Today’s editorial is informed by a story carried in the Friday, March 8, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer newspaper under the headline, “President Weah Requests GAC to Audit US$25M Mop-up Exercise”.
According to the story, President Weah has ordered the General Auditing Commission to probe the facts and circumstances attending the infusion of the US$25m into the economy.
The President’s action comes against a backdrop of heightened public concerns about the role of Finance Minister Samuel Tweah in the infusion exercise whose handling, according to the PIT report, appeared analogous to and indistinguishable from outright criminal behavior.
The exercise was intended to mop up excess Liberian dollar banknotes from the market in order to stabilize the rapid depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar. The Daily Observer notes that it appears that President Weah has realized the urgency to address these pointed concerns emanating from the handling of the infusion exercise.
Now President Weah, in an apparent attempt to lay the ghosts of the infusion exercise to rest, has tasked the GAC to conduct a forensic audit and come up with a report in two weeks. This is indeed a welcome development although some hold the view that a forensic investigation as opposed to a forensic audit is what is needed to address the situation.
Whatever be the case, it must not be forgotten that the issue at bar is that of the 16 billion Liberian dollar banknotes that were brought into the country and which the Central bank of Liberia(CBL) has previously confirmed were safely locked away in its vaults.
This is an issue aside from the US$25 million infusion money. While the Daily Observer welcomes President Weah’s latest action, this newspaper is yet constrained to ask whether given the scope of work and the terms of reference of the GAC commissioned forensic audit the results of the exercise will uncover anything substantive that may further incriminate members of the Technical Economic Management Team(TEMT) headed by Finance Minister Tweah.
According to observers, it appears as though strenuous and conscious efforts are being made to change the narrative, deriving from the PIT report which had firmly placed the Finance Minister as the person leading the exercise. This view is apparently informed by the fact that it was the Finance Minister who had publicly announced that he took the decision to use money exchangers rather than the commercial banks because in his expressed opinion at the time, such an approach would not have yielded the desired results.
And now a newly emergent official narrative attributes handling of the mop-up exercise solely to the CBL. But statements attributed to Charles Sirleaf, when interviewed by the PIT, urged investigators to direct their questions to the Finance Minister who he told investigators handled the infusion exercise.
This newspaper is indeed troubled by findings in the PIT report declaring that authorities of the CBL prevented members of the team from accessing the vaults of the CBL in order to do confirmation checks on the actual amount of Liberian dollar and other foreign currency banknotes stored in its vaults.
Legal observers opine that what is actually needed is a Special Prosecutor with subpoena powers to actually get to the bottom of this entire affair. The public is left wondering, for example, why CBL authorities barred entry to its vaults by PIT members if indeed CBL officials it had nothing to hide.
It can also be recalled that the FrontPage Africa newspaper in a story carried in its October 8, 2018 edition under the headline, “Missing Appendix Pages Hold Key to Total Amount of Liberian Dollars Printed By CBL”, is quoted as challenging authorities of the CBL to allow lawmakers into its vaults to see the LD15.5 billion it claimed it had in stock.
Representative Solomon George said at the time, “The bank has come out with another explanation to confuse the Liberian people. Anything outside of the authorized L$5 billion is robbery, broad-day robbery. This governor is saying they audited the papers and yes the money was taken to the vaults. We are requesting as the people’s representatives — can you take us to where the money is being kept? We heard the money was brought in containers and bags, so take us to see the billions in the vault.”
Well, as the records show, Representative George’s request was treated with benign concern by CBL authorities. Five months later the PIT has come up with the same position clearly stating that CBL authorities were non cooperative, baring them entry to the CBL’s vault to do a physical count. And as President Weah has now charged the GAC to conduct a forensic audit, concerns are that the CBL may also refuse to fully cooperate, especially since the GAC lacks subpoena powers.
In view of the above, this newspaper calls on President Weah to give more teeth to the GAC by arming the forensic auditors with subpoena powers to compel the compliance of officials of the CBL who are on record for having thwarted efforts by both teams, Kroll and PIT to produce requested documents and to access the Bank’s vaults.
President Weah must realize that he has much at stake and nothing to gain from going down the wire simply to protect a few sacred cows. It is just not worth it Mr. President. It is now high time to part Company with corrupt individuals whose actions can only harm and not help you nor the nation, cher President. The question now lingering on the minds of the public is, can this GAC audit make a difference if CBL and TEMT officials remain uncooperative?