Ghost of Printing L$16 Billion Still Haunts Members of 53rd Legislature As Debate To Mint Currency Heightens

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Monrovia – Former Grand Kru County representative, Numene T. H. Bartekwa, has expressed regret over the endorsement of a report in 2016 that led to the printing of the controversial L$16 billion banknotes.

That decision to print the new money came few months to the end of the second term of former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It would later spark public outrage to years later following reports that the banknotes was printed illegally after it was reported missing in the early stages of President George Weah’s administration. Some observers have said the decision was never authorized by the lawmakers although there have refutations from the past regime.

But Mr. Bartekwa, who was the former Chairman of the House Committee on Posts and Telecommunications, now has regrets. In a recent interview with FrontPage Africa about the 2016 decision, the former Grand Kru County representative recalled that the basis for making a decision was misrepresented.

“The L$5 billion banknotes was intended to replace the mutilated. The mutilated notes were not replaced as expected. That is why, I was one of the persons that requested the Central Bank to appear before the House of Representatives to give reasons why the money that they said they were going to replace were not replaced, and the mutilated were still on the market,” he said.

“They [CBL] were asked to come back and give us detail calculation as to how many they wanted to replace or print. Unfortunately, they had already begun printing; this brought confusion.

“My regret is, the replacement that they said they were going to do, was never done. The market is still fluctuated and affected with mutilated bank notes. We were misled.”

Mr. Bartekwa’s revelation comes as increasing debate concerning the minting of the new banknotes takes central stage in the country. The government has proffered a suggestion to print new banknotes, suggesting that it will replace mutilated banknotes and at the same time salvaging the shrinking economy.

This rationale coming from the government continues to face stiff resistance as critics argue that it would further plunge the economy down the slum and exacerbate the current inflation rate.  

“My regret is, the replacement that they said they were going to do, was never done. The market is still fluctuated and affected with mutilated bank notes. We were misled.” – Numene T. H. Bartekwa, Former Representative, Grand Kru County

While the lawmakers remain on constituency break, there have been maneuvering by the executive to ensure they return to pass on several issues including the printing of new money.

And Bartekwa, who was defeated in 2017 by Representative J. Fonati Koffa – presently Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, is weary of a redux.

Bartekwa claims they were misled to endorse a report from the Joint Committee on Banking and Currency, Ways, Means and Finance and Judiciary, at the time headed by former Montserrado County district # 10 Representative Julius Flourish Berrian.

That committee recommended the printing of L$5 billion to replace mutilated bank notes on the Liberian market. But the former Grand Kru County lawmaker claimed that up to present, the reason provided by the committee for the printing of the new money has not been satisfactorily implemented by the CBL.

According to him, for too long the CBL has reneged on replacing the mutilated bank notes on the local market.

Mr. Bartekwa claimed that the different denominations of new money printed by the CBL remain scarce in the local market and the commercial banks. 

New bank notes Disappearance

Despite the surplus printing of additional L$10 billion by the Executive without the alleged acquiescence of the Legislature in 2017, the visibility of the new banknotes on the local market remains quite scarce.

Ragged and mutilated bank notes are used for the exchange of goods and services in various quarters of the Liberian society.

“My own unfortunate situation is that, the L$15 billion that was printed and had problems, I can’t see any of it and they say it was accounted for. If it was accounted for, where is it? All of that create confusion on the market,” former Representative Bartekwa added.

There has been persistent calls from Liberians for government to abolish the printing of new money until punitive actions are taken against past and current government officials indicted in two separate audit reports released by the United States hired Kroll Associates and the Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) contracted and setup to probe the missing billions Liberian bank notes, and the US$25million intended to infuse into the Liberian economy.

Members of the 54th National Legislature are expected to return from their annual constituency break on November 18 to reportedly endorse a report seeking the printing of new banknotes.

The Former Grand Kru County lawmaker wants the government to print new currency and replace the old ones, but with conditions.

According to him, the present banknotes being used in Liberia are confusing, because of the differences in sizes and colors, and as such, government should change the entire currency.

“If the objectives of printing the new bank notes are in line with mine objectives, than I will support that idea. The objective that I think the Legislature should give the government is to clear all of the present bank notes because they are all in different types. They should collect them and replace everything,” he said.

He furthered: “But to add additional bank notes to this same currency will inflate the situation. I am in support of clearing all the old bank notes, especially when they are mutilated. I will be in support of the different features of currency. You see some of the current money we are using short, others are long. In addition, it is mutilated”.

He justified that the printing of new currency will help ensure that new set of monies “come through the banking system, because most of the monies are out of the banking system now”.

“My own unfortunate situation is that, the L$15 billion that was printed and had problems, I can’t see any of it and they say it was accounted for. If it was accounted for, where is it? All of that create confusion on the market.”

Challenge to Government

The former Grand Kru County lawmaker, however, challenged government to continue to strive in an effort to live up to the expectations of its people, while urging citizens to bear patience because government remains faced with numerous challenges.

He expressed the hope that the Liberian Chief Executive will overhaul his administration, and make some adjustments in the interest of the Liberian people.

“Normally, any new administration comes to power, it has to experience lapses before it gets adjusted,” he asserted.

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