Since news of the disappearance of containers full of money brought into the country broke, the Government of Liberia has been at pains to provide explanations on what actually transpired. But it appears as though the harder the strikes against the story, the deeper they get stuck. It is like the old Uncle Remus story of Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby. The more vigorous the denials, the deeper the impression of impropriety is ingrained on the minds of the public.
This newspaper recalls that when the exchange rate of the Liberian dollar to the US dollar shot up to more than LD$160 to one US dollar, the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) then under the new Patray leadership, announced the infusion of 25 million US dollars to, as the Bank described it, mop up excess liquidity, though it has yet to disclose the quantity of excess Liberian dollars which the mop up exercise was to remove from circulation.
Of even greater concern is the fact that the CBL, under Patray’s leadership, has been unable to provide evidence (paper trail) of how this money was infused into the economy. Through which Commercial banks or Forex Bureaux was the mop-up money (US$25 million) infused is the question that neither the CBL under Governor Patray nor the Finance Ministry under Minister Tweah is prepared to answer, at least not yet.
But, former President Sirleaf, reacting to statements made by Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, who claimed that Liberian dollar banknotes were printed in Lebanon and China, dismissed out rightly that monies were printed in Lebanon and China. Rather, she emphasized that under her watch money was printed only in Sweden and, according to her, the paper trail is there and all such money can be accounted for.
Additionally, the former President insisted that the Central Bank did compile and prepare a report on this, but the CBL, in a purported press release, has dismissed her claim that a report was prepared on the money brought into the country from Sweden. But there is something amiss here. Firstly, assertions made in public by Information Minister Eugene Nagbe about his certain knowledge of money printed in China and Lebanon is being played down by the Government of Liberia.
Moreover, with all the name calling and blame casting on former President Sirleaf, why has the CBL not released the report prepared by former Governor Weeks? Weeks has said, according to reports, that he can account for every penny brought into the CBL under his watch and this newspaper wonders why this government appears reluctant to release such information to the public if they maintain that Weeks is not telling the truth.
Additionally, what about the money printed in Lebanon and China which was brought into the country under the watch of this current government as admitted by Information Minister Eugene Nagbe on radio recently? How much was printed in Lebanon and China and where is the evidence that the money was infused in the economy as claimed by Finance Minister Tweah? Is this the money that has allegedly gone missing but which Finance Minister Tweah has debunked as untrue?
These are indeed hard questions to which answers have been hard to come by, especially from current officials. They have instead been heaping scorn on organizers of Monday’s mass demonstration, attributing a range of unworthy motives to the leaders of the demonstration as well as to some participants, including members of opposition political parties. Whatever the case, the CBL, including its Board of Directors and the Ministry of Finance, must account for and provide details of the US$25 million infusion and the money printed in Lebanon and China.
This newspaper recalls that former Governor Weeks had come under intense pressure to surrender the country’s reserves as collateral for the loudly proclaimed and much talked about Eton and EBOMAF loan schemes which have since fizzled out. According to sources, Weeks’ refusal to accommodate this request led to his undoing. In truth, according to financial experts, Weeks actually lacked the ability to do so because, according to them, WB/IMF Special Drawing Rights, which is not actual cash, for strange reasons, were included in the reserves. And strangely, his sacking came closely on the heels of the arrival of new banknotes in the country.
Meanwhile officials of this government, it appears, have launched an all-out assault on critics in a bid to smother public disquiet which continues to mount in the face of its failure to provide satisfactory and convincing explanations to the public. Financial experts have told the Daily Observer that despite the printing of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes, there is actually a shortage of Liberian dollars on the market. They maintain that the presence of roving changers of mutilated notes (money Tear-Tear) should raise questions about the true purpose to which the infused US$25 million was applied.
Given the current outlook, this newspaper, while disagreeing with those who maintain that nothing will come out of this investigation the government has launched, it must however remind this Weah-led government that to restore its fast fading luster, it must give account of every piece of newly printed Liberian dollar banknote imported into the country since it assumed power in January this year. Claims by Finance Minister Tweah that the money has since been infused into the economy should be supported by documentary evidence, including the commercial banks and forex bureaux through which the money should have been infused.
President Weah must recognize that this missing money issue is polarizing the country. His officials appear to be experiencing the jitters about demands for transparency and accountability in the handling of this crucial matter. Attempts to side-track this by claiming that the protesters were, according to Representative Acarous Gray, political protesters who could not lock down Mamba Point, is disingenuous and does more harm than good to the image of President Weah.
President Weah, through no fault of his own, may lack all the attributes of a sophisticated political bigot; but it is clear that he does not lack common sense and it is that he will have to fall back on to see through the shenanigans of his lieutenants who, from all appearances, are leading him down the path to political self-destruction. He must do all to avoid this, for he cannot afford to betray the interests of the Liberian people he professes to love so dearly.