“Money Talks, Bullshit Walks” is a popular expression which literally means when business needs to get done, talk all what you want but it is only cash that makes things happen — even the most asinine decisions, because of money, will pass. Placing this expression in context of Liberia, it can aptly refer to our legislators and the request from the Executive to print new Liberian dollar banknotes. The request was placed on hold because Legislators were due for their annual constituency break.
During the intervening period, the public became awash with rumors of newly printed banknotes having arrived in country awaiting introduction into the market by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Government officials however vigorously denied that any such arrangements had been put in place. In fact, government officials, particularly Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, stepped up the ante claiming that the printing of new banknotes was being politicized and, because of that, civil servants could not get paid due to the shortage of Liberian dollars on the market.
Such was the hype being promoted by government functionaries which, in fact, constituted nothing more than a cocktail of lies and half-truths. In truth, 16 billion Liberian dollar banknotes had been ordered printed during the tenure of President Sirleaf. Some of the money arrived in country while President Sirleaf was still in office. The rest of the money arrived after Senator George Weah became President following the presidential elections in 2017.
The entire affair was cloaked in secrecy until the Hot Pepper newspaper broke the news that millions of Liberian dollar banknotes had gone missing from the Central Bank. Then commenced a frenzied effort to conceal the truth with Information Minister Eugene Nagbe and Finance Minister Tweah providing conflicting accounts of the alleged missing money. In response to the growing public outcry President Weah commissioned two independent investigations, Kroll Associates (Kroll) and the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT).
Both reports pointed to grave lapses in the handling of the cash which bordered on outright criminality. In an apparent attempt to lay the matter to rest, no money was declared missing. According to the Minister of Finance, all the banknotes printed and brought into the country were fully accounted for and that no money was missing at all.
But there were several facts which just did not add up, one of such being the CBL’s circulation of mutilated bank notes when those notes should have long since been removed from the market. Additionally, since no money was missing, as claimed by authorities, why were fraud investigators denied access to the CBL vaults to do verification checks, was a question which has since remained unanswered.
Further, the public has no idea, up to present, just how much Liberian dollar banknotes were removed from circulation and neither as yet has any information been provided to the public on total money supply. On the other hand, authorities blaming former President Sirleaf for printing excess banknotes levied criminal charges against the manufacturer of the notes, Crane Currency and several former CBL executives including its governor and deputy governor.
Apparently, this was intended to convince a very disbelieving public that all was indeed well and fine because the “culprits” had been identified and were being prosecuted. And perhaps the strategy did work, apparently because until the shortage of Liberian dollars became acute, there was a lull in public concern about the missing billions as well as the US$25 million infusion for mop up. But the matter has once again risen to the fore of public concerns as a result of the acute artificial shortage of Liberian dollar banknotes on the market.
But if no money was missing, as claimed by authorities, how come there is a shortage of Liberian dollars when the nation was told that inflation was rising because there was an over supply of money on the market and the solution, according to authorities, was a liquidity mop-up exercise to remove excess Liberian dollar banknotes from the market. That exercise was conducted under the direct supervision of Finance Minister Tweah which, according to him, was successfully accomplished.
But as the Kroll and PIT reports revealed, the mop-up exercise was marred by fraud. Up to present the matter, as our people say, “has no tail, has no head”, meaning nothing has come out of it or no one has been held accountable. Now, demands for the printing of new Liberian dollar banknotes are being advanced by authorities while the 16bn Liberian dollar banknotes remain unaccounted for.
Moreover, this newspaper has been reliably informed that the IMF has expressed strong opposition to the printing of new banknotes, and it remains to be seen whether authorities will go ahead with plans to do so. The President has recalled the Legislature from recess with the singular objective to approve the printing of new Liberian dollar banknotes.
According to sources, some legislators, while still on recess, have appended their signatures of approval to a document endorsing the printing of new banknotes. Sources further say in exchange for their signatures they are provided US$35,000 each as inducement. Some legislators, according to sources, have withheld their signatures. A prominent Senator (name withheld) has however dismissed these accounts. He told the Daily Observer that nothing of such has happened and he is certain that none of his colleagues have received any inducement to do so.
During the previous administration, financial inducements to legislators was a way of getting bills passed. This can partly explain why 64 out of 66 concession agreements passed into law during the Sirleaf administration were fraudulent and lacked transparency, according to the Moore-Stevens Report. President Weah, a former legislator himself, it appears, is mastering the ropes.
That his predecessor had a knack for making “bullshit walk” was known and, behind the BROWN ENVELOPES, just in case, she wielded a big stick. Yet, she was challenged. Why would it be any different for her successor?