-Gravely Ailing Economy; Massive Uncontrollable Unemployment; Grim Social Services; Crusading Corruption In Public Sector; Totally Allergic To Foreign Investment Attraction; Rampant Gross Violation Of Constitutional Provisions; Impugned Style Of Governance Coupled With Anti Transparency And Accountability; All Running High and Wide.
With the consistent demand from the public and the four collaborating opposition political parties- Unity Party, Liberty Party, All Liberia Party and Alternative National Congress about strict accountability of the US$25 million dollars mop-up exercise intended to be infused in the Liberian economy; and despite Central Bank of Liberia’s (CBL) latest controversial statement on the latter (US$25m), it now appears that the public is being placed in a precarious situation; wherein truth telling has transformed into ‘political puzzle’.
Moreover, with simmering information that the General Auditing Commission (GAC) given a week by President George M. Weah to conduct a forensic audit on the troubling US$25m mop-up scheme, that is (GAC) has not been officially written to the execute such task also creates another debate regarding how things are done in the governance system.
The call for the forensic audit into the US$25m saga was made shortly after the Kroll and the PIT released their reports on the missing L$16 billion at which time, Dr, Weah openly noted that he was glad that the tow reports vindicated his government; yet the same report held CBL culpable to account for L$2.6 billion.
While pundits are saying that the troubled-US$25m has placed the government’s temperature on the radar; the four collaborating opposition political parties in their recent joint statement also noted that their position expressed is in consideration of the investigations’ findings pointing to the conspicuously criminal way the Minister of Finance and Development Planning and the Central Bank Governor, as Chair and Co-Chair of the Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT) respectively, managed the US$25m (about L$4,000,000,000b) so-called mop-up exercise of 2018.
“We recalled that both Minister Samuel Tweah and Governor Nathaniel Patray had misled Liberians in 2018 that “no money was missing”. This action by the two officials created confusion last year and might have been a calculated ploy to conceal the fact that billions of Liberian dollars printed and shipped between January 2016 and August 2018 had either disappeared from the CBL or may not have been delivered to the CBL despite having been paid for, printed and shipped to the country by Crane AB. After mounting public pressures, President Weah reluctantly agreed to commission two separate investigations into the money dilemma”, the parties observed.
At the same time, the Presidential Investigation Team – Technical Committee (PIT-TC) on Thursday, February 28, 2019 recommended a halt to the mop-up exercise being executed by the Technical Team of the Economic Management Team (TEMT) and the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), saying that the Economic Management Team (TEMT) did not have a clear strategy and the Central Bank of Liberia deviated from conventional best practice which calls for the use of legitimate banking institutions (commercial banks) and licensed foreign exchange bureau of SALE AUCTION.”
However, the Finance Minister publicly announced that he took the decision to use money exchangers rather than the commercial banks because in his expressed opinion at the time, such an approach would not have yielded the desired results.
Again, in a recent development, an official narrative attributes handling of the mop-up exercise solely to the CBL. But statements attributed to Charles Sirleaf, when interviewed by the PIT, urged investigators to direct their questions to the Finance Minister who he told investigators handled the infusion exercise.
According to the Central Bank, it was mandated by TEMT to use direct mopping strategy since over 90 percent of currency in the economy is outside the banking system. The statement also asserted that CBL’s experience shows that convention foreign exchange auction through the commercial banks has had limited impact on the exchange rate.
For that matter, the CBL decided to infuse the U.S. dollars by auctioning it to major importers, licensed foreign exchange bureaus and small businesses.
The PIT puts it this way: “The TEMT chaired by Mr. Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. Minister of Finance and Development Planning, designed a process which involves DIRECT MOP-UP. This means that the implementation even would directly engage businesses and nonbanking institutions to directly exchange United States dollars with Liberian dollars.”
Accordingly, between July 2018 and October 2018, a total of US$17 million was infused into the economy. The remaining US$8 million is still with the CBL, according to the CBL’s statement
Meanwhile, the United States Department of State 2018 human rights report on Liberia among many developments critically highlighted corruption and impunity.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law calls for integrity in government service and enumerates multiple offenses related to corrupt acts by officials, including making false statements, tampering with public records, obstruction of justice, bribery, intimidation, and abuse of office. The law does not provide explicit criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, although criminal penalties exist for economic sabotage, abuse of office, bribery, obstruction of justice, and other corruption-related acts. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption persisted throughout the government, and the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
The mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption among public officials. On February 13, FrontPage Africa reported that LACC Commissioner Augustine Toe accused LACC Chairman James Verdier of financial impropriety and mismanagement of funds. In a press statement, Verdier denied the allegations. It is unclear if the allegations were investigated.
According to the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), during the year President Weah appointed heads of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Internal Audit Agency without the required recruitment and vetting processes. CENTAL also suggested the direct presidential appointments outside established procedures undermined the independence of those anticorruption agencies.
Corruption: Low pay for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability exacerbated official corruption and contributed to a culture of impunity. The government dismissed or in some instances suspended officials for alleged corruption and recommended others for prosecution.
The government generally failed to charge higher-ranking officials with corruption and tended to recommend prosecution against low-level civil servants, but there were some exceptions. In February the Rivercess County Circuit Court found Senator Milton Teahjay guilty of misappropriating development funds during his 2009-2014 tenure as superintendent of Sinoe County.
The court ordered the senator to pay $50,000 in restitution within nine months or face imprisonment; the LACC confirmed that he paid. Prosecutors from the LACC expressed concern, however, that the judge did not rule on more serious crimes in the senator’s indictment, including charges of economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, criminal facilitation, and misapplication of entrusted property.
In November the government arrested and filed charges against senior officials at the National Housing Authority for allegedly extorting money from a Burkinabe company. As of December, a court date had not yet been set.
On March 29, Global Witness released a report on Exxon Mobil’s 2013 purchase of an oil block off the country’s coast. The report called on the government to investigate several former and current officials involved in the $120 million purchase of Block 13 for corruption and wrongdoing. President Weah established a special presidential review committee to investigate the allegations in the Global Witness report and vowed that anyone involved in corruption “will be dealt with according to the law.”
In May the House of Representatives endorsed the findings of the committee. The committee made several recommendations, including that those implicated be required to make restitutions to the government. As of September, it was unknown if any of the committee’s recommendations were followed.
Police corruption remained a problem. The LNP investigated reports of police misconduct or corruption, and authorities suspended or dismissed several LNP officers. The most prevalent form of police corruption was the solicitation of “on the spot” fines at roadblocks for traffic offenses. The PSD reported cases of bribery for traffic offenses, and authorities suspended or dismissed several LNP officers for misconduct.
On April 10, the LNP dismissed an LNP officer for tampering with a criminal investigation into the death of a woman. The LNP officer allegedly investigated the case without authority and then detained and extorted money from suspects in the case.
Financial Disclosure: By law senior political appointees must declare their assets to the LACC before taking office and upon leaving. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance. Financial disclosures are not made public unless the official making the declaration chooses to release them. From January to June, only one government official filed an asset declaration.
In July President Weah filed the asset declaration to the LACC and Vice President Howard-Taylor filed a week later. According to the LACC, approximately 56 percent of officials in the executive branch had declared their assets by the end of the year.
On December 6, President Weah gave members of his cabinet a one-week deadline to file asset declarations or face punitive action. As of December, the LACC reported that all cabinet-level officials had declared their assets, although some had declared after the deadline. TNR