How Can Liberia Lose and Relocate a Whopping $104 Million

How Can Liberia Lose and Relocate a Whopping $104 Million

Why you should care

Everyone’s pretty skeptical of the explanation that the money was in the bank’s vaults all along.

Liberia’s central bank said it did not lose millions in newly printed cash, contrary to previous government statements that spurred thousands to protest in the capital and calls for internationally monitored investigations.

According to a statement by Nathaniel Patray, governor of the central bank:

An internal audit found that notes, which Liberia prints abroad because it does not have a mint, were indeed in the bank’s vaults.

This was despite an announcement last month by the information minister that two shipments totaling nearly 16 billion Liberian dollars had disappeared over the previous two years.

The scandal sparked outrage in Liberia and provoked a political firestorm for President George Weah. Last week, more than 30 central bank officials, including the bank’s former governor, Milton Weeks, and current deputy governor, Charles Sirleaf, son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, were barred from leaving the country. In the statement, Patray requested that the travel ban be lifted.

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Liberians demonstrate over the disappearance of newly printed bills, on Sept. 24, 2018, in Monrovia.

Source Zoom Doso/AFP/Getty

Rodney Sieh, editor of Front Page Africa, a Liberian media outlet, said in an editorial that the sudden announcement from the central bank “smells a bit fishy,” particularly given that the bank and its employees are subjects of the investigation.

People say it’s 5 percent of GDP — but it’s also 15 percent of the national budget.

Taa Wonga, political adviser

“Here lies the government’s predicament: [The many] contradictions has made it difficult for most Liberians and international partners to believe any explanation at this point,” Sieh wrote.

Last month, thousands of outraged Liberians took to the streets of the capital, Monrovia, to protest, while the hashtag #BringBackOurMoney began trending on social media.

“People say it’s 5 percent of GDP — but it’s also 15 percent of the national budget. This is a huge amount of money that could make a real impact in the lives of people,” says Taa Wonga, a senior adviser to a leading opposition politician. “To put it in perspective, this money [could be used to create a] massive change in our infrastructure, a massive change in our education system, a massive change in our social development.”

The ministry of justice has submitted requests to the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union for assistance with the investigation. It could have significant repercussions, given the recent change in government and questions over when exactly the money went missing: either under Weah, a former international soccer star who took office early this year, or Sirleaf.

Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been lauded for stabilizing her country after her election in 2005 following two devastating civil wars. She recently won the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize for leadership in Africa.

But at home Sirleaf was blamed for the weak performance of an economy hit by falling commodity prices and an outbreak of Ebola in 2013. She was also criticized for alleged nepotism after two of her sons, including Charles, were appointed to senior positions.

Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has an annual GDP per capita of $729, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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By Neil Munshi

OZY partners with the U.K.'s Financial Times to bring you premium analysis and features. © The Financial Times Limited 2018.

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