Central Bank Governor, Nathaniel Patray, debunking what he claims are falsehoods bandied by certain individuals and institutions and uncoordinated messages coming from officials about the alleged “Missing L$16 billion, has thrown blame at the feet of the media.
In a Press conference at which the media ws barred from posing questions, Mr. Patray said, “The CBL wants to clarify to the general public and partners in progress that there is no L$16 billion missing as has been erroneously reported in the media.”
He blamed the media for “erroneously” reporting and the Governor’s refusal to take questions from journalists on this serious national issue strongly indicates that the CDC-led government has found the media as a convenient scapegoat on which the woes of this government can be blamed. President Weah had earlier charged upon his return from the UN declared that journalists will be called in to provide evidence on the missing whereabouts of the money.
But just who is reporting erroneously on this missing money crisis? When the Hot Pepper Newspaper broke the story about a missing container of money, the Minister of Information and spokesperson for the government, Eugene Nagbe, wasted no time and fired back immediately declaring that a little over L$15 billion Liberian currency banknotes were printed in three countries including Sweden, Lebanon and China and brought into the country between November 2017 and March 2018, and that the Liberian Government was investigating the missing banknotes.
Following in its wake was a statement by Justice Minister Musa Dean declaring that it was inviting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States, experts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others to help the Liberian Government investigate the missing money, noting that his Ministry began the investigation in August this year, well before the Hot Pepper Newspaper broke the story.
Barely a few days later, Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah, took to the airwaves, openly debunked the Information Minister and called on the public to ignore his representations on the matter, suggesting in effect that the Minister was lying to the public.
The Finance Minister’s blistering attack on the Information Minister almost immediately triggered the latter’s resignation which, according to sources, President Weah urged him to retract.
The very Finance Minister who claimed that no money was missing bounced back later suggesting that some mishap may have occurred when the money was in transit, adding that the figure of L$9 billion was more reasonable as compared to the reported 16 billion which had been widely reported in the media.
On the other hand, some Legislators, mainly CDC lawmakers, have alluded to the missing whereabouts of the money and shifted the blame solely on the past administration.
House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Representative Acarous Gray and others have called for an audit of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration, attributing culpability and charging it should be held liable for the “missing money.”
But former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, responding to the charges declared on the BBC that the Central Bank had produced a report on money printed during her tenure but accused CBL Governor Patray and Justice Minister Musa Dean for holding on to the report and keeping it away from the public.
President George Weah, prior to his departure to the United Nations last month, conceded that his government had constituted an investigative team to probe into the “missing money” saga — urging citizens to be patient and await the result of the investigation.
But in an apparent volte face, the President has since publicly declared that he does not believe money is missing, and subtly inferring that journalists will be called in to show where the missing money is.
Although it has been well over a month since the investigation was launched, the investigative team has yet to come out with any findings to the public as yet. However Governor Patray has announced that “No money is missing as is being erroneously reported in the media.”
This announcement, coupled with the President’s expressed belief that that no money is missing has left Liberians in a state of disbelief and raises questions whether the results of the investigation will be credible.
But Governor Patray, being newly appointed could be right that no money is missing — that is, the money printed in Sweden during the tenure of former President Sirleaf which, according to her, is well accounted for by the CBL.
For one thing, it is clear that, from available records, that no money was printed under Patray’s watch; neither was the money brought into the country under his watch. But he now has the charge to “clean up the spill”, never mind whoever may have caused it.
This newspaper believes that Information Minister Nagbe’s statement that money was printed in Sweden, Lebanon and China did not just come out of the blues. He clearly knew what he was talking about. The Central Bank has now officially declared that it can account for every penny of the money printed in Sweden.
The question which remains yet unanswered is where is the money that was printed in Lebanon and China as revealed by Minister Nagbe? If the Central Bank maintains that it can only account for money brought in from Sweden, then the public is left to conclude that the rest of the money estimated to be in the billions has disappeared into private pockets. And such perception is feeding into and generating a host of conspiracy theories with suggestions widely bandied on social media about the alleged involvement of an obscure Lebanese national called Sheik, believed to be a friend of President Weah.
Whatever the case, this matter should be laid to rest sooner than later and, it is in the best interest of this government to do so by conducting a transparent examination of the facts and submitting a concluding report forthwith.
The CBL reports that in 2017, net personal outward remittances increased by 46.2 percent amounting to 445.3 million US dollars. This newspaper notes that this was the final year of President Sirleaf’s tenure, so just who were those responsible for sending such huge amounts of money outside the country that year? Were they foreign business people or ordinary Liberians?
In similar vein then, we must ask, what was/is the source of the income from which such huge amounts of cash were sent abroad to private accounts? Was the money sourced legally or illegally and how such relates to the disappearance of billions of newly printed Liberian dollar banknotes? “If you haul rope, rope will haul bush” goes the old Liberian adage. Perhaps this ongoing investigation will not only “haul rope” but may “haul plenty bush”!