3 December 2018

Liberia: 'Place Blame Not On Where You Fell but On Where You Stumbled'

editorial

The George Weah government is certainly under tremendous pressure to account for the use of public funds. The pressure on this government has increased, perhaps double, in the wake of several financial scandals which has plagued this government recently. The fizzled Eton-Ebomaf road construction loan schemes, the disappearance of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes, the questionable US$25 million infusion and now most recently, the leaked bribery scheme involving the National Housing Authority boss and other higher-ups are all glaring manifestations of something gone abysmally wrong with this government's management of the nation's finances.

These mounting and multifaceted problems continue to blight this government and if not checked, may more likely than not lead to the worst economic crisis this nation has ever faced in probably over two decades. Already, the pinch is beginning to bite. For instance, private depositors in local commercial banks are being slapped with ceiling requirements on how much they can withdraw from their private accounts.

Even remittances from abroad which have been the virtual lifeblood of the Liberian economy are now said to be threatened with a freeze which, if followed through, will have a crippling effect on families such that many families may likely go without a meal this Christmas. And this will certainly portend ill for this Weah led government. Adding to the woes of President Weah is the displayed arrogance and insouciance of his officials to public concerns of probity and accountability which simply tends to rob the government of any amount of residual public sympathy.

But as every fruit bearing tree has roots, which we all know through observation of nature, this corruption tree in Liberia does have roots extending way back into history, especially the nation's most recent history of nearly two decades past. Truth be told, much of the financial woes faced by this government can be traced to that of its immediate predecessor led by Africa's first democratically elected female president.

For example, in the case of the newly printed Liberian dollar banknotes done under her administration, there are no records (deposit slips for example) of the money printed and neither are there any records indicating the value of the money printed to replace the mutilated banknotes. A review of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) audited financial statements does not show or reflect any information about the L$5 billion and the L$10 billion of printed banknotes. And there is no information explaining why these transactions were not recorded on the CBL's financial audited statement.

This leaves the public to conclude or infer that such omissions had criminal intent and perhaps rightly so else, why is there such glaring omission of of the money printed in 2016 and 2017 on the audited financial statement of the CBL? This is puzzling but also troubling that while the CBL in 2016 did mention on its records, the various denominations of Liberian dollars printed to replace mutilated notes, yet it never placed on record the amount of mutilated Liberian dollar banknotes it destroyed or removed from circulation.

More besides, the sale of securities, especially bonds, from which L$6.6 billion was realized in 2016 and L$2.2 billion in 2017, was never recorded on the books. President Sirleaf should provide some explanations why was this so. Additionally, in 2016, commercial bank deposits with the CBL which stood at L$23 billion LD in 2016 fell to $L17 billion in 2017 meaning that the Sirleaf led Government withdrew L$6 billion from those deposits. Converted into US dollars at the prevailing rate translates into something like US$84 million. How was this money accounted for and how was it used? Again there are no explanations as authorities, it would seem, went out of their way to ensure they did not leave a paper trail which would come to haunt them later.

Further, deposits from government agencies, including public corporations, with the CBL stood at 12 billion LD in 2016. In 2017, the GoL withdrew L$6 billion and later in the same year (2017) withdrew an additional $L3 billion LD. How was this money accounted for was never explained. All of these unexplained and perhaps dubious transactions are now beginning to have a telling effect on this government and having a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Liberians.

Quite recently, former President Sirleaf, appearing on a local callers-barred talk show, challenged her critics and accusers to check the record she left at the Ministry of Finance to ascertain if there was any wrongdoing while she was leading the country. But checking the records does in effect mean that an audit of her administration is the proper way to go. And this what many in the public have been calling for. But the hitch is, President Weah has made a solemn pledge not to audit or hold her accountable for her stewardship of the nation's finances.

Under former President Sirleaf's watch, millions of dollars were virtually stolen from the nation's coffers. Former Finance Minister Amara Konneh ran a virtual theft ring at the Ministry of Finance from where millions of dollars were stolen from the public coffers. Over US$50 million was stolen from the once viable National Oil Company of Liberia under the watch of her son Robert Sirleaf as Chairman of the Board of that entity.

And her response to queries from local journalists to the loss of US$50 million was a simple "I take responsibility". But the money was never refunded and that was the end of story. Nowadays, it appears like everything is going wrong with the economy with increasing hardships for the people. And President Weah is accordingly being held responsible. The thuggish behavior and lowly conduct of his officials and their GLARINGLY APPARENT inordinate and insatiable greed only serve to reinforce such negative public perceptions.

As popular Liberian Folk singer, Jones Dopoe in one of his songs cautions, "don't place blame for your injury on where you fell but instead, place blame for your injury on where you stumbled. True indeed Liberians may be hurting from their drastic fall in fortunes and are apt to place blame on George Weah but, in the wisdom of folk singer Jones Dopoe, Liberians should instead place blame on the Sirleaf administration for it was where they stumbled.

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