it is claimed that the alleged missing money was infused into the economy. The investigation should also uncover just how much was brought in during the tenure of President Sirleaf and how it was disbursed as well.
Against reports that the money was used (eaten up) by officials of the past government as well as by officials of the current government, President Weah should consider this matter exigent and do all to ensure transparency and accountability and let the chips fall where they may.