Liberia: Central Bank Requests Printing of L$27.5 Billion Additional Banknotes as Short-term Plan to Address Liberia’s Cash Strap Problem, But Needs US$21.7 Million for Printing Cost

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Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), Jolue Aloysius Tarlue says to address the shortage of Liberian banknotes on the market, the CBL needs the authorization to print L$27.5 billion to infuse in the economy over the period of three years.

But also said the bank will need US$21.7 million to print the money if it is authorized, something he said is not on hand currently.

Governor Tarlue, who also serves as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the CBL made the pronouncement when he appeared before the Plenary of the House of Representatives, along with other top officials of the bank.

Several lawmakers attempted grilling the CBL Governor to give detail information on his proposed request, but were asked to reserve their questions for a closed-door session owing to the sensitive nature of the issue.

They had been invited by the House to give their expert opinions on the state of Liberia’s economy and outline plans or measures the CBL has put in place to resolve the disturbing liquidity problems that has plagued the economy.

Governor Tarlue named several reasons behind the money shortage which he said was exacerbated by COVID-19, the high demand of money during the festive seasons (July 26 and December 25), the limited ATM machines in the country (157) and the December 8 Special Senatorial Elections. Chief among them, he said, include the circulation of huge quantity of money outside of the banking sector. As of December 2020, he said L$25.3 billion was in circulation in the Liberian economy, and of that amount, the currency outside of the banking sector was L$22.5 billion, representing 89.4 percent of the money in circulation.

He blamed the issue of lack of confidence in the banking sector owing to the refusal of borrowers to pay back their loans. Currently the nonperforming loan stands at 56 percent, something that is holding people from keeping their money in the banks, he noted.

“The banks are in the business to make money. So, if you don’t pay your loans, then the banks don’t have money,” he said.

“Most of the susu (local saving clubs) and financial clubs used to put their money in the banks. But when they don’t get their money at the requested time, there will be issue of low confidence,” he explained.”

Speaking further, he named the huge mutilated banknotes as one of the problems confronting the economy, stating that currently there are about L$10.4 billion mutilated banknotes in circulation.

He blamed the overdue lifespan of the money, compounded with the existence of two types of banknotes: the legacy notes printed in 1999 and the enhanced banknotes printed in 2016 as reasons behind the huge damaged banknotes. According to him, it takes three to four years for money (notes) to deteriorate.

Solutions

To address the situation, Governor Tarlue told the Plenary of the House that the CBL, following consultations with its partners including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, has outlined short, medium and long-term measures.

For the short term, he called for the printing of L$27 billion to be infused into the economy over a three-year period.

 He said:“Hon. Speaker …, the issue of paucity of the Liberian dollars is of grave concern and whether we need additional banknotes or we need new banknotes, the fact is we need money on the market. So, based on the discussions with the IMF recently, our budget for printing new banknotes is US$27.5 million [he later corrected the figure to US$21.7 million] to get L$27 billion and infused in the economy in three years period.”

Following approval of the Board of Governors, he revealed that the CBL has written President George Weah to seek approval from the Legislature as per law to print.  However, he did not specify whether the CBL will be requesting for the complete replacement of both the legacy and the enhanced banknotes that he previously said have outlived their lifespans.

The medium and long-term goals, the CBL Executive Governor added, is to transition to a digital system or cash-lite economy through the use of electronic platforms such as mobile money and ATM machines, among others.

Responding to how much amount of the newly printed L$4 billion has been infused into the economy, CBL’s Deputy Governor for Operations, Madam Nyemadi Pearson, stated that about L$3.5 billion has been ditched out already. And this money was disrbused through the commercial banks, and not by the CBL as sometimes insinuated.  

Lawmakers Call for Abrupt Executive Session

Following Governor Tarlue’s testimony, plenary, acting on the advice of several of its members including Rep. Dixon Seboe (District 16, Montserrado County) who serves as Chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency, called for the rest of the discussion to be held behind closed doors owing to its security implications. It was Rep. Seboe’s communication that prompted Plenary to invite the CBL officials.

Prior to their appearance, key members of the Executive including Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill and finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah have been blaming the Legislature for its refusal to authorized the printing of additional banknotes to address the economic woes.

The lawmakers complained that they are being confronted and blamed by their respective constituents for the current economic hardship over their alleged refusal to authorize printing of banknotes; something they said was unfair as there have been no request placed before them by the Executive to print new or additional banknotes.

The Governor then admitted that no request has been placed before the Legislature, and as such they are not to blame, backtracking the CBL’s previous statement that the Legislature refused to authorize the printing of L$7.5 billion it had requested to address the looming liquidity situation. The CBL said the Legislature only approved L$4 billion, which was insufficient.

This report has been updated to include the actual figure of US$21.7 million needed, as later corrected by CBL Governor Tarlue, to print the additional banknotes.

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