Liberia: Central Bank and Govt Locked In “War of Words”

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – March 5, 2019: The Swedish based currency manufacturing company involved in the biggest financial scandal in the West African country of Liberia is pushing back strongly against Economic Sabotage charges by the Liberian Government.

Crane Currency
Crane Currency

In a 13 – page consolidated response to the charges, a copy of which is in the possession of the West African Journal Magazine, Crane Currency explained that it negotiated and entered into two currency printing contracts on May 6, 2016 and July 28, 2017 with the Government of Liberia through representatives of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).

According to the company, “Crane entered into both contracts in reasonable reliance on the CBL’s apparent authority to lawfully award and enter into the subject contracts. At all points, Crane worked with officials from the CBL to enter into and perform under the contracts and to agree all changes in writing. Each contract was subsequently amended by mutual agreement in writing between the aCBL and Crane to include the delivery of additional over-produced banknotes and to reflect changes in CBLs shipping requirements9e.g.) by overnight rather than by sea, to accommodate the CBL’s accelerated schedule.) All changes were memorialized in exchanges of letters, emails and invoice statements…,” the company said.

On April 1, 2019, the Government of Liberia, through its Department of Justice, issued a statement in which it said that it “… categorically rejects claims made by Crane Currency in a statement issued on March 21, 2019, that it has not been charged with any crime in Liberia. To the contrary, Crane Currency and officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), both current and past, were charged and indicted on March 4, 2019 for Economic Sabotage, Criminal Conspiracy and Criminal Facilitation, in the printing of excess Liberia Dollar Banknotes…”

Crane Currency said it fulfilled contractual agreement to the CBL as set out in the two contractual delivery agreements and in documented proof for the printing of additional banknotes which the Liberian Government is alleging in its indictment. The total contractual payment to Crane for the printing for the banknotes was $15,867,270.43 (Fifteen Million, Eight Hundred and Sixty Seven Thousand, Two Hundred and Seventy Dollars and Forty Three cents). In denying any impropriety in the fulfillment of its contractual obligation to the CBL, the currency printer disclosed that the 2016 Contract contained the following:

Denomination Quantity (pieces)
L $5 15,000,000
L$10 10,000,000
L$20 10,000,000
L$50 20,000,000
L$10 26,250,000
L$500 2,000,000
Total $83,250,000

Crane further disclosed in its statement that the original 2017 Contract contained:

 

Denomination Quantity (pieces)
L$5 6,000,000
L$10 35,000,000
L$20 50,000,000
L$50 15,000,000
L$100 50,000,000
L$500 5,740,000
Total 161,740,000

Crane is insisting that, “The agreements in writing for additional ‘good banknotes’ increased these originally contracted quantities to the totals actually delivered, as set out in the consolidated response…” and provided copies of signature pages for the two contracts with the CBL.

Liberia Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean
Liberia Justice Minister Counselor Frank Musa Dean

But the Liberian Government, in its statement, held that, “During the investigation by the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT), the airway and seaway bills, along with the packing lists clearly established that Crane printed 18.6 billion Liberian dollars banknotes, over the 15 billion Liberia dollar banknotes it was contracted to print…” At issue in the biggest financial scandal is the question of who authorized senior bank officials to amend the contract for the printing of additional banknotes totaling $18.6 billion LD.

“The Ministry of Justice also states that Crane Currency’s claims that it did not print and deliver excess Liberian Dollar Banknotes to the CBL is not supported by the facts, as contained in the Reports of The Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) and Kroll Associates, In (Kroll). These claims by Crane are totally without merit, not made in good faith, not supported by the records at the CBL and Crane Currency’s own records, submitted to the PIT and Kroll, ” the Government of Liberia said.

But Crane Currency rejects the PIT REPORT SECTION 5.2.2d and says after conducting its own forensic examination, it was able to identify areas where shipping records do not support the conclusions made in the PIT report. “Crane has conducted a forensic examination of Packing Lists (produced by Crane to notify the customer of what is in the shipment leaving the prints works), Air Way Bills (produced by the Airline to record what should be transported) and Air Cargo Manifests (produced by the Aircraft crew to record what has actually been transported on a particular aircraft)…”

In its attempt to explain the discrepancy in the shipping data, Crane said, “…for the 2017 Contract, the PIT report counts deliveries by two Brussels Airlines flights that were in fact canceled. As a result, the report double counts deliveries (the flights that were canceled and the flights that actually happened) and overstates the total number of banknotes delivered to Liberia by 2,645 (Two Million, Six Hundred and Forty Five Thousand) Liberian Dollars. Records of Air way and sea way bills were included in Crane Currency response to buttress its assertion that it undertook the two contracts as agreed.

Between 2016 – 2018, a total of twenty shipments which included the physical movements of Liberian banknotes to the CBL were conducted. There were six shipments for the 2016 Contract; 2 by air and 4 by sea and 14 shipments for 2017 Contract: 7 by air and 7 by sea. On the question of whether the CBL received the twenty shipments of banknotes, Crane Currency explained that freight company would be the entity to confirm delivery to the destination in Liberia.

Accused and Indicted Liberia Central Bank Officials
Accused and Indicted Liberia Central Bank Officials

A former Executive Governor of the Bank Milton Weeks and a current Deputy Charles Sirleaf along with another CBL official Dorbor Hagba were arrested and jailed shortly after the release of the Kroll and PIT forensic reports and implicated in the overprinting. They are free on bail pending trial.

“The Ministry of Justice wishes to emphasize that after receiving Crane Currency’s reaction to their Reports, both Kroll and PIT have stated that they stand by their Findings regarding the printing of excess Liberian dollar Banknotes by Crane Currency,” the Government of Liberia said.

The big financial scandal has damaged confidence and reputation of the Government of Liberia and Central Bank. The case goes to trial in May at the Criminal Court C in Monrovia.

It is unknown if Crane Currency will appear to answer the charges laid by the Government of Liberia.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: CBL Quietly Appoints New Executive Director

Monrovia, Liberia – April 3, 2019: The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has a new Executive Director.

Jay Gbleh-bo Brown of CBL
Jay Gbleh-bo Brown of CBL

He is a bank insider who was promoted from the position of Deputy Director of Insurance in the Regulations and Supervision to the position of Chief of Staff equivalent to the rank of Executive Director.

A press statement issued on Tuesday by the country’s Central Bank says Mr. Jay Gbleh-bo Brown has held other positions at the bank including Deputy Director for Policy & Regulation (2017), Assistant Director – Regulations & Supervision Department (2015-2016), and Bank Examiner (2009-2014).

Mr. Brown has also served as Chair of the Financial Inclusion Working Group and represented CBL at various regional and international meetings, including the statutory meetings of the West African Monetary Zone and the IMF/World Bank Spring.

The CBL says his duties will include ensuring “that all meetings, programs and other activities of the Executive Governor are properly arranged, and appropriate follow-ups made, while as Deputy Officer-in-Charge for Operations, he has the authority to co-sign with the Officer-in-Charge for Operations on CBL’s operational and administrative matters.”

Building of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)
Building of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)

The appointment of the Bank official follows the disastrous recruitment attempt earlier this year of a ruling Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) party political appointee Hamed Sifonic , formerly known as Sidiki Fofana.  He was appointed as Executive Director.

But the West Africa Journal Magazine, through extensive investigation, discovered Sifonic submitted fraudulent academic credentials to the Management of the Central Bank which also conducted its due diligence Since Sifonic was still in his probationary period, the Bank quietly revoked his appointment. The position had been vacant since until now with the appointment of the new Chief of Staff and Deputy Officer-in-Charge for Operations Mr. Brown.

The Liberian Central Bank’s image has been battered by a major scandal which it still trying to recover from. Two individuals, including a former Governor and a current Deputy, were indicted, arrested and detained briefly following the release of two forensic audits in which they were allegedly implicated. Former Bank Governor Milton Weeks and Deputy Governor Charles Sirleaf are out on bail pending prosecution by the Government of Liberia.

The new Bank official Mr. Brown’s appointment takes immediate effect, the press statement said.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: Central Bank New Executive Director Sidiki Fofana Has Troubling Past

Philadelphia, PA and Monrovia, Liberia – February 1, 2019: An investigation conducted by the West African Journal Magazine into a new employee in a senior level position at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has revealed some troubling information.

Mr. Sidiki Sekou Fofana, also known as Sidiki Fofana, and now goes by Hamed Sifonic in Liberia, a former resident of the cities of Darby and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, the United States, has since assumed the position of Executive Bank Director since January 1, 2019 in the Weah Administration in the small and impoverished West African country.

Sidiki Fofana Dossier
Sidiki Fofana Dossier

A 79 page dossier of public records obtained from Pennsylvania state government and other public data contained the following on Mr. Fofana:

  1. Parking Offense
  2. Driving an Unregistered vehicle
  3. Allowing the Illegal Use of a License plate/card
  4. Operating A Vehicle Without Insurance
  5. Operating a Vehicle With Inspection
  6. Improper Pass On The Right
  7. Driving on the Wrong Way
  8. Careless Driving
  9. Failure To Yield
  10. Failure To Yield To Work Vehicle and
  11. Illegal Parking Where Official Sign Prohibit
magisterialcourtdoc-philadelphia
Magisterial Court Docs – Pennsylvania

Mr. Fofana whose position is not directly reflected in the bank’s current organizational structure also had several liens and judgements filed against him in the City of Philadelphia:

  1. Federal lien for $5,749 filed on November 5, 2010
  2. Civil Judgment for $4,475 filed on August 9, 2012
  3. Civil Lien for $2,355 filed on July 6, 2012
  4. Civil Judgment for $1,763 filed on August 20, 2012
  5. Civil Judgement for $1,140 filed on April 2, 2012
  6. Civil Judgment filed for $1,458 filed on July 28, 2011
  7. Civil Judgment filed for $1,100 filed on July 2, 2011
  8. Civil Judgment for $1,613 filed on August 26, 2011 and
  9. Civil Judgment for $895 filed on August 5, 2018

The most egregious offense include a charge of Retail Theft of Merchandise by Mr. Fofana on May 29, 2018. He initially pleaded Not Guilty on June 19, 2018 and recently as of November 21, 2018, pleaded guilty in a Magisterial Court in Pennsylvania. Penalty was imposed and Fofana paid $210.25 and the case was closed.

sidikisekoufofana
Mr. Sidiki Sekou Fofana

Fofana was also booked on December 18, 2016 and charged with the misdemeanor of Driving Under the Influence with a high rate Blood Level Alcohol (BAC ) of .10 to under .16 detected by a breathalyzer test. In Pennsylvania, “…The first time you are arrested and convicted for drunk driving in the State of Pennsylvania you will receive 6 months of probation and a $300 fine if your BAC was between .08-.99. If your BAC was from .10-.159 you will receive from 2 days to 6 months of prison time prison, a $500-$5,000 fine and a 12 month driver’s license suspension. One drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor (40% alcohol), 12 ounces of beer (4.5% alcohol), or 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol). Under current Pennsylvania law, (.08 BAC and higher) is legally intoxicated.

Since it was his first offense, he was diverted to an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)  which is  a special pre-trial intervention program in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States for non-violent offenders with no prior or limited record. Defendants in an ARD program are placed under supervision which is also similar to probation.

centralbankofliberiabuilding
Central Bank of Liberia Building In Monrovia

Senior level employees of the Central Bank including the Governor, his Deputy, and those in operational roles, as would Mr. Fofana, are required to be “persons of good standing and unimpeachable character from the business and academic communities with experience and expertise in business, banking, finance , economics and management…” according to the Bank. Fofana has no real professional experience which he brings to the banking sector in Liberia which has been dogged by a “missing $16 billion” scandal. It is unclear if relevant authorities and citizens are aware of the information from the past of Fofana.

He has, however, transitioned to Liberia and is already functioning in his position which is considered critically strategic since he will have access to highly confidential information, contribute to decision-making and oversee general administrative operations at the Central Bank.

The Weah Administration has been dogged by charges of appointing incompetent individuals with no professional experience and in some instances, troublesome legal past.

liberia-political-map
Political Map of Liberia

In a separate development, Liberia’s Central Bank is establishing a “robust” credit reference system to help address the issue of non-performing loans (NPLs). President George M. Weah, in his State of the Union address on Monday, disclosed that the Non-Performing Loans remain a challenge for his government. CBL data showed total NPLs of total loans stood at 163% last April but declined to 12.3 % last July.

“The central bank is taking steps … to address the issue of non-performing loans,” the Liberia President told citizens.

(This story has been updated)

By Our Correspondents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Monrovia, Liberia

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: An Analysis of $25M USD Emergency Cash Infusion Into The Economy; What’s In it For Liberians?

President George M. Weah
President George M. Weah

The recent pronouncement by President George Weah that his administration will embark on several emergency measures to stabilize the free fall of the Liberian economy needs some intrusive review so that the lay person can grasp some understanding of how this approach will directly impact them.

The pending $25 million USD infusion into the Liberian economy through the Central Bank to buy back the excess Liberia dollar circulating will impact the availability of hard currency on the market. The presumption is that the ordinary Liberian person will now change their preference in the way they split their money between holding cash or making a deposit in any of the commercial banks with the expectation that they can withdraw as much USD as they would like at any given time. As it stands now, the economy is flushed with depressed Liberia dollars including counterfeited currency.

This also pre-supposes that there is a sudden elevation in the confidence of the public in banking institutions. Comparatively, when there is an increase in USD deposits deposits, there will be an increase in the quantity available to banks to service various requests from the ordinary person and businesses. Again it is a presumptuous and naive stance to think along these lines.

The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), by statute, is the highest monetary monitor of the West African country and plays a pivotal role in money regulation to maintain stability of the currencies value. However, stability of value of currencies, especially the Liberian dollar, is not just the only motive or goal which underlie the monetary policy framed and managed by the CBL. There are various factors like inflationary pressures, status of Liberia’s exports and overall economic development which drive policy measures.

So, to what benefit is the infusion of $25 million USD in a struggling economy? Is government prepared to fully bail out the economy with additional hard currency infusion without a plan, investments or long term positive returns?

Why has there not been a stress test undertaken to test the financial viability of the Central Bank, commercial banks and insurance institutions – all who undertake major financial interactions that impact the ordinary Liberian?

According to Trading Economic  website, “Liberia recorded a government debt equivalent to 28.80 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017. Government Debt to GDP in Liberia averaged 224.79 percent from 2004 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 720.73 percent in 2004 and a record low of 17.80 percent in 2014.”

It is evident that the Liberia dollar depreciation is based on local and international supply and demand and a preference for the stable US dollar which is used for imports. The Extractive industry which generates hard currency is under pressure from global factors and Liberia has not re-positioned its expectations and resources to absorb the shock of this loss of much needed hard currency.
There is no national economic innovation or vision from the Executive branch down to the ordinary person  and who, by the way, is dependent on effective government policies.

Money Changers

In a capitalist society as Liberia, the goal is to make a profit off any business endeavor. Money changers play a vital role in foreign exchange monetary transactions.

Money Changer
Money Changer in Liberia

Since the ordinary person or business cannot confidently go to the CBL or most commercial banks and have their requests for foreign exchange adequately serviced, they resort to the informal sector or un-regulated money changers. The risk of investment in the foreign exchange business by individuals means that they see themselves as serving a need that a weak government and Central Bank cannot adequately service; the provision of hard currency. The attending pressure on the Liberian dollar and its free fall against the US dollar is one consequence of the un-regulated regime of doing business as a money changer.

Because of the scarcity of USD, the petty trader and medium-to-big business “buy” US dollars or the equivalent in Liberian dollar for the purchase of goods and services internally and outside the country from the un-regulated money changers and are forced to increase the price of goods in order to recoup their capital and make a small profit for subsistence in the economic theater.

A lot of currencies float outside of the banking system and the domino effect is that “everyone” suffers from the high prices of commodities all around. Since the monetary black market is alive and well, there are suggestions that Government institute some verifiable and licensing for authorized money changers, hotels, RIA, the National Port, etc like they do for Western Union, Money Gram and commercial banks. But the efficacy of licensing money changers is only as good as implementation, incentives to the public and  enforcement and credibility of the CBL and government.

If it is convenient to go to a money changer hidden in the dark economy or black market, then the public will do so; the money changers will thrive and the high rate of the currencies disparity will persist.

Map of Liberia
Map of Liberia

If the Liberian government doesn’t understand the pinch and bind of the ordinary person, it means that they are un-prepared to address the declining state of the economy. and there will be consequences.

What the Liberian government has not fully explained is how the “buy back” of the depressed Liberian dollars will occur. Will the ordinary Liberian or businesses be able to walk into a commercial bank and exchange their Liberian dollars for US Dollars and at what rate? What policies and systems are there to discourage the external and physical flight of US Dollars once they  leave the vaults of the commercial banks and the CBL?

Economic Pressures

In a report issued November, 2017 by the <em>International Monetary Fund (IMF) entitled, Seventh and Eight Reviews Under The Extended Credit Facility Arrangement , And Request for Waiver of Non-Observance Criteria – Debt Sustainability Analysis, the organization concluded that “…Continued debt vulnerabilities call for a prudent debt management policy, a credible path of revenue mobilization and fiscal consolidation, and structural reforms to promote growth and economic diversification. The DSA shows that Liberia’s risk of debt distress remains moderate. The authorities agreed with staff’s assessment and share staff’s concerns about debt vulnerabilities. The authorities emphasize the importance of strengthening much-needed infrastructure while respecting the debt limits under the ECF. To keep the debt distress risk at moderate, they intend to continue prioritizing grants and concessional loans for pro-growth projects. Moreover, to enhance debt management capacity, (i) information flows between thelegislature, the President’s office, and the DMU of MFDP need to improve; and (ii) DMU needs to build capacity to do their own debt sustainability analysis and to update a medium-term debt strategy (MTDS) as needed. As Liberia remains vulnerable to external shocks (e.g., commodity price shocks) as a commodity exporter, the authorities need to be committed to a prudent borrowing strategy, the prioritization of pro-growth projects, and the diversification of the economy to make it more resilient to external shocks. Creating much needed fiscal space to meet social and development needs (one of the main pillars of the ECF-supported program) remains important and efforts on fiscal consolidation and revenue mobilization need to continue. While fiscal consolidation will be needed to keep a sustainable debt trajectory, the nature of the fiscal adjustment should not jeopardize critical spending for poverty reduction and productivity.”

MicroFinance Unit -CBL
MicroFinance Unit -CBL

The IMF’s signal to Liberia in that report, and in effect to the Weah Administration, is that no new loans would be forthcoming due to the risk of some potential debt distress. Liberia needs a serious approach to international borrowing and management of its resources.

Credit Rating Impact

Major investors, credit rating agencies and sovereign wealth funds, as part of their best practices and due diligence, undertake the review and use of credit ratings; Liberia being no exception. The credit rating of the country has a huge impact on its borrowing facilities and costs. Sadly, Liberia’s credit rating as cited by Standard & Poor, Moody’s, Fitch and DBRS is at 15; between 100 (riskless) and 0 (likely to default).

The rating is described as “speculative”. This designation is a red flag for investors and international borrowing facilities. The direct impact of a “speculative” designation is impacting the cost of food in Liberia.

According to website Trading Economics, “the cost of food in Liberia increased 20.10 percent in April of 2018 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in Liberia averaged 10.97 percent from 2007 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 39.24 percent in August of 2008 and a record low of -4.24 percent in August of 2009”.

The CBL in its 2017 Annual Report admitted that “…the accompanying increase in the prices of petroleum products and food (rice) are likely to increase payments towards imports, possibly outweighing the increase in export prices, and inducing biflationary pressure…”

Gov. Weeks welcoming new Acting CBL Board Governor, Nathaniel Patray as Deputy Governor Sirleaf looks on
Former Gov. Weeks welcoming new Acting CBL Board Governor Nathaniel Patray

Other factors which impact the ability of Liberia to attract serious notice include the prevalence of graft in all sectors of society, a weak judiciary system, lack of major and reliable economic infrastructures, lack of technical and human capacity and poor financial structures and policies.

These complex and relative issues discussed mean little for the ordinary Liberian except what he/she wants change to happen quickly; economic change that puts food on the table and supports thrivability in tough economic times.

But The “Weah Economic Team” has not successfully communicated in lay terms what these challenges are nor do they have a rough blue-print on how the lay person will make it through the end of this week.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Press Statement: IMF Executive Board Concludes 2018 Article IV Consultation with Liberia

On June 8, 2018, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation [1] with Liberia.

A new government is in place, with a mandate to achieve ambitious development objectives. Liberia’s economy appears poised for recovery, as growth bottomed out in 2016 and edged to 2.5 percent in 2017.

However, Liberia remains fragile with poor living conditions for the majority of the population. Moreover, a decline in aid inflows, which were elevated during 2014–16, has put pressure on the exchange rate and fiscal resources.

The government is thus facing the daunting task of pursuing a demanding development agenda in the face of high expectations, while also managing near-term adjustments and safeguarding macroeconomic stability.

Liberia Fiancé and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah

All the elements of the government’s medium-term development agenda have not been fully outline. The baseline scenario presented in this Article IV consultation is staff’s interpretation of the authorities’ stated policies as articulated at the time of the March 2018 mission.

The resulting analysis yielded insights into various sustainability issues. However, assuming the implementation of sound policies, the medium-term outlook appears favorable. The main upside risk is an increase in commodity prices and output, while downside risks include difficulties in mobilizing resources to fill the financing gap and in pursuing structural and institutional reforms.

Executive Board Assessment

Executive Directors noted that Liberia’s economy appears poised for recovery, but that significant fragilities remain, as reflected in the pressure on the exchange rate and on fiscal resources resulting from declining aid inflows.

Map of Liberia

Assuming sound policies, Directors agreed that the medium‑term outlook is favorable, albeit with risks. Directors welcomed the authorities’ pro‑poor agenda and noted that macroeconomic stability is essential for advancing this agenda. They stressed the critical need to mobilize resources, ensure debt sustainability, and pursue structural and institutional reforms to achieve higher growth and reduce poverty.

Directors underscored the need to anchor fiscal policy with the goal of ensuring debt sustainability over the medium term. Directors urged the authorities to increase efforts to mobilize additional domestic resources, including by enhancing the IT system of the revenue authority to improve tax compliance and efficiency.

They also emphasized that improved governance, and greater fiscal transparency and accountability are key to improving spending efficiency. Directors welcomed the authorities’ efforts to contain the public wage bill and encouraged redirection of budgetary expenditures to capital spending, especially for rebuilding infrastructure.

Central Bank of Liberia logo

Directors emphasized that future debt obligations should be undertaken transparently, limiting new debt to concessional terms, with effective implementation of infrastructure projects.

Directors underscored that maintaining macroeconomic stability will also hinge on effective implementation of monetary policy. To equip the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) with effective operational tools, its recapitalization would be necessary. Directors also stressed the need to safeguard international reserves, and preserve governance principles and central bank independence.

Directors highlighted the need to strengthen the external position by allowing greater exchange rate flexibility, while maintaining price stability, instituting structural reforms to improve productivity and competitiveness, and by reducing the public saving‑investment gap.

Directors underscored the need to reduce risk in the banking sector. This would entail actions to reduce nonperforming loans, including by clearing government obligations to the banks, and completion of the implementation of the CBL’s Action Plan of reform.

Directors noted that the remittance surrender requirement, while currently appropriate, should be lifted when foreign exchange market conditions allow.

Flag of Liberia

Directors acknowledged that while there has been a recent improvement in trade and aid data, serious data shortcomings still need to be addressed. They urged continued enhancement of data quality, especially in national accounts and external data.

Directors also underscored the key role of capacity development and technical assistance for Liberia.

IMF Press Statement