This newspaper’s attention is drawn to a story carried in its March 5, 2019 edition under the headline “Mop-up Exercise Made ‘Opportunities for Money Laundering’”.
Daily Observer reporter, Joaquim Sendolo notes in the story that the USAID hired consultants, Kroll, in its report observed that the approach taken by the Central Bank of Liberia(CBL) to conduct the Mop-Up Exercise “created potential opportunities for money laundering and potential execution of transactions with illegal businesses”.
Meanwhile there have been mounting calls from the public to have Finance Minister Tweah face charges of criminal accountability for the infusion of the US$25 million in the economy which, according to both reports (PIT and Kroll), was done in a way that deviated from best practices.
But Finance Minister Tweah has insisted that he did nothing wrong, although the PIT report maintains that the Technical Economic Management Team(TEMT) headed by the Finance Minister produced reports of transactions that were either false or could not be verified.
The PIT cited as example the Union Local Forex Bureau located on Carey Street, which received on two separate occasions, July 17, 2017, US$3,000 and August 16, 2017, US$2,500, a total of US$5,500.
However in its report the CBL reported having received on July 17, 2018 US$103,720 and on August 18, 2018, US$58,400 making it a total amount of US$161,900 received. Such startling revelations have raised public concerns about the transparency and fairness of the ongoing exercise to bring those responsible to book.
The rather murky nature of these transactions and the glaring discrepancies in accounts provided by the TEMT concerning the infusion of US$25 million into the economy, have given room to heightened public suspicions that Finance Minister Tweah is being shielded from accountability by President Weah.
But lest the public become lost in the details of the US$25 million infusion and unconsciously lose sight of important facts surrounding the printing of Liberian dollar banknotes, this newspaper finds itself constrained to remind the public of the following:
That the CBL reported that L$10 billion in banknotes was in circulation at January, 1, 2016, and on November 30, 2018 the CBL reported that a total of 18 billion Liberian dollar banknotes was in circulation. This in effect means that the CBL did not destroy any old or mutilated banknotes and or did keep the banknotes in its reserve vaults as would have normally been the case.
And the fact that the CBL management, according to the PIT report, withheld some information and did not permit the PIT entry to its vaults suggests that the ability of the PIT to determine or verify the actual amounts held in the CBL vaults, was severely restricted for strange but unknown reasons.
However the PIT could have surmounted this obstacle had it sought information from the commercial banks since it is the commercial banks through which money is (by best practice) infused into the economy.
And although officials of this government insist that the Kroll and PIT reports vindicate government’s position that no money is missing, the unanswered question remains, where is the money since it is not in the CBL’s vaults? In view of the situation, this newspaper urges the public including the media to avoid commingling the issue of the missing money with that of the US$25 million infusion which, according to the PIT report, accused the TEMT under Tweah’s leadership of handling the US$25 million infusion in ways that border on criminality.
And there are questions why the PIT was not adequately resourced as should have been the case and also why the CBL withheld information and denied the PIT access to its vaults.
This newspaper finds it confusing and rather difficult to understand just why the CBL under Patray’s leadership denied the PIT access to its vaults or withheld requested information.
If indeed former President Sirleaf and her appointees, Weeks and Sirleaf are to be held to blame for whatever they are being accused of then why not establish the facts by being open and transparent enough to allow the PIT access to the CBL’s vaults.
And given all the hype created over the arrest and detention of Charles Sirleaf and Milton Weeks, it remains to be seen whether state prosecutors can succeed in bringing a guilty verdict against the two individuals in view of the Government’s averred position that no money is missing. Simply put, neither Charles Sirleaf nor Milton Weeks, from the available facts have stolen any money.
And although they may have acted in ways that exceeded their authority, in the eyes of the public, they stand no guiltier in the eyes of the law than Finance Minister Tweah and the members of the TEMT who have been slammed by the PIT for the handling of the US$25 million infusion in ways that appear analogous and indistinguishable from outright criminality.
In view of the foregoing, this newspaper, as always, must remind President Weah that he runs the risk of mass public disapproval and mass discontent, should he appear to be shielding individuals indicted in the PIT report other than Charles Sirleaf, Milton Weeks, Dorbor Hagba, Richard Walker and others.
In all of this, the President should consider well the implications and political fallout likely to result from protecting sacred cows amidst the specter of a long drawn-out trial against a backdrop of rising economic difficulties. Eventually, if left unchecked, President Weah may, more likely than not find himself with a stark but critical choice to either hold the feet of TEMT members to the fire or his feet might instead be held to the fire.
The Choice is Yours Mr. President!