That containers of new Liberian dollar bank notes have gone missing without trace remains a puzzling mystery but is hardly surprising to many Liberians. Claims and counter claims abound and, to date, no signs of the missing banknotes have been found anywhere so far, according to investigators. It is being widely speculated that top officials of the past and current government are linked to the disappearance although denials have been many, strenuous and free flowing.
Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, has since publicly linked the administration of former President Sirleaf to the disappearance of the containers. The former President has vigorously denied the accusations but has stopped short of calling for an independent investigation as would be the case in any society with strong rule of law. But former President Ellen Sirleaf has now broken her silence on the current debacle surrounding the printing of 16 billion in new Liberian dollar banknotes and its subsequent disappearance while in the custody of government functionaries.
Charging the current government of President Weah for wickedly impugning the reputation of past officials, former President Sirleaf said the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), where her son, Charles Sirleaf currently serves as Deputy Governor, has since prepared a release “that gives full evidence and clarification that refutes the statement of Minister Nagbe”. She further added that its dissemination to the public has been withheld because CBL Governor Patray and Justice Minister F. Musa Dean have refused, for the past two days to approve the release for public dissemination.
Continuing, the former President expressed unfortunate regrets that the current government would give false information which, according to her, “wickedly impugns the reputation of past officials and by extension the country itself”. “I have been reliably informed that the Central Bank of Liberia has undertaken an internal investigation and by a directive from the Minister of Justice provided a full report to the police. The CBL has prepared a release that gives full evidence and clarification that refutes the statement of Minister Nagbe.
This had been held for two days because the CBL Governor and the Minister of Justice have refused to approve the release. It is most unfortunate that the GOL would give false information that wickedly impugns the reputation of past officials and by extension the country itself.” But when considered against the sheer number of bogus concession agreements, including the ExxonMobil concession signed outside the framework of the law, under the watch of the former President, her comments must be taken with a pinch of salt.
For example the once viable National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) went bust under the watch of Robert Sirleaf, son of the former President. But when pressed by the public, including the media, for accountability the former President simple response was “I take responsibility”, but she never refunded a penny. The Finda Kroma corruption story involving former President Sirleaf’s brother in-law Estrada Bernard and her confidante Finda Kroma was investigated by the Dunn Commission but its report was never released to the public.
Commenting on the situation at the time, former President Sirleaf said, “The computer in my house was made available. In the course of their looking through the hard drive, they found a message written to ECOBANK to one Finda Kromah talking about a US$600,000 advance on transaction. “Because Mr. Bernard lives in my house and uses it and because they saw other personal messages, they asked him, ‘can you explain this?’ He answered back legally like a lawyer…’I don’t know this person. I have use to this email but so do many other people who come into our home. What is this all about?”
However, deep-seated and widespread corruption with impunity over many years, especially since President Sirleaf took the reins of power in 2006, has simply served to further strengthen Impunity and expose the country to even more ridicule. One of her first acts in office was the prosecution of former Transitional Chairman, Gyude Bryant for corruption. Perhaps little did she realize that she had thrown wide open the stables to future prosecution of former leaders.
Now the chickens have come home to roost and prosecution for corruption could very well be staring her in the face. Although, for example, there have been many calls from the public for a comprehensive audit of the previous government, President Weah has refused to budge and has said before in open public that his foremost task is to protect President Sirleaf.
At this stage, it however remains unclear whether President Weah still remains committed to that pledge. However, faced with an avalanche of public calls for accountability, it is becoming increasingly clear that President Weah appears more likely than not, to cave in to demands for accountability. His major test in this regard will be how he handles the case of the missing banknotes. There are suggestions that some of his officials at the highest level are complicit in the theft of the banknotes in equal measure to officials of the past government.
Already, the report of the Special Presidential Committee (SPC) appointed to probe past officials linked to the ExxonMobil appeared to be shelved. Although the committee has since recommended restitution of the amounts paid to those officials, the report is, however, still on President Weah’s desk gathering dust. Whether he is going to act to implement the recommendations of the SPC will be gauged by the strength of his commitment to prosecute without fear or favor those found complicit in the disappearance of the banknotes.
Indeed, the future survival of his government appears hinged to his ability to detach himself from whatever covenant he may have entered with the former President to assure her of protection from probes, audits and whatever else. But the maxim, “self-preservation is the first law of nature” may very well come into play sooner or later as demands for accountability continue to mount. Her unprecedented public spat with once favorite Information Minister Eugene Nagbe over the disappeared banknotes could be the clearest signal yet that the “Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost”.