Liberia: Several Names Linked as Possible Replacement as Exit Deadline Nears for CBL Governor
Monrovia – Running out of options and his own pronouncement regarding the departure of Mr. Nathaniel Patray as governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, President George Manneh Weah is said to be racing against time in a bid to fill the void and state of uncertainty at the CBL even as murmurs surrounding the announcement of a vetting committee point to more delays and Governor Patray’s own reported reluctance to step aside.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
In his own words, President Weah on May 29, 2019 announced a timeline for Mr. Patray to take his bow from the bank. “The Executive Governor is scheduled for age-related mandated retirement in the next three months. During that period, we will work to transition the bank to a new management.”
Last month, Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Smith Toby, looking to address growing concerns over the president’s failure to name a replacement, disclosed that the President will name an appointment and restructure the leadership of the Bank this month.
The President had appointed Mr. Patray to succeed Mr. J. Milton Weeks whose unexpired term runs out in 2021. But despite the President’s pronouncement, Mr. Patray is said to be angling a delay over is quest for a whopping US$500,000 package.
Ironically, according to the Act creating the CBL in the case of the resignation of the Executive Governor prior to his end of term, an appointment will be made to complete the unexpired term of the previous governor.
Multiple sources have confirmed to FPA that Mr. Patray has been reluctant to leave while the issue of his package remains unresolved.
His presence at the CBL continues to raise eyebrows amongst stakeholders at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank unhappy over the rocketing wage bill Mr. Patray has created since his appointment. The appointees mostly unqualified, according to sources are said to be in the range of between 300 to 400 in less than a year.
The President acknowledged in his pronouncement last June, that the overhaul was necessary to restore confidence in the monetary regulatory body beset with scandals and derailing efforts to resuscitate the dwindling economy.
Although the CBL Act gives the President appointing power to name a governor, the goal of setting up a vetting committed was intended to bring credibility to the bank in the wake of a wave of scandals in the last year, notably, the missing billions saga.
Former Governor Weeks and his deputy, Charles Sirleaf are currently in court battling charges relating to the missing LD16 billion. It was on that basis that Patray was appointed to complete the term.
Over the past few days, a growing number of the President’s aides are said to be putting a number of names on the table in hopes of finally addressing the uncertainty issues at the CBL.
Names in the Air
Among those reportedly being considered are current Education Minister Professor Ansu Sonii, Mr. John Davis, President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment, former Finance Minister and World Bank technocrat, Dr. Antoinette Sayeh and Boimah Kamara, also a former Finance Minister and former Executive at the CBL among others.
PROFESSOR D .ANSU SONII
Prior to being named Education Minister, Professor Sonii spent a great deal of time as an accountant, serving as financial controller or head of Finance for several entities in the private sector. He is best known for his stint a taught accounting at the University of Liberia where he worked for many years. During the dog days of the former administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Sonii was vocal in asserting that investors tended to “play safe and hold on” to their money as the economy was on the verge of a meltdown. “They want to know if that person is going to introduce a policy that will interfere with their investments or even undo” them, or even “whether that person will be sanctioned by the international community,” Sonii told Agence France Press. Many were baffled that Sonii ended up at education where he has struggled since his appointment rather than the financial sector.
Professor is a former Vice President for Administration at the University of Liberia. He previously served as Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean of the College of Business and Public Administration, and the Chairman of the Department of Accounting of the University of Liberia.
He was recently awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the College Council of the Starz College of Science and Technology, where he served as the commencement speaker at the second annual graduation ceremony. He reportedly holds a Master’s Degree in Accounting and is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he has provided a range of financial services to private sector clients.
Critics have argued that the Professor was misplaced and many in the President’s circle see him more suited for a role in the financial sector. However, there are some concerns regarding whether Sonii fits the mold of what is needed now a firm hand to help steer the economy to safe landing.
JOHN B.S. DAVIS III
The current head of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment(LBDI) is said to be President Weah’s preferred choice although chatters of bankruptcy at the LBDI in recent months have tested Davis’s ability to perform under the pressure expected for whoever eventually land the position.
Davis, through a bank statement, shot down the reports recently, dismissing some media speculations that the bank was on the verge of closure due to default on loans, mainly from Minister of State Nathaniel McGill and a road contractor, Tony Lawal, Chief Executive Officer of Praise Gloria Lawal.
An official statement from LBDI says the bank continues to remain financially sound. “LBDI wishes to assure its valued customers, stakeholders, partners and the general public that despite the general economic challenges, the Bank continues to remain financially sound and assures the public that all of its Branches across the country remain open for business,” the statement said.
Davis holds a Master of Accountancy from Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA and a diploma in Public Financial Management from Duke University. He previously served as Accountant General of the Republic of Liberia from May of 2010 to Jan-2012. Prior, he served in various capacities including Chief Accounting/Assistant Comptroller from 2000 – 2006; CFO and EVP for Finance Administration from 2007 to 2010. Other posts held include; Advanced level Accounting Instructor at the University of Liberia to present; Board of Trustee, AMEU; Member, Board of Directors for Center for Transparency (CENTAL).
Davis’s confirmation that Minister of State Nathaniel McGill requested a loan from the LBDI for the purchase of his US$200,000 home drew some criticisms with some still pondering the authenticity of the admission. Despite the concerns, some presidential aides see Davis as a safe pick although he is likely to endure scrutiny over his ability to stand firm in the midst of executive pressure which Governor Patray appears to be indulging.
Goanue currently works as the Director of Research and Strategic Planning of the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development. Prior to assuming the position on May 6, 2013, Mr. GOANUE served as Deputy Director of Research, Policy and Planning at the Central Bank of Liberia. He also worked at the Ministry of Finance, Republic of Liberia and the World Bank in Washington, DC. He was also a lecturer in Economics at the University of Liberia between 2006-2013. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics (Cum Laude) from the University of Liberia and a Master of Science Degree in Economics from the University of ILLINOIS, URBANA Champaign, in the United States of America, with emphasis in Monetary Economics, International Economics and Economic Policy (Computable General Equilibrium).
Goanue may not be as close to the kitchen Cabinet to warrant a serious push but some see him as a safe but credible option.
A veteran to the financial sector, Saleeby remains one of the last remaining Liberia with sound ideas on managing the economy. Recent finance ministers have turned to him for guidance when the found themselves in tight spots.
Saleeby holds a BS in Accounting from the University of Dayton, Ohio and earned his MBA, specializing in Finance, from Xavier University in Cincinnati. He later completed his DBA in Finance & Economics from Kent State University and his doctoral dissertation focused on the role of central banks in developing countries. In 1974, Saleeby became the LBDI’s youngest President and CEO at the age of 31. He returned to the World Bank in 1980, holding a variety of positions until 1997 and specializing in financial sector reforms.
Despite his vast knowledge and experience, age may not be on Saleeby’s side as it is now for Patray.
The former Finance Minister was reportedly approached for a ministerial post in the Weah government when the CDC-led government came to office last year. His refusal to accept is said to be stalling movement and those pushing for him to replace Patray.
Kamara holds a Master in Economics from the University of Ghana, a BSC in Economics from the University of Liberia where he graduated Summa Cum Laude according to his Linked-In page.
A return from an old hand from the Sirleaf era could draw some resistance from President Weah’s inner circle.
DR. ANTOINETTE SAYEH
The former Minister of Finance could bring instant credibility to the financial sector and help resuscitate the economically-challenged government.
The renowned economist previously served as the Director of the African Department at the International Monetary Fund from July 14, 2008 to August 31, 2016 and Minister of Finance in the cabinet of the Johnson-Sirleaf era. Ironically, she was the second woman in Liberia’s history to hold that position, the first being Sirleaf.
A graduate of Swathmore College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she received her MA and Ph.D in International Economic Relations, Dr. Sayeh has worked for the World Bank as country director for Benin, Niger and Togo and worked on public finance management and civil service reform in Pakistan. Her stint as Finance Minister is still regarded as one of Liberia’s finest, as she helped engineer the debt relief and put Liberia on the road to recovery after a brutal civil war.
Sayeh has stayed out of the limelight in Liberia in recent years and convincing her to comeback could prove a challenge.
The current board chair of the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission (LERC) holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) Public Policy Analysis at Kean University and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), History/Political Science @ King University.
He has previously worked as Compliance Officer and quality control team at JPMorgan Chase and Due Diligence & Monitoring at BNY Mellon Wealth Management. He has also worked as Senior Risk Officer – Client Adoption Management – Treasury Securities Services (TSS) @ Deutsche Bank and Compliance Analyst at Merrill Lynch.
Aides close to the presidency say experience concerns pose a problem for Tarlue.
A graduate from the University of Liberia with a bachelor degree in Economic and a Master in Economics from Valdosta State University, Crawford is currently a senior executive with Development Management Associates. While Crawford has a wealth of experience in the financial or economic sector. He has done economic consultancy for several government entities and advised finance ministers Amara Konneh and Samuel Tweah. Ruling party stalwarts’ credit, him with being one of the brains behind the pro-poor agenda platform. According to sources in government, Crawford made an impressive presentation at a GOL retreat in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, leaving impressions on President Weah and team.
One of the brightest economic minds in the ruling party, Professor Tarpeh is highly regarded as a financial expert and administrator with over thirty-six (36) years of executive level experience in both private and public sectors, in Liberia and abroad.
He previously served as President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Agricultural & Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB), Executive Director of the African Development Bank Group, Minister of Finance, Executive Director of the Financial Sector Reform Secretariat, Office of the President of Liberia; Managing Director of the Atlantic Finance Corporation (AFC), Executive Vice President for Africa, DNR Investment Group. Prof. Tarpeh also consulted with the ADB, the United Nations Development Program, the European Union, United States Treasury, and the Government of Mozambique.
A former Dean of the Graduate School of Business and Vice President for Fiscal Affairs & Finance, respectively at the University of Liberia, Dr. Tarpeh has served on many corporate Boards of Directors, both in the public and private sectors. Until his appointment as Minister of Commerce and Industry, Prof. Tarpeh served as lead Counsel in the TARGUS Law Group, a high-end law firm concentrating in corporate law.
Professor Tarpeh holds a Bachelors of Law (LLB) from the Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia; a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance from the I. University of Pennsylvania; a Master of Science (M.S.) in Accounting from the University of New Haven, New Haven Connecticut, USA; and a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree (BBA) in Management from the University of Liberia.
Prior to his appointment as Commerce Minister Tarpeh was said to have gotten on the bad side of President Weah. It took the interventions of several party stalwarts to put him back on the president’s good side over what many say remains an unexplained disagreement of campaign funds.
Thompson once flirted with the idea of contesting the Liberian presidency. An admirer of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Thompson once urged Liberians to appreciate Sirleaf for progress made over the twelve years of her presidency. “Despite the daily struggles, we must appreciate the progress Liberia has made in the face of challenges imposed on our national leadership by 14 years of civil war, the Ebola crisis, the UNMIL drawdown, plus falling iron ore and rubber prices,” he said in 2016.
Despite his admiration for the former President, Thompson, while toying with a presidential quest, cautioned Liberians to elect the right people capable of addressing some of the major problems and economic woes. “The Liberian Dollar is very weak and we import almost everything we consume, from rice, to steel rods, to electric power. Food prices are high, and a large number of Liberians live on less than US$1.00 per day. Unemployment is also very high and millions of our citizens live in substandard housing without access to pipe borne water, with poor medical care and a broken-down educational system,” he said in 2016.
Thompson is a former Deputy Governor of the CBL and worked as an official of Citibank, Abidjan. He holds a BA in Economics from the University of Liberia and an MBA in Finance from Syracuse University.
Thompson could fall prey as being an outsider to the CDC. His wife was a strong supporter of former vice president Joseph Boakai and was critical of the elections commission during the second round of the 2017 presidential elections.
Who’s the Right Fit?
With the economy in a freefall, economists say the focus of next central bank governor could prove to be a tricky proposition for whoever gets the job.
With the economy projected to grow by a tiny 0.4% in terms of GDP, the IMF Country Program is unlikely to spare any blushes with many believing that a fiscal regime in full confectionary mode must have an all- hands-on-deck type of governor who will hopefully lead the charge to turn things around.
Some observers say the new governor must come to the job with a lot of zest, basket loads of integrity, blunt honesty and the uncompromising as well as outside the box thinking on reshaping monetary policy. As one diplomat put it succinctly Tuesday. “The choice must have solid practical experience in handling the Liberian economic issues and be a pragmatist in the implementation of expansionary fiscal policy something which is badly needed in resuscitating the economy now.”
Part of that scenario, the diplomat pointed out should include knowledge of salary harmonization with impact on consumption expenditures in the economy thanks to reduction in compensation of several classes of stakeholders.
The next governor would be expected to devise mediums to counteract the impact of fiscal policy measure by ensuring that the CBL play a catalytic role in the restructuring of banks’ exposure to the public sector as well as other quantitively-easing measures to spur consumption and investment.
Observers say the perennial headaches of an out-of-control foreign exchange regime, poor national credit culture, non-performing loans import substitution-based credit stimulus, development of the financial markets with tradeable instruments and full control over money supply are just a few of the matters that will mean heavily on his ability to deliver.
Key amongst the expectations would be the integrity, especially in the wake of the missing billions saga. The new governor, as the chairman of the Board of the Financial Intelligence Unit, would be required to work to build the credibility which at best has been undermined as well as the professional culture within the CBL itself.
For the immediate future however, the conversation around the potential change of the local currencies in circulation and the potential impact on confidence in the banking sector will begin and end with whoever President Weah decides to name.
The pick, economists say, will be required to lean on recent trend of events and the fact that the percentage of broad money supply outside banks being disproportionally high must be front and center of any such money policy measure. “He cannot be a passive onlooker waiting to be overtaken by the fast pace of events. His hands-on approach to matter very grace in conjunction with a robust CBL board and staff are critical success factors,” said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity Tuesday.
Although not the focus of his vision, the next governor could face his/her most potent test on how courageous in checkmating fiscal excesses and overreaches.
In the final analysis, the Weah-led government desperately needs 24/7 robust character who will be up to the task in ensuring light at the end of the tunnel for those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.