EDITORIAL: When Will The Central Bank Of Liberia Learn Its Lesson?

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THE ACT ESTABLISHING the Central Bank of Liberia gave the banking institution the authority to among other things, issue legal tender, banknotes and coins, administer the currency laws, regulate the supply of money, provide credit to bank-financial institutions on a discretionary basis, act as a fiscal agent for government and administer the New Financial Institutions Act of 1999 and regulate banking.

IN THE PAST year alone, a series of missteps and scandals including the missing LD 16 billion, and mysterious and still questionable disbursement of US$25 million dollars mop-up money has created credibility issues for the CBL even as the government of Liberia struggles to explain its way out of the saga engulfing the nation.

THE NEVER-ENDING dilemma has created a sea of distrust with majority of Liberians finding it difficult to believe that the bank and the government’s hands are clean.

TWO REPORTS, one sanctioned and financed by the United States Aid for International Development and another from a Special Presidential Investigative team, both have concluded that there were serious discrepancies and simply put, transactions just did not add up.

REGARDING THE US$25 million, Kroll reported that the process was undertaken by the CBL without a clearly documented strategy.

THE USAID-BACKED Kroll and Associates reported that it reviewed documentation that showed an order was placed on July 10, 2018 to draw down funds totaling USD 20.0 million from the CBL’s Federal Reserve Bank of New York account to fund the USD Mop-Up Exercise. The date of the order (July 10, 2018) was made several days in advance of the Board of Governors decree (July 16, 2018). Kroll however reported that it is not clear if the draw down was made earlier than approval was provided for the USD Mop-Up Exercise. 

SAID KROLL: “KROLL’S ANALYSIS of information provided by the CBL identified that LRD banknotes totaling LRD 2.3 billion (USD 15.0 million) were purchased for the USD Mop-Up Exercise between July 2018 and October 2018. Kroll was informed by the CBL that the remaining USD 5.0 million was put into circulation as part of normal banking operations, and not retained for continuance of the USD Mop-Up Exercise.”.

SEPARATELY, THE SPECIAL Presidential Task Force recommended that given the many discrepancies noted in the manner in which the mop-up exercise was conducted in relation to the infusion of the US$25 Million into the Liberian economy; and the scope, time and financial resource limitations encountered by the PIT-TC,  the TEMT and the Central Bank of Liberia put a halt to the exercise, and that a forensic investigation of the entire mop-up exercise be conducted without any delay.

ADDED PITT: “Given the many discrepancies observed throughout the investigation in relation to the operations of the Central Bank of Liberia in executing its statutory mandate, there is a need to review the Standard Operational Procedures (SOP), banking supervision and internal controls of the Central Bank of Liberia to curb the possibility of abuse of the money supply of the nation; as well as, enhancing efficiency and productivity. 3.7 To further protect currency banknotes in reserve, the Central Bank of Liberia should consider discontinuing the use of the Vault at the erstwhile National Housing and Saving Bank.”

IT IS IN THIS LIGHT, that President George Manneh Weah told Liberians last week, in his address to the nation, that he will no longer borrow from the Central Bank of Liberia for its short-term liquidity needs.

THE PRESIDENT ALSO announced that Governor Nathaniel Patray is on his last leg as governor. “To provide the opportunity for the Central Bank to have a new direction, I have accepted the resignation of the Deputy Governor for Economic Policy. The Executive Governor is scheduled for age-related mandatory retirement in the next three months. During that period, we will work to transition the bank to a new management.”

IN THE WAKE of all that has happened over the past year, one would think that the CBL would have at least by now be doing all it can to erase the perception of corruption and lack of transparency and accountability.

MR. HENRY COSTA, host of the popular breakfast show on Roots FM 92.1 recently revealed that he had a bombshell to drop. That bombshell came just days before Liberians from all walks of life under the banner of the Council of Patriots prepare to take to the streets in protest against widespread corruption and a host of other issues.

ON MONDAY, MR. COSTA displayed photographs and videos of what appeared to be several boxes of cash which came on a Kenya Airways flight on May 10, 2019,  the same date Mr. Costa announced that he had a bombshell to release. Mr. Costa claims that the monies were taken to the home of President Weah.

TO THE SURPRISE of many listening Monday, Mr. Charles F. Kaizal, Internal Security Coordinator in the Governance office at the CBL walked into the Roots FM’s studio to counter that there were in fact, two shipments of money, one arriving on May 10 and another on May 27, 2019.

ACCORDING TO MR. KAIZAL, both shipments were taken to the CBL and not the home of the President.

WHERE THE DISCREPANCY SETS IN is when Mr. Kaizal provided two letters claiming that the boxes of money were brought in the presence of a twelve-man escort team comprising of ten Emergency Response Unit(ERU) and two Traffic officers plus six CBL staffers with five CBL vehicles and a police marked traffic escort, at approximately 2:00pm we boarded the vehicles and departed from the Roberts International Airport(RIA) to Monrovia. Mr. William Dargbeh, assistant director of banking, Prince Bull, senior auditor and Edwina Edet – cashment officer department via Kenya Airways-KQ501/Sky Team.

HOWEVER, THE ACTUAL photos and videos do not appear to show only Mr. Kaizal and none of the 20 persons Mr. Kaizal claims were present when the monies arrived at the RIA.

THE CBL has a lot of explanation to make. If two shipments came into the country on May 10 and May 27 respectively, why is the currency consuming market still struggling to find clean US and local currency bills on the streets? Furthermore, why are commercial banks still complaining that there is not enough local and foreign currency on the market and why is the rate of the US to Liberian dollar continuing to climb, as high as 194-1 in some areas of the country.

IT IS OUR HOPE that in reconfiguring the CBL, President Weah will ensure that the new CBL leadership will be recruited by a vetting committee to be established, as he pledged in his speech. 

THE PRESIDENT MUST deliver on his promise that an independent team of professional Liberians will be given the chance to vet qualify personnel to fill the void and incompetence at the CBL. 

IF LIBERIANS ARE to redevelop confidence in the banking sector, the CBL must be transparent and accountable in all its dealings moving forward.

THE CONSUMING PUBLIC must be made aware when new consignments of money are being brought in the public and whatever new policy initiatives the President is embarking on will really increase the confidence of Liberians in the Liberian dollar. 

NO LIBERIAN WILL have confidence in a banking sector lacking transparency and accountability, especially when monies are being ordered under the cloud of darkness or the secrecy and lackluster processing that continue to raise more questions than answers. Even more troubling, did the bank receive legislative approval to bring in new bills into the country. 

SADLY, WE MAY once again be witnessing a case of the more things change, the more they remain the same. 

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