By Socrates S. Saywon
As the government of Liberia has gotten legislative authority to print additional banknotes, there are questions rising amongst political pundits including ordinary Liberians wanting to get a clear understanding from the Weah administration through the Central Bank of Liberia or CBL, as to what has happened to the first twenty billion Liberian dollar banknotes brought into the country between 2018 and 2020.
In September 2018, it was reported in the media that containers filled with newly printed Liberian dollars from a Swedish banknote manufacturer Crane AB disappeared from Liberia’s National Port Authority between 2016 and 2017, with the Central Bank of Liberia denying the allegations and stating that the money was stored within its vaults.
Reports say, before the expiration of the Ellen Johnson’s led Unity Party administration tenure in 2017, the national legislature approved the printing of L$5b. According to Kroll, only L$5bn of the total L$15.5bn was printed and distributed in line with Liberian law. In 2018 after Mr. George Weah came into office, revelations surfaced through the media that L$15.5bn ($104m, £82m) had disappeared from the port of Monrovia. The Central Bank at the time said, did not receive legislative approval for the remainder of the cash but entered into another contract with Crane who proceeded to print and deliver the money to Liberia anyway.
The shipments of the cash had raised a number of concerns around the exercise, for which two commissions, the government’s Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) and Risk advisory firm Kroll were commissioned to examine these details. Both investigations found major flaws in how government policy was implemented in each case, and neither the PIT nor Kroll was able to account for all of the newly printed Liberian dollars or the additional US dollars in the country.
Recently, the Weah administration through the Central Bank sought and got approval from the national legislature headed by Speaker Bohfal Chambers and Pro-tem Albert Chie both of the ruling CDC, and printed L$4bn (L$500 denomination). With serious concerns amongst Liberians regarding accountability issues of monies printed, money management issues continue to bedevil the Liberian government. Jonathan Paye-Layleh, a Liberian journalist is encouraging the media community, through the leadership of the Union, to take a serious interest in ongoing discussions about the additional banknotes recently approved, at the same time, the nation still does not have a clear understanding of what has happened to the first twenty billion Liberian dollars (LD20b) banknotes brought into the country between 2018 and 2020.
“Plenary of the House of Representatives has finally approved the Central Bank of Liberia’s request to print a new family of banknotes in the tone of L$48.7 billion to completely replace the ones that are currently in use within three years, beginning 2021. The House made the decision on Thursday, in its 19th day sitting following the passage of a resolution through a unanimous vote in plenary based on a motion filed by Rep. Acarous Moses Gray (District #8, Montserrado County). In the legislative piece named and style ‘Resolution 001-2021’, the House mandated the CBL to print 20, 50, 100, and 500 denominations, omitting the L$5 and L$10 banknotes”, the FrontPage Africa daily reported recently.
In a letter addressed to the PUL Paye-Layleh said: “It is our work, as the conscience and mirror of the society, to take interest in these discussions. And after hearing from a lot of commoners, sharing similar concerns, I have no regrets for flagging the issue. Mr. President and members of the media community, as I have done with other issues in recent times, my communication stems from concerns and suspicions I have heard and keep hearing from people, including those with no formal education, about the real intent to print additional banknotes again. From my conversations with concerned people, there are several schools of thought regarding this new move.”
He said in the absence of seeing in the physical circulation of the first batches of money printed and brought into the country, there is a likelihood that some individuals could be holding onto the first consignments of banknotes in hopes that once a decision to print new banknotes to replace all existing banknotes on the market is approved and the money is brought in, the hidden banknotes would be brought out and exchanged with the new ones, noting “This would then means that the billions of supposedly hidden banknotes would have now become legitimate to benefit only those who were in possession of them. This would mean indirectly enriching some individuals at the expense of the national interest. These are their thoughts.”
According to the BBC correspondent, skeptics believe this is possible if a deal is arranged between the authorities in charge of printing money and people who may be keeping the banknotes somewhere. They could request the printing of a number of banknotes that would accommodate any hidden banknotes. And the deal is consummated.
“While there may be no economic theory to support this, people who hold this conspiracy theory base their suspicion and argument on common sense and on the fact that even though the government had announced repeatedly that no sixteen billion Liberian dollars ever went missing and then another batch of four billion dollars was brought in, the banknotes could not be found anywhere — not even in banking institutions,” he indicated.
Paye-Layleh narrated that, as the Central Bank reported and repeated that no banknotes had gone missing, there were occasions that commercial banks complained of the lack of Liberian banknotes to pay to customers, thereby deciding how much to give out to customers against the amounts they had gone to withdraw. This is still happening in some banks.
He continued: “In view of the contradiction and the level of reliance the public has on us, as media people, I think we have to take a very keen interest in finding out what has actually happened to the first batches of banknotes — amounting to twenty billion Liberian dollars —- as the government pushes to print new banknotes. Are the first banknotes kept somewhere? These are some of the questions my discussants are asking.”
He, however, called on members of the media community, saying “Let’s play our part and do so very well so that posterity will judge us kindly for doing what’s right.
Main Photo: Specimen of a Liberian Bank Note /CBL