It sounds like a fairy tale story but apparently with a very unhappy ending. The country, Liberia, was L$17 billion or US$113 million more liquid, or so it was thought, until the money disappeared apparently into thin air without trace. This development has left the public in suspense and awe over the disappearance of such an astronomical sum. Already it is being widely speculated that some top officials of this government are linked to the disappearance of the money.
According to Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, several listed individuals, as a result of ongoing investigations into the missing banknotes, have been declared barred from leaving the country, prominent among them being former Central Bank Executive Governor, Milton Weeks; Deputy Executive Governor Charles Sirleaf; Lebanese businessman George Abi Jaoudi; CBL Head of Banking, Richard Walker.
At this point, it remains unclear whether the above named individuals bear any culpability. However, informed sources say it appears former President Sirleaf bears the greatest responsibility since she was head of government and those individuals so named were acting as agents on her behalf. Strangely but not surprisingly a Lebanese businessman, known for his close ties to former President Sirleaf, is linked to the printing and also perhaps the disappearance of the money in question.
The question uppermost on the minds of many is who ordered the printing of the banknotes and whether it met legislative approval. Moreover, this newspaper, having examined the chain of custody of the container bearing the disappeared cash, is constrained to question why the Police, as well as the Liberia Revenue Agency (LRA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Customs, up to this point, appear unable to explain just where the container was taken and into whose custody the container was entrusted.
As it appears, President Weah, having earlier made a solemn pledge to protect President Sirleaf after she left office now seems flatfooted not knowing what to make of such apparently downright criminal behavior. President Sirleaf, during her last days in office, had come under criticism by members of the legislature for advancing a proposal to print additional currency notes just about on the cusp of her departure from office.
What must have been her true intent and motivation for attempting to print additional currency notes? She had indeed told an unbelieving public that Liberian dollars were in short supply on the local market and there was also a critical need to mop up excess liquidity and remove from circulation, all mutilated Liberian dollar banknotes. As it now appears, President Sirleaf may not have been telling the truth if the continued circulation of mutilated banknotes is anything to go by.
It can be recalled that authorization sought by the Central Bank for the printing of new Liberian banknotes in 2016 was a quite drawn-out and controversial affair. By mid-2016, evidence of the deteriorating state of the economy was quite visible and glaring as the value of the Liberian dollar continued to plummet against that of the US dollar. At the time of the debate in the House of Representatives, President Sirleaf had just about a year left to the end of her term in office.
The new banknotes were printed anyway, according to sources however; the public was left to speculate on just how much money was actually printed although it was public knowledge that Governor Jones had sought to print 170 million in local currency. Further, according to sources, not even the Legislature was brought up to speed on the actual amount printed, which purpose it was said, was to mop up excess liquidity and remove and replace mutilated banknotes on the market.
On September 29, 2016, newly appointed Central Bank Governor, Milton Weeks at a press conference declared “It is my pleasure to present to you today the initial series of the new currency that have been produced by “Print Currency”, a US-based company but manufactured in Sweden”. After much public hue and outcry about how much was printed, Governor Weeks was hard pressed to confess that the new banknotes printed were to the tune of L$5 billion Liberian dollars.
When President George Weah assumed office in January 2018, he told the world he inherited a broke economy with virtually nothing left in the national coffers, although he did or could not say how much he met. But, former President Sirleaf was quick to respond that she left US$160 million in the state coffers. She never said a word about the huge amount of new currency notes that had been printed. According to reports, some of this money was brought into the country in 2017 without the knowledge of the Legislature.
Not even her successor, George Weah was informed of this development. According to confirmed reports, there were several shipments between 2016 and 2018 of what is believed to have been banknotes. For instance there were three shipments in 2016 of banknotes and printed materials also suspected to be banknotes with the following reference numbers (1) 570422072 with arrival date 7 September 2016.
It was consigned out of the Freeport oF Monrovia on 12 September 2016 (2) 710775940-arrival date 28 September, 2016 and consigned out of the Port on 30 September 2016 and (3) 710779058-arrival date 05 October 2016 In 2017 there were two shipments in the month of November with reference/Bill of Lading nos. 710873539-arrrival date 21 November 2017, consigned out of the Port 03 April 2018 and 710871912-arrival 28 November 2017 and consigned out on 18 December 2018. In 2018 ref.#s GDY0187685, 574810168 and 770367707.
As these records show, all these transactions were done under President Sirleaf in 2017, early January 2018 and April 2018. It is most probable than not that President Weah was not aware of these or had been kept in the dark deliberately. What this suggests, in the opinion of this newspaper, is need for a thorough investigation and an audit of President Sirleaf’s tenure without delay.
As is often said that “behind every dark cloud lies a silver lining”, so it can be said that the silver lining behind these dark clouds of unbridled corruption is the opportunity to conduct a probe. PRESIDENT WEAH’S SILVER LINING, though not readily apparent, lies in a full and comprehensive audit of President Sirleaf’s tenure. Only then shall we know the truth behind all the lies and claims of holy innocence. As former President has said, the records will show.
Now it is high time to examine her records and let them show and speak for themselves, FOR IT IS NOW HIGH TIME TO END IMPUNITY..