There is euphoria of hope and glee that characterized the ascending pace of growth Liberia's banking sector is experiencing, if the Central Bank of Liberia quarterly report on the state of the economy is anything to go by, is marred by uncertainty. Understandingly, this could be measured by the proliferation of banking institutions in recent years; but it is also an undeniable fact, taking into consideration play of events, that the so-called boom is without trebling shocks as so-called bankers are doing all they can to ruin and mess up the system. Are they real bankers or mere rogues whose intention is to get rich overnight? The New Republic profiles the litany of banking messes.
Liberia's post-conflict economic boom is inseparable from the involvement of close to a dozens of banking institutions, some of which are doing exploits but continue to be undermined by the actions of unscrupulous characters, thus leaving others to question their motives. Besides the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and International Bank (IB) considered by many as Liberia's traditional banking institutions, topping the list of new-comers are Ecobank (the Pan African Bank), Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank), Access Bank, Global Bank, Afriland Bank plus few more.
According to report from the Central Bank of Liberia which is the regulatory body of all commercial banks in Liberia, these banks are exerting all efforts to cope with the business environment, working in line with set guidelines, and even providing employment opportunities for Liberians who have the requisite qualifications.
What is scaring, however, is that efforts being employed to win the confidence of ordinary Liberians and investors to do business continue to be challenged by double-handed individuals who are defrauding the system for "fast money" on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
The litany of problems
Reports of double dealings by people in the employ of banks continue to inundate the society, with many wondering those in the employ of banks are mere rogues or bankers.
Since the sitting of the Ellen-led government, almost all of the banks here have encountered bad dealings by employees, some of whom have been prosecuted, found guilty and jailed.
As a matter of fact, others elope the country and remained at large, while others were tried and acquitted.
The FIbank situation the latest being the alleged defrauding of the First International Bank (FIbank) of millions of dollars by those in whose care it entrusted confidential papers and documents.
The quagmire has negative or little impact on the savings of dozens of depositors, the bank said when it divulged what transpired to the public.
Seven of its operational staffers, the bank said, are currently under investigation at the Liberia National Police for their connection in defrauding the bank of LD$ 1.2 Million, said Ambullai Mamey, the banks public relationship officer.
Classifying the action of the seven of employees as conspiracy intended to defraud the bank of its asset, he noted, the case had been reported to the CBL "in line with regulation and professional standard."
FIbank has taken keen interest in the matter and says "bank's legal team has braced itself with prima facie evidences to explore all legal avenues in recovering the bank's asset from the alleged fraudster."
Apart from bracing itself with prima evidence to push the case against the accused, he assured the general public and FIBANK's clients of unhindered and regular operations since "the fraud has zero effect on customers' savings."
"We assure our customers of maximum security of their assets and the bank's continuous fast provision of products and services that are tailored toward wealth creation and poverty reduction in the Liberia economy," Mr. Mamey assured the public with confidence.
Except for those within the employ of the bank who have technical know-out as to how such manipulative undertaking went on unnoticed for such a protracted period that it accumulated to millions of dollars, the ordinary man, even depositors are confused and will like to get to the depth of the matter.
"This might have been going on for some times; I am too sure this is a one month or two months scheme. It went on for sometimes," suggested a banking expert.
He said it will be hard for people to through dubious means to access such a huge amount within a twinkling of an eye, adding "the details will be revealed subsequently."
Except for other banks that suffered such fate at the hands of their employees, there is no much record on the FIbank as it relates to acts of financial impropriety perpetuated by employees, but experts refused to rule out that the bank is free of such malpractices, except that the management has been magnanimous in addressing it or that the scale of such practice is at the very ebb.
Other banks' scenario
Amongst banks that experienced such financial malpractice at the hands of employees is Ecobank, a leading bank with good assets background.
One of the cases that rocked the foundation of the bank happens to be stealing US$378,676.26 from the bank by five employees who later dismissed and prosecuted.
The former five employees were found guilty by a 15-man empanelled jury in the case "Ecobank Liberia Vs five of its former employees."
According to the indictment drew against the five defendants, the bank discovered the alleged stealing of the US$378,676.26 during its yearly reconciliation and that the five former employees of Ecobank-Liberia caused the transfers to be credited twice first to the customer and then
Besides that, Ecboank has been at the center of unfortunate happenings perpetuated by employees such as the incident that occurred at the Redlight Branch where a man said to be Nigerian made away of thousands of dollars.
In some part of 2011, a car conveying thousands of dollars to the Kakata Branch of the bank was attacked by criminals who were reportedly assisted by insiders.
There are many instances of wrongdoing carried out by bankers but are not reported.
The Central Bank of Liberia is not spelled by this ugly undertaking. In 2010, the bank was hit by a scandal of purloining engineered by some tellers who were prosecuted and sentenced to 38 years of imprisonment.
Not only were they sentenced, but were equally fined US$ 300.00 each by Judge A. Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court "A" at the time.
The felons were indicted by the Government of Liberia on August 15, 2009 for the crimes of economic sabotage, fraud, theft of property and criminal facilitation, after recycling government's civil servants paid checks in an amount of L$ 7m.
The Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), the oldest bank for now, also fell prey to the employees' criminality when US$30,000 was withdrawn from the bank back in 2011.
Felecia Dennis, William Dennis and Ralph L. Sayonkon were indicted for allegedly withdrawing US$30,000.00 from the bank between June and July and transferring the amount into the personal account of defendant Ralph L. Sayonkon of the Agriculture Ministry.
The defendants were accused of intentionally conspiring and conniving to criminally withdraw the money for their personal use.
Stealing of depositors' money by employees which is unique to all banks in Liberia is a kind of undertaking taking central stage in modern-day banking atmosphere.
The scale at which such is happening has evoked concerns from many quarters, and many wonder those in the employ of banks are truly professional bankers or people looking for fast money to measure arms of others.
However, banking experts feared the trend stealing from banks has taken could put a dint on Liberia's post-war environment and incite fear in others to keep their money away from banks.