Liberia: Min. Tweah 'Refuses Again to Attend Banking Committee Hearing'

Committee Chair Dennis says Tweah's action jeopardizes their work

For the second time in two weeks, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, has refused to honor citation to appear before Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, to answer questions regarding the printing of new Liberian banknotes.

Minister Samuel Tweah was expected to appear, together with Central Bank of Liberia Governor Nathaniel Patray on Thursday, September 19, after a report from the Senate's committee on Banking and Currency had earlier recommended to Senate plenary to grant authorization for the printing of L$35 billion, to replace the current banknotes.

The appearance of the heads of the MFDP and CBL was approved by plenary on Tuesday, after the chairman of the Committee, Grand Gedeh County Senator A. Marshall Dennis, agreed with one of his committee members, Senator Oscar Cooper, that indeed the two officials needed to appear to address some concerns raised by most Senators.

But after the Senate session, which started well after 2pm and without discussing in open session any item, decided to go into executive (closed door) session, it was agreed that the Senate committee would meet with the two officials at 4:00pm.

Unfortunately, the Committee convened at almost 5PM, but with only CBL Executive Governor Patray and his team in attendance, with news that he was meeting with President George Weah at his Foreign Ministry office, and may not be able to attend the hearing, again.

With a consensus, members of the Committee agreed that Governor Patray and his team be excused, and be called back at an appropriate time when the Finance Minister will be available.

Reacting to the Minister's action, Senator Dennis agreed that the two entities cannot be treated separately; "but I want to say here categorically that this is the second time for the Minister of Finance and Development Planning to refuse to attend hearing, whether oral or written; in my mind, it jeopardizes our work."

As important as the matters are, Senator Dennis recalled that the Finance Minister has always reneged in attending; "this can reach the plenary tomorrow (today) to let the plenary know about the action of the Minister that has stalled this whole process of finalizing the hearing with the two institutions."

The CBL, he asserted, has always been in attendance, "so we will make our report to plenary tomorrow and ask what action to take further on this situation. The printing of money has both the monetary an fiscal implications and, dealing with you together, we feel that what is for the fiscal side can be answered and that for the monetary side; and at one time we can deal with it across the board which will make our work easier; but since that is not happening, we regret the situation."

It can be recalled that chairman Dennis on Tuesday, September 17, retrieved the report his committee submitted to plenary in which the Senate was requested to approve recommendation for the printing of L$35 billion to replace L$21 billion of the current banknotes.

The Grand Gedeh Senator's decision to proffer the motion to return the report to committee room was necessitated by a minority report by Senator Cooper who argued that due diligence was not done before the report was submitted to Senate plenary for action.

The outspoken Senator warned that if the printing of the L$35 billion is approved, "I see additional and irrefutable hardship on our people, and we will only have ourselves to blame; if we do not carefully study the various scenarios, we will impose extreme hurt on the Liberian people who are already suffering from the last infusion of L$16 billion.

The chairman of the Banking & Currency Committee welcomed Senator Cooper's decision, and agreed that there was a need for flexibility so that mistakes of the past are not repeated.

"We have observed that most of our colleagues still have a lot of lingering concerns on their minds that need answers; Mr. Cooper is quite correct when he said he sent to me a questionnaire for the Central Bank's response, and since CBL is supposed to be responding to those concerns, at least to allay his apprehensions, it is but necessary that we accept his request to retrieve our report and invite CBL and the Ministry of Finance here," Senator Dennis said.

The CBL Governor and the Minister of Finance are meanwhile, expected to appear before the Banking committee on Thursday, immediately after the Senate's regular sitting.

Meanwhile, for the second time in three days, an authoritative source has hinted to the Daily Observer that the new banknotes have already been printed, but Governor Patray was noncommittal on the issue when asked by Legislative reporters yesterday.

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