“Play Play Kill Bird” is an old but hauntingly familiar saying in Liberia and it is meant to warn anyone against taking serious matters lightly as it appears in the case of our dear President and the alleged missing billions. Statements by President George Weah declaring that he was embarrassed by questions from his colleagues at the just ended United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) coupled with fresh news that the United States Federal Reserve System has declared its severance of relationships with the Central Bank of Liberia should constitute sufficient reasons of concern to the government of Liberia, as well as every well-meaning Liberian.
This development comes in the wake of the billions of Liberian dollars reported missing by government functionaries including the Ministers of Information and Justice and the apparent don’t-give-a-damn attitude being exhibited by top government functionaries who are, in one way or the other, connected to the current debacle.
The Daily Observer is, however, not surprised at such a move on the part of the Federal Reserve simply because of the fact the US dollar is legal tender in Liberia and the disappearance of millions of Liberian dollar banknotes which could be traded for US dollars on the open currency market could lead to situations in which money from illegal, drug or terrorist related sources could be laundered in the Liberian economy.
For the benefit of our readers and the public at large, central banks use foreign exchange reserves in a number of ways key amongst which is to maintain liquidity in case of economic crises such as the liquidity crunch the nation experienced in the latter part of last year. In such instances, where the money supply becomes constricted, the Central Bank can exchange part of its foreign exchange reserves for local currency to allow importers to pay for and receive imports.
Perhaps most critical amongst the reasons why the Central Bank maintains foreign exchange reserves is is the need for government to provide confidence in the economy. The Central Bank serves to assure investors that it will prevent a sudden flight of capital and the loss of capital for the country and, it helps prevent economic crisis which could occur when an event, like the coup of 1980 for example, triggers the flight of capital to safer climes.
Additionally, foreign exchange reserves are needed to assure investors, local and foreign, that the country will meet international payment obligations such as commercial and sovereign debts and the financing of imports as well as the ability of the Central Bank to absorb unexpected shocks associated with sudden capital movements.
That the United States Federal Reserve System would announce its severance of links to the Central Bank of Liberia, says in plain and simple terms that the country can no longer use the US dollar and may not be able in the not distant future, to access US dollars to meet its external and domestic obligations and such could likely trigger a sharp depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar.
It means that the Liberian-US dollar exchange rate, currently hovering between 150 and 156 Liberian dollars to one US dollar, may rise sharply. The effects of such development are likely to be seen in the rise in prices of essential commodities, transport fares, etc. In the opinion of this newspaper, these actions are triggered by the seeming reluctance of this government to make good on its pledge to fully investigate the case of the disappeared billions as well as its non-committal attitude to the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia.
This is because the creation of such a court will open the door to accountability of past and even present officials. Additionally, alarm bells have been triggered by the corrupt and apparently criminal behavior, with impunity, of CBL officials deliberately ignoring the need to officially record financial transactions on the books of the bank. Strangely, and for unexplained reasons, the CBL’s Board of Governors including the Board of Directors should be equally held liable for such flagrant departures from official policy and best practices in financial management.
These CBL officials are charged with a statutory responsibility to provide oversight on the CBL’s operations. Granted, the Legislature may have issued unclear directions to CBL leadership on the printing of additional currency banknotes, why did the Board of Directors including the Board of Governors overlook gross transgressions of public policy by the leadership of the CBL and why did they not put a halt to the unapproved printing of additional banknotes?
Further why are these officials not being held liable for gross negligence of duty including malfeasance and nonfeasance in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities? Given the virtual lack of proper accounting and recording of transactions, it may very well prove difficult to bring any CBL official to book since any considerations of prosecution must be based on facts. How well can these facts be established will prove a daunting task primarily because of the apparent criminal behavior of CBL and Finance Ministry officials.
President Weah has pledged a full investigation and prosecution, if needs be, of those found liable and culpable for the alleged disappearance of the billions reported to be missing. It is, however, important to note that from the records, Liberian currency banknotes were printed and brought into the country during the tenure of President Sirleaf. Printed banknotes were also brought into the country since President Weah officially assumed the mantle of authority.
It goes without saying, therefore, that while ex officials of the past government and President Sirleaf should provide explanations on money imported into the country under her watch, President Weah and his corps of officials should and must provide explanations or account for Liberian dollar banknotes, (estimated in the billions) imported in the country.
As underscored in previous editorials, President Weah does not have the luxury of time to deal forthrightly with these pressing issues of national concern. He must consider the “missing money business” with a sense of urgency, given what is perceived as a hovering “Sword of Damocles” in the form of sanctions hanging over this nation. He must “CLOSE HIS EYES” and deal firmly with wayward officials, for this indeed is serious and is no “Chaydey ni Pehn Kahnnon” affair falling strictly within the purview of the “Big Papa”. The verdict is out, President Weah; this is no time for “Play Play” because as our people say “Play Play Kill Bird”.