Liberia: Senate, CBL Tussle Over Printing Power

The Liberian Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, and authorities of the Central Bank of Liberia are in a serious tussle here over has authority to print local currency. The ensued Tuesday, June 09, during the  committee’s public hearing in the senate chambers at the Capitol in Monrovia. The hearing is about amendments in the Act creating the Central Bank of Liberia.

It all started when CBL authorities and the president of the commercially-run Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) Mr. John Davis argues that the senate should grant power to print local currency to the Central Bank and that the CBL should report to the Liberian Legislature every two years.

But the suggestion did not land smoothly as Grand Cape Mount County Senator Cllr. Varney Sherman, objects to that portion of the amendment. Cllr. Sherman counters that doing so would totally undermine the 1986 Constitution of Liberia. He notes that framers of the Constitution know exactly why the printing of currency shall totally be approved by the Legislature.

The renowned corporate lawyer says for authorities of the Central Bank to make such an appeal is to violate the Constitution by giving all authorities of control and balance system being employed by the organic law to one institution of the government.

He recalls that the Central Bank of Liberia's Act of 1999 under jailed former President Charles Taylor ascribes that power to the Bank to print currency at will and only report to the legislature, if need be, which in his thinking was not proper. He warns that doing so could cause serious and uncontrollable inflation with the already struggling economy.

River Gee Senator Conmany Wesseh concurs with Senator Sherman, further arguing that the decision is totally wrong and unacceptable under the provision of the Constitution. He also warns that if such provision of the Act were to remain as granted to the Central Bank, it means the Liberian Legislature will have no authority or oversight on the functions of the CBL.

Article 34 (ii) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia clearly states, "no monies shall be drawn from the treasure except in consequence of appropriations made by legislative enactment and upon warrant of the President; and no coin shall be minted or national currency issued except by the expressed authority of the Legislature. An annual statement and account of the expenditure of all public monies shall be submitted by the office of the President to the Legislature and published once a year".

However countering the senators, Deputy CBL Governor for Economic Policy, Dr. Musa Dukuly says it is impossible for the Central Bank to print currency without approval of the legislature, but the suggestion to maintain such power is intended to fast track the process of monitor and control and for the Bank to be up to her game.

Dr. Dukuly notes only the legislature has the constitutional power to instruct the printing of money but the aspect of reporting after two years does not mean the bank will act absolutely without impute from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

For his part, the chairman of the committee, Senator Marshall Dennis, says the legislature is prepared and willing to work with the CBL at all times and that nothing can make the first branch of government, especially, the Liberian Senate, to thwart the Constitution just to please authorities of the Central Bank.

George Weah administration has hired the services of Crane AB, an American company to print and deliver LRD 4 billion banknotes in domination of 500 Liberian dollars to the Central Bank of Liberia. In March, the CBL issued a reguest for printing, soliciting proposals for the printing of additional banknotes.

CBL Executive Governor, J. Aloysius Tarlue, Jr., said the selection of Crane AB ('Crane') "is the result of a competitive and transparent procurement process that was opened to several major currency printers around the world." He had vowed that "the CBL will keep the Liberian people fully informed of every step in the procurement process, up to and including the arrival and injection of the additional banknotes into the Liberian economy."

The printing of new currency by the CBL under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was marred by discrepancies, for which former executives were charged with multiple crimes, but the Weah administration has dropped charges against the accused, including ex-executive governor Milton Weeks.

An independent investigation commissioned by USAID thru Kroll Associates, Inc. an American firm, established that the CBL ordered new currency totaling LRD 15.0 billion from Crane Currency in two tranches in 2016 and 2017.

Kroll's investigation identified discrepancies at every stage of the process for controlling the movement of banknotes into and out of the CBL during the Independent Review, including: the Legislature approval for printing new banknotes; the procurement and contracting of Crane AB; the shipping of new banknotes to Liberia; the delivery of new banknotes to the CBL, and; the movement of funds within and out of the CBL's vaults.

According to the probe, the actual value of new banknotes printed by Crane AB to Liberia totaled LRD 15.506 billion, therefore new banknotes totaling LRD 0.506 billion were printed by Crane AB above the initial contractual amount of LRD 15.0 billion.

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