Liberia: Shake-up Chatters at CBL: Major Changes Likely Amid Missing Millions of Findings, US Feds Red Flag
Monrovia – A weak internal control system and massive discrepancies uncovered in two major investigative scope studies have prompted calls for massive restructuring at the Central Bank of Liberia.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
President George Manneh Weah, in his first response to the report’s release, has expressed thanks to the United States government for responding positively to his call to assist with the inquest and for funding the coping done by Kroll as he pledged that his government would take the necessary actions as required based on the findings of both reports while reiterating his administration’s commitment to the rule of law.
Red Flag for US Federal Reserves
Last weekend’s arrest of Sirleaf created a void which could prove costly depending how fast President Weah can fill it to avoid a scary reminiscence of what happened last October when the US Federal Reserve System put a freeze on transaction with the Central Bank of Liberia owing to the high-level of uncertainty surrounding the ongoing investigation into the missing billions controversy.
The key issue there was the fact that several senior Central Bank of Liberia officials – Milton A. Weeks, former Governor of the CBL and Charles Sirleaf, Deputy Governor, responsible for Finance, Banking and General Services Departments – were under investigation in connection with the missing billions currency and have been barred from leaving the country.
A major reason for the Feds action at the time was that Sirleaf who is the lead signature on the CBL’s account with the Feds was under investigation creating an atmosphere of distrust as the Feds reportedly felt uncomfortable dealing with Liberia without a legitimate signatory.
At the time, several of Liberia’s stakeholders including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised red flags amid concerns that those under investigation should not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the CBL, particularly regarding the US Federal Reserves.
About 250 official account holders maintain approximately $3 trillion in US dollar-denominated assets in custody at the New York Fed, which represents about half of the world’s overall official US dollar reserves. Economists say, the US$25 million withdrawn from the federal reserve is accountable to the US banking system now linked to alleged fraud and possible money laundering using the US federal reserve system.
It is clear from the USAID Kroll Report and the government’s own report that fraud has been committed in how the funds withdrawn from the Federal Reserve Bank of NY was used. It is therefore prudent that the Bank itself demands a full explanation on the transaction under know your customer (KYC) standards and practices.
The Federal Reserve Bank as custodian of the nation’s foreign exchange must take action when a country’s officials use the bank’s products and services to commit outright fraud and illegally launder money withdrawn from the bank. There are laws in the US that governs banks and the role they should play in preventing financial crimes.
The scenario from last October is likely to play out once more following the arrest of both Sirleaf and Weeks in the wake of the findings by Kroll and PIT.
Both Sirleaf and Weeks were detained just hours after independent US investigators from the firm, Kroll Associates, raised concerns “regarding the overall accuracy and completeness” of the bank’s internal records and found evidence of “systemic and procedural weaknesses”.
The investigation came after hundreds of protestors hit the streets of Monrovia following rumors that a container-load of newly-printed banknotes, worth $102m, had disappeared shortly after being delivered from abroad.
The House of Representatives passed a resolution for the order of LD5 billion to remove and replace old banknotes on the market. An additional request by the CBL for LD10 billion was denied by the Senate but the bank went ahead and engaged the Swedish company Crane to print the additional banknotes. “CBL (Central Bank of Liberia) management subsequently explained to Kroll that due to the urgency for new banknotes, the CBL did not follow its own internal tendering policies for the procurement of Crane AB,” the report says.
Kroll explain in the 67-page report that, despite repeated requests, the bank did not provide any explanation as to who had approved the injection of new banknotes into the Liberian economy without first removing the equivalent quantity from circulation.
A separate report by the Special Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) documented that both the Economic Management Team and the CBL failed to set standard criteria for the participation of businesses in terms of their legitimacy (e.g. duly registered businesses and or tax compliance, etc.). “The report also notes that the principle of KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER (KYC) was not observed throughout the mop-up exercise thereby creating the platform for illegal business dealers to clean their illegal money.”
In the wake of the many lapses uncovered and the vacuum created as a result of the arrest of the country’s key signatory, Mr. Sirleaf, the race to fill the void left by the ongoing saga has led to numerous speculations about who is likely to fill the void.
FrontPageAfrica takes a look at some of the names being thrown around to replace Mr. Sirleaf amid chatters of massive shake-up at the CBL.
Currently the Deputy Director for Insurance at the CBL, Brown is a former Deputy Director for Policy & Regulations at the bank and previously served as former Assistant Director for Policy & Regulations at Central Bank of Liberia, former Principal Examiner, Former Loan officer at Access Bank Liberia and the Micro Finance Bank. He studied policy economics and development economics at Williams College Center for Development Economics (CDE) in Massachusetts and Accounting and Economics at African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU). Brown is said to be big in the CDC circles and has had his eye on the post for some time.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Cuffy, has been a strong proponent against efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing around. Cuffy has several years’ experience in accounting and finance both national and international. However, as a member of the team that investigated the 16 billion and the 25 million, it may make it difficult for him to be selected.
The current head of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation comes from a banking background. She has an MBA certification in management with emphasis in Marketing, from Strayer University; a BA, Management, United Methodist University. She previously served as Acting Chief of Office-Interim President/CEO National Oil Company of Liberia, Banking Supervisor 2006 to 2010 Ecobank, Liberia. She has good experience in banking operations. Observers say Pearson is no stranger to the CBL because she once served as deputy director of GSS Department. At LPRC, she has been credited with delivering and improving maximized overall productivity since taking over the corporation and such will be needed CBL that has a broken-down system. Pearson, who also has a certificate in leadership and decision making from Harvard University has also worked as a special assistant to the President.
MUSSAH A. KAMARA
Currently the Director of research at CBL, Kamara previously served as Director of Banking Supervision. He has worked with CBL for several years and has experience in central banking. He has graduate degrees from Williams College and the prestigious Fletcher graduate School of International Affairs, Tufts university. Both Schools are in the state of Massachusetts, USA.
The current deputy minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Samora holds an MBA in Accounting from the Cuttington University in 2007 and is a Chartered Accountant (CA) of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (Ghana), a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) of the Liberian Institute of Certified Public Accountant, a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiner, USA and Certified Forensic Investigation Professional (CFIP) of the International Institute of Certified Forensic Investigation Professional of Kenya and USA. Additionally, he holds membership with the Liberian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (LICPA), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ghana (ICAG), Association of Certified Fraud Examiner (ACFE), Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and International Institute of Certified Forensic Investigation Professionals (IICFIP).
While many are unsure how soon President Weah will move to fill the numerous voids at the bank, economists say, the key issue of the signatory to Liberia’s accounts is pressing. The US Federal Reserve lays particular emphasis on anti-money laundering (AML), Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) compliance risks. In the wake of the CBL void and the risks associated with the ongoing investigation, time may be running out to right the ship at the nerve center of the Liberian economy.