Africa

Liberia: How Did A Huge Container of Liberian Dollars Vanish?

Central Bank of Liberia

A serious case of  “what happened to the money?”  has broken wide open in Liberia involving a huge quantity of local currency which has gone missing. Initial rumblings of the “disappearance” of a container of Liberian dollars started surfacing a two weeks ago in various quarters in Liberia.

But the Weah Administration has maintained a “hush-hush” about the disappearance of the currency until now.

On Monday, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issued a press statement in which it officially confirmed that an investigation of the matter was underway by multi-sector government agencies including the Liberia National Police, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) .

Statement of Liberia Justice Ministry

According to the country’s Ministry of Justice, the named agencies are “…mandated to investigate information surrounding the arrival of a container and bags of moneys into the country by and thru the Freeport of Monrovia and the Roberts International Airport (RIA). Initial findings indicate that the container and bags of moneys allegedly arrived between November, 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current Government, and August, 2018. Evidence available to the investigative Team has established that the current administration was not informed about the arrival of the containers and bags of moneys into the country, the Liberian Government statement said…”

Although the Government has remained mum on the exact amount which has gone missing, estimates put the figure at between $6 – 9 billion LD.

The controversy is raising eyebrows as to the issues covered between the Weah Transition Team and the outgoing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government in January.

On December, 25, 2017, outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in anticipation of the inauguration of a new Administration in January, 2018, signed an Executive Order setting up the Joint Presidential Transition Team (JPTT). The 15 person team on the Government’s side comprised the Miinisters of States and Presidential Affairs (Chief of Staff), Justice, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Development Planning, Internal Affairs and National Defense. Other appointed were the Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and Head of the Presidential Guard as well as others named to the team per the discretion of President Johnson-Sirleaf.

The incoming Congress for Democratic Change political party also formulated a 15 member team which was seconded to the JPTT.

On January 2, then President-Elect George M. Weah and then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf co-chaired a meeting of the JPTT whose life-span ended on January 31, 2018 after the inauguration of the new government. A press statement issued following that meeting disclosed that “… the transitional team discussed the Executive Order 91 which created the team and the setting up of a secretariat and formulation of a plan of action.

President George M. Weah and Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The Government representatives briefed the incoming administration on matters regarding the economy and national security…”

According to Act establishing a key member of the Transition Team on the Government side was the Central Bank of Liberia, which, according to the Act establishing it has the functional independence, power and authority to:

(1) issue legal tender bank notes and coins;

(2) administer the currency laws and regulate the supply of money;

(3) provide credit to bank- financial institutions on a discretionary basis;

(4) act as fiscal agent for the Government;

(5) administer the New Financial Institutions Act of 1999 and regulate banking

activities;

(6) regulate bank and non-bank financial institutions, as well as non-bank financial

services institutions;

(7) hold and manage the foreign exchange reserves of Liberia, including gold;

(8) advise the Government on financial and economic matters;

(9) conduct foreign exchange operations;

(10) play an active role in collaboration with bank-financial institutions in the

creation and maintenance of efficient and safe mechanisms for payments,

clearing and settlements to meet the needs of the financial markets, commerce,

government agencies and the general public. The Central Bank shall execute

this responsibility through permanent consultations with the bank-financial

institutions and through implementation of the proper regulations and standards,

as needed.

It is unclear if the the current Government was actually briefed at the Transition Meetings on the specific issue of the pending delivery of a large amount of currency through the major ports and if not, whether some lawmakers who served in the last Legislature and were part of the Weah Transition Team knew of the pending arrival of the huge quantity of bank notes into the country.

Liberia And US Dollars

The Liberian economy has been decimated from the effects of back-to-back wars between 1990 – 2003 and the devastating Ebola pandemic in 2014.

Over the last few years, the depreciating revenue streams from the extractive industries, local tax base coupled with fiscal challenges have placed additional pressure on the Liberia government’s ability to rein in inflation. The free fall of the LD has led to decrease earning power of the ordinary Liberians and high commodity prices in the face of a scarcity of the preferred and coveted US dollars on the market. The new administration of the Central Bank has engaged local money changers in discussion to develop measures to control the unregulated market.

Speaker Bhofal Chambers

The Speaker of the House of Representatives Mr. Bhofal Chambers disclosed in July that the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was warned against the printing of huge quantities of bank notes to avoid flooding the Liberian market.

In 2016, the Legislature agreed to a bill which would facilitate the printing of more Liberian bank notes as a way to ease the economic pressure at the time. A law passed in 2017 by the Legislature made the Liberian dollar the sole currency for monetary transactions but the US dollar remained dominant in spite of these quick fix measures.

In a separate development, the Liberia National Police, in July, blamed increased counterfeit bank notes on a porous border. While Liberians are now demanding answers on the matter, the country’s Justice Ministry says investigation into the disappearance of the large sum of LD currency is active.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine