This newspaper’s attention is drawn to the flurry of public concerns about accountability raised in the wake of President Weah’s announcement of a GAC commissioned forensic audit to further probe the findings arrived at by the Presidential Investigating Team (PIT) and the Kroll Associates on the alleged 16 billion LD said to have disappeared into thin air, and the US$25 million infusion exercise intended to mop-up excess liquidity.
This newspaper having examined the arguments on both sides of the divide is inclined to believe that President Weah did not make a mistake. He was in fact right for commissioning a forensic audit.
This is because, in the view of the Daily Observer, both teams only conducted investigations whose findings are not in themselves sufficient to proceed with prosecution.
This is why a forensic audit becomes a necessary requirement in order to establish the full extent of whatever transgressions of the law or diversions from established policies did occur. This, when done, will raise and enhance prospects for successful prosecution of the case against the defendants.
Further to this, a forensic audit will clearly affirm and establish the fact that the decision made to have the Swedish based Crane Currency print new Liberian dollar banknotes was done prior to the ascendancy of George Weah to power.
It will also establish the fact that the decision was not made during the tenure of former Governor Joseph Mills Jones as is being speculated in some quarters. Reliable sources suggest that Mills Jones’ successor, Milton Weeks, was virtually arm-twisted by former President Sirleaf into having the Crane Currency print the banknotes.
Further according to sources, former President Sirleaf’s close confidante and advisor Steve Cashin was the main driver behind the push to have Crane Currency print the banknotes as opposed to traditional printer De La rue of France. Former CBL Governor Mills Jones is said to have strongly opposed the deal with Crane and placed it on hold until he left office.
Against the backdrop of information now filtering into this newspaper, the deal was consummated after Jones left office and, it appears, more likely than not that Steve Cashim landed a hefty commission for securing the deal for Crane. Whatever the case may be, it is clear from both reports (Kroll and PIT) that there were transgressions of the PPCC law by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) in the award of the printing contract.
And there are questions from an anxious public wanting to know just why or how come former President Sirleaf, under whose watch the banknotes were being printed, did not care to know to important details such as amount and value of banknotes being printed and brought into the country as well the amount of legacy notes due to be removed from circulation.
Sources say the amount of printed banknotes involved was just too large a sum to have gone unnoticed by President Sirleaf, especially given her background and experience as Finance Minister, World Bank official and President in a country where every expenditure above US$10,000 has to be approved by Presidential warrant.
Details from the PIT report say CBL officials were remiss in the discharge of their duties which, according to the indictment drawn against CBL officials, included criminally doctoring/fixing reports understating the full and actual amount printed and received by the CBL which according to state prosecutors are in violation of the laws of Liberia.
The introduction of Liberian five-dollar banknotes into circulation was initially done in late 1980 during the reign of President Samuel K. Doe. During the civil crisis the five-dollar banknote, then known as the “JJ. Roberts”, was changed by the Sawyer led Interim government in 1991 and the printing of the Liberty banknotes was contracted to De La Rue of France, the leading printer of banknotes world-wide.
According to Wikipedia, on 29 March 2000, the Central Bank of Liberia introduced a new “unified” currency, which was exchanged at par for “J. J.” notes and at a ratio of 1:2 for “Liberty” notes. The new banknotes each featured a portrait of a former president. These notes remain in current use, although they underwent a minor redesign in 2003, with new dates, signatures, and the CENTRAL BANK OF LIBERIA banner on the back.
It is those banknotes, referred to as the Legacy notes, that the newly printed banknotes were intended to replace. The experience however shows that while the newly printed banknotes were put in circulation, the Legacy notes were never withdrawn as declared. And even though a large percentage of the Legacy notes were mutilated, they are, for unexplained reasons, still in circulation today.
In all fairness, President Weah has held the mantle of authority for only a little over one year. All the “mess” was created prior to his ascendancy to office. This, however, does not by any means dismiss the possibility that some of the alleged missing money was “eaten” by his officials or even by the man himself.
It means that, as popular folk singer Jones Duopu says: ”Don’t blame where you fell, instead blame where you stumbled. Accordingly, the nation is urged to look a where we stumbled. From the available facts, it can be readily discerned that the problem started during the reign of President Sirleaf.
According to the PIT report, Milton Weeks, when questioned whether there was written communication between President Sirleaf and the CBL informing her of the printing of L$10 billion banknotes, said although he could not confirm the written communication, there were several however discussions held over a period of time with President Sirleaf on the subject matter suggesting in other words that he had her tacit and informed consent.
The forensic audit, which President Weah has commissioned, is expected to throw light on the entire affair. The problem is, President Weah made a pledge to protect President Sirleaf’s interests as his priority. Whether that still is the case will certainly remain to be seen.