Liberia: Looming Money Shortage At Banks Sparks Anxiety

Monrovia, 12 Dec 2018: Stern refusal  by commercial banks in the Liberian capital to fully honor withdrawal requests from customers in two consecutive days this week citing shortage of money supply at those banks is arousing arouses anxiety among Liberians during the ensuing festive holiday season.
Liberian Bank For Development and Investment
Liberian Bank For Development and Investment

Local media Wednesday quoted many customers who are complaining that commercial banks they visited failed to disburse the amounts the customers wanted to withdraw.

Customers complained that tellers just gave out 5000 Liberian dollars to some who wanted LD25,000, while many others returned home empty handed after embarrassed tellers remarked: “We, cannot give out what is not available.”
One frustrated customer said, “I walked home  Wednesday empty handed because I paid my last (money) to go  in town to the bank”
But Central Bank Executive Governor Nathaniel Patray denied liquidity shortage at the banks without citing explicit assurances. The parity rate between the US dollar to Liberian dollar is $1USD to $157 LD.
Commercial banks giving customers with this bad news when conclusive investigation into the reported “missing of LD15.5 billion” remains a pipe dream.
Local Monery Changer In Liberia
Local Monery Changer In Liberia

Accountability campaigners are also up in arms and demanding judicious explanation about what Finance Minister Samuel Tweah did with the US$25 million stimulus package that President George Weah announced was infused into the economy to stabilize the Liberian dollar against the rising US currency.

Minister Tweah reportedly said he directly exchanged $15 million of the amount with forex bureau operators outside of the official banking system. He has yet to identity, let alone, explain what happened to the balance $10 million USD.
Liberians on various social media platforms have been venting anger frustration at the deteriorating economic condition and hard times they are experiencing.
By Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief
West 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

Liberia: “Liberia Is Actually Broke,” Says House Speaker After Hearing From Central Bank

Contrary to conflicting statements by incumbent President George M. Weah and former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on the state of the Country’s economy, the House of Representatives has confirmed that Liberia is actually broke.

Lawmakers Listening To Address
Some Liberian Lawmakers At Capitol Building

House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, after hours of closed-door session disclosed that after listening to Central Bank of Liberia’s Governor, Milton Weeks and the Ministry of Finance, Development Planning, it was confirmed that the country is broke as was previously stated by President George M. Weah in his annual address.

According to information gathered from sources at the Capitol Building, the seat of the country’s Legislature, members of the House of Representatives are believed to be hiding some basic information from the public which has the propensity of creating doubts in the minds of the people that elected them as their representatives.

Our sources at the House of Representatives said the CBL disclosed that the funds that the former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf spoke of, in the country’s reserve account, is over US$300 million but can be used  after a specific period of time; the time which is yet to be specified.

Political observers are saying if those lawmakers are concealing public information from the citizens of Liberia then they are afraid that Liberians will continue to live below the poverty line because of the lawmakers’ inability to tell them the current state of the nation’s economy.

City Map of Liberia
City Map of Liberia

After hours of a closed-door session on Thursday, the issue of releasing the proper information as to whether the country’s economy is actually broken, as President Weah said, was not clear thereby leaving doubts on the minds of many.

In President George Weah’s first State of the Nation address, he informed the citizens that the West African country’s economy is broken and that the country is broke. But contrary to his statement, former President Sirleaf, in an interview on the BBC, claimed that she left more than US$400 million in the nation’s treasury; something that has caused serious concern among the populace.

The two conflicting statements by President George M. Weah that Liberia’s treasury is empty and the government is broke and former President Sirleaf’s revelation caused the lawmakers to invite the three public financial institutions to give a clear picture of the state of the nation’s economy.

In his testimony in the Chamber of the House Thursday,  Central Bank Governor Weeks said as of January 22, 2018 the bank has  over US$5 million and the amount of over L$500 million.

Also speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, Development Planning, the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Samora Wolokollie disclosed that when the CDC-led Government took over, the country had over US$11 million and L$600 million respectively which summed up to US$ 16 million.

Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf-MS
Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf

Our correspondent in the Liberian capital reports that the baffling question is who is really telling the truth on the state of the nation’s financial standing; as President Weah has said that the nation is seriously broke while former President Sirleaf has claimed that the country is not broke?

Meantime, some Liberian social media posters are heavily criticizing the former Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf and asking the current administration to conduct an audit of her government.

By Lincoln Barcon in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine