The “hala hala” over this missing money business appears to be going nowhere, try as hard as they may to smolder free spirited public discussion on the matter. Since this newspaper began following the matter closely, it has received, in addition to commendations from the public including condemnations of the vilest sort from some quarters as well. For the record, this newspaper has also since received offers of financial inducements from some officials to bury or kill the story and refrain from further comments on the issue. The Finance Minister must therefore tell the Liberian People the Truth.
But just why would government officials be offering financial inducements to kill the story or have this newspaper refrain from reporting or commenting on unfolding developments if they have nothing to hide? As it appears, every effort is being spent to cast blame entirely on the Central Bank of Liberia while other government officials, adopting a holier than thou attitude, continue to issue conflicting accounts of monies brought into the country.
As noted in previous editorials, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe knew just what he was talking about when he affirmed that money was indeed printed in Lebanon and China. The Central Bank maintains that money they received into their accounts was printed in Sweden by a company called Crane and that every penny can be accounted for. Interestingly money did come into the country after the changeover in government from President Sirleaf to President George Weah as was attested to by Minister Nagbe on public radio.
According to sources, Finance officials appear bent on changing the narrative from money missing to no money missing and this was what President Sirleaf may have been referring to when she emphatically stated that every penny printed under her watch can be accounted for. The investigating team set up to probe this affair appears to be lost in the woods just as its head, Alexander Cuffy of the Financial Intelligence Unit, who has come under fire for removing the name of his sister from the list of persons of interest.
From all indications, this investigation may not get anywhere just as the public has predicted. In the opinion of this newspaper, the National Port Authority did, at one point, have custody of the printed money. Any serious investigating body would seek to establish the entire chain of custody of the printed bills. Documents in the possession of the National Port Authority(NPA) would include the Bill of Lading and copy of the manifest.
Other details should include the port of lading meaning the name of the city, town or port where the goods were loaded on the carrier; the name of the shipping agency and the vessel; the identification number of the container; the manifest; the port of destination, meaning the place/port where the container was offloaded from the ship; the receiving agent(s) which should be the NPA/Customs and the Consignee, meaning the person/institution who ordered the goods, the Cost of Insurance and Freight as well.
Going by Minister Nagbe’s account, the bill of lading should also show that the goods were loaded on the vessel in Beirut or any other Lebanese Port for that matter and the date on which it was loaded onto the vessel that brought the goods to Monrovia. Investigators should also be able to establish the date of arrival of the goods, as well as names of individuals who signed receipt of the goods into the warehouse at the Freeport of Monrovia after unloading. This should include NPA and Customs officials.
The date on which the goods were cleared from the Port and by whom should be established. Since vehicles in Liberia are not generally fitted with GPS tracking equipment, investigators would have to rely on accounts of those, including customs officers, brokers and Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) officials who escorted or accompanied the goods out of the Port to its final destination. The time of arrival of the goods at final destination, time of unloading and carting into the warehouse or bank vault as well as officials/functionaries who received the goods and the condition in which the goods were received, should all be recorded.
The CBL has already stated that newly printed money received into its vaults came from Sweden only and no other place. On the other hand, Information Minister has publicly disclosed that to his certain knowledge money was also printed in Lebanon and China. Accordingly, the task now is to show when the money from China and Lebanon arrived in the country and into whose custody the money was entrusted. In short, getting to the bottom of this affair would require a thorough review of the chain of custody.
But if the head of the investigating team, Alexander Cuffy, would out rightly declare that the managing director of the NPA, Cecilia Cuffy Brown is delisted as a person of interest in this investigation, it raises a key question how can the chain of custody be fully established when the head of an institution which played a key role in the movement of that money is excluded from the investigation. What if, for example, officials of the NPA did collude in the unauthorized removal and the surreptitious conveyance of the goods to a destination other than the vaults of the CBL?
At this point, it remains unclear whether or not money printed in Lebanon and China was deposited in the vaults of the Central Bank. Although the CBL has said that it can only account for money printed in Sweden, it has however not said or told the public whether the money printed in Lebanon and China was also received by CBL and deposited in its vaults. Lest we forget, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah did tell the nation that the money was infused into the economy although to date he has not provided evidence of how that money was infused into the economy.
But the public does have evidence showing variations in the security features of the Liberian 100 dollar bill. A businessman, (name withheld) did recently display for the Observer, copies of the Liberian 100 dollar as well as the 50-dollar bills showing distinct but varying security features. These are concerns that must be addressed for the evidence does appear to suggest bad money was indeed infused into the economy.
This is because such variations on the banknotes simply suggest that different templates were used to produce the bills. Had the money been printed by a single source, Crane, as declared in the CBL’s recent press statement, there would not be such variations. Quite clearly, these are issues which Finance Ministry officials need to address rather than the empty but half-hearted explanations coming from that Ministry that leave the public even more confused than ever.