In Search of Justice or In Search of Scapegoats?

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Today’s editorial is informed by a story carried in its Monday, March 4, 2019 edition under the headline “Weeks, Sirleaf Violated Liberia’s Penal Law”. The story reports that the Presidential Investigating Team (PIT) has accused both individuals, Weeks and Sirleaf, of violating the Penal laws of Liberia by illegally disbursing and expending public money, which is forbidden by section 15.82 of the Penal Law of Liberia.

Both Weeks and Sirleaf, as well as another Central Bank employee, Dorbor Hagba were arrested and detained over the weekend. They have now been charged and remanded to the Monrovia Central Prison pending their posting of  a 5.29 billion dollar bond to have them released from detention.

But it appears as though the arrests of Sirleaf, Weeks and Hagba were intentionally staged to create a public impression that the government was all out to bring to book corrupt officials, especially those involved in the missing money saga and the infusion of the US$25 million into the economy.

To the contrary, however, the arrests were limited to the three named individuals and did not include other officials associated with the infusion of the US$25m into the economy. The main question being asked in the public is what has become of Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and the commanding role he played in the infusion exercise.

It can be recalled that the Daily Observer in its November 6, 2018 editorial commented that is the Central Bank and not the Ministry of Finance that was/is responsible for monetary policy. This was in response to demonstrated public concerns about the transparency of the arrangements under which the money said to have been infused.

The editorial further observed that “Nowhere in the Act creating the CBL are there provisions authorizing the Minister of Finance to assume any function of the CBL. As a matter of fact, according to the Act, “licensed foreign exchange dealers, including bank-financial institutions may be required by the Central Bank to report periodically on their operations on a currency-by currency basis”.

“Against this backdrop, it is clear that the Finance Minister was out of step by taking charge of effecting monetary policy which is solely the prerogative of the Central Bank. It is the Central Bank to which licensed foreign exchange dealers are required to report and definitely not the Ministry of Finance”.

“The Minister should, as Maryland Senator Brown has indicated, provide documentary evidence on how the money was allegedly infused, granted that he even had the legal authority to do in the first place”.

“But as it turns out, the Finance Minister had no such authority to make this infusion. This newspaper recalls that it was indeed the Governor of the CBL, Nathaniel Patray who had initially declared that US$25 million was to be infused in the economy”.

“And from all indications it should have been done through the commercial banks but for the Finance Minister to unilaterally declare that he acted as such as infusing the money through the commercial banks (which was the right thing to do) would have had no impact was completely out of his ballpark”.

“In the view of this newspaper, the Minister’s actions run contrary to the conduct of public policy. They have grave implications for wholesome and effective public sector financial management. It is the CBL only that has such responsibility to regulate currency movement including the withdrawal of minted coins or mutilated banknotes.  Any act to the contrary is ultra vires and must be checked forthwith. It is the Central Bank of Liberia, not the Ministry of Finance (and Development Planning), which is responsible for monetary policy”.

This was the position of the Daily Observer expressed in its editorial as far back as November last year. Now the Presidential Investigating Team as well as the USAID hired firm KROLL has come out with findings that virtually indict Finance Minister Tweah and members of the Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT), which includes Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean.

The Kroll report, amongst other things, says: “The approach taken by the CBL to implement the USD mop-up exercise, whereby small teams of bank personnel directly purchased LRD from local businesses and Foreign Exchange Bureaux in exchange for USD notes, created an enhanced level of risks with respect to: i) potential misappropriation of banknotes, ii) potential opportunity for money laundering and iii) potential execution of transactions with illegal businesses”.

Additionally, the observation by the PIT that the team was prevented from accessing the CBL’s vault to do a count, raises questions why officials of the Bank under the leadership of Governor Patray would refuse such a request aimed at getting to the bottom of an issue which has long cast doubts and suspicion on this government and the involvement of its top officials in an exercise that smacks of and appears analogous to and indistinguishable from money laundering.

Amid a welter of public doubt and suspicion that officials of the past government as well as officials of the Weah administration are culpable in this money affair, the idea that officials of this government would act in ways that would increase and heighten suspicion of their involvement in criminal activities is unfathomable.

Yet, the facts, however unpalatable they may now appear, clearly indicate that Finance Minister Tweah, Justice Minister Musa Dean and others of the Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT) violated the laws of the country by conducting the mop-up exercise in ways that border on criminality.

And, interestingly, it is Justice Minister Musa Dean whose signature appears on the PIT report, accusing Weeks, Sirleaf and Hagba of criminal behavior, although both Dean and Tweah are slammed in the PIT report for conducting the exercise in ways that border on outright criminality.

Against all the foregoing, this newspaper is thus constrained to ask whether the Investigation was a Search for Justice or a Search for Scapegoats. This is because, from all indications, the exercise appears like a search for scapegoats. But in this scheme of things it is likely the search for scapegoats will intensify as economic pressures mount.

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