Finally, the long awaited report on the "Missing Money" has been released by the Presidential Investigating Team (PIT) and to the surprise and perhaps dismay of many in the public, there is no missing container, as had been widely speculated.
Instead the report states that the Central Bank has yet to fully account for L$2,645,000,000 (two billion, six hundred forty-five Liberian dollars). But experts say if the amount cannot be accounted for it could be interpreted to mean that the amount is missing.
This unaccounted for amount represents the variance between the 15,506,000,000 (fifteen billion, five hundred and six million Liberian dollars) in currency banknotes shipped to Liberia by the Crane Currency, and the L$18,151,000,000 (eighteen billion one hundred fifty-one million Liberian dollars) actual amount of banknotes printed, shipped to Liberia and received by the Central Bank into its vaults.
It can be recalled that various sections of the public had expressed strong reservations about the integrity of the PIT, fearing that it could be compromised or that its report would be doctored before its release to the public. But not withstanding, the apprehensions the PIT, in the opinion of this newspaper, has dispelled the fears of the "doubting Thomases". The report constitutes a virtual indictment of the Central Bank's performance during the reign of President Sirleaf which dates as far back as 2016 when the Legislature authorized the printing of 5 billion Liberian dollars.
It can also be recalled that this newspaper in its October 2, 2018 editorial headlined, "Play Play Kill Bird", amongst other things had this to say: "Additionally, alarm bells have been triggered by the corrupt and apparently criminal behavior, with impunity, of CBL officials deliberately ignoring the need to officially record financial transactions on the books of the bank. Strangely, and for unexplained reasons, the CBL's Board of Governors including the Board of Directors should be equally held liable for such flagrant departures from official policy and best practices in financial management".
"These CBL officials are charged with a statutory responsibility to provide oversight on the CBL's operations. Granted, the Legislature may have issued unclear directions to CBL leadership on the printing of additional currency banknotes, why did the Board of Directors including the Board of Governors overlook gross transgressions of public policy by the leadership of the CBL and why did they not put a halt to the unapproved printing of additional banknotes"?
"Further, why are these officials not being held liable for gross negligence of duty including malfeasance and nonfeasance in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities? Given the virtual lack of proper accounting and recording of transactions, it may very well prove difficult to bring any CBL official to book since any considerations of prosecution must be based on facts. How well can these facts be established will prove a daunting task, primarily because of the apparent criminal behavior of CBL and Finance Ministry officials".
Recalling further, this newspaper in its September published an article written by J. Yanqui Zaza, a financial analyst and regular contributor to this newspaper. The article, headlined, "Did President Weah Pump the 3/23/18 L$374B into the Economy without Recording as President Sirleaf Has Claimed in 2016 AND 2017", observed that Financial Notes within the 2016 and 2017 audited financial statements of the CBL did not reflect any information about the L$5b and L$10B of printed banknotes.
And Mr. Zaza questioned whether such was due to an error or an official decision to omit such relevant information. And if indeed, CBL officials made a conscious decision to omit those transactions from the records, why did they do so, was the question raised. And Zaza further observed that two separate external Audit Firms (PWC) and KPMG examined these records in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Continuing, Mr. Zaza observed that the CBL under President Sirleaf's watch did not disclose any Financial Notes within the audited financial statements to indicate the value of the money printed in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The CBL also did not disclose the amount of mutilated Liberian dollar banknotes destroyed or replaced or any amount pumped into the economy granted it actually did pump money into the economy.
It is indeed interesting but not surprising that the PIT would come up with findings closely paralleled to issues raised in previous editorials as well as articles written by Mr. Yanqui Zaza. This is because the facts are so compelling that they are difficult to ignore.
As the findings of the PIT show, it appears as though the entire operation was driven by criminal motives and or intent. And it does appear amiss that senior as well as middle level management of the CBL including the management of Crane Currency would have committed such brazen acts were they not assured by a higher authority of impunity for their actions in case such actions ever did come to light.
This newspaper must commend the PIT for a job well done. It should not be forgotten that the investigation was but a human endeavor prone to mistakes as any human enterprise and is more likely than not to have its shortcomings. However pitted against the many challenges, some of which include inadequacy of time and a lack of adequate financial resources as a spokesperson of the PIT indicated.
This newspaper must also commend President George Weah for commissioning the investigation and allowing it to discharge its functions without interference as far as available evidence suggest. As always it has unfailingly warned President Weah of the consequences of failing to take charge and lead lest he be led by others to an uncertain and unkindly fate.
Now the nation awaits his action on the recommendations put forth by the PIT. He cannot this time falter and react in similar fashion as he did with the recommendations of the Presidential team set up to probe bribery claims against former officials involved in the ExxonMobil bogus deal. The nation now awaits your action Mr. President, now that the PIT has submitted its report.