Legislature Did Not Approve Printing of L$16 Billion in New Banknotes

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The government of Liberia recently reported that it is investigating the mysterious disappearance of L$16 billion newly printed bank notes that were reportedly brought to the country between last November and March this year. But records have shown that the Legislature did not approve the printing of the amount, as required by the constitution.

The last time a request for printing new banknotes was granted by the legislature was in April 2016 when the Central Bank of Liberia under the leadership of its former executive governor, Milton Weeks, requested the printing of L$5 billion to replace mutilated bank notes on the market.

The constitution notes that “no coin shall be minted or national currency issued except by the expressed authority of the Legislature.” Accordingly, a joint resolution was signed and adopted by two-thirds members of the total members of the Senate and House of Representatives authorized the CBL to print the additional L$5 billion new notes to meet the demand of the country’s economy.

“We the below listed members of the Legislature of the Republic of Liberia, have authorized the Central Bank of Liberia to print additional bank Liberian bank notes to be infused in the Liberian economy, but with a caveat that the Central Bank of Liberia adheres to a comprehensive audit by the General Auditing Commission,” the resolution said.

Four months after the resolution, Weeks announced the arrival of the new banknotes in the country, with a new L$500 denomination added. Specimens were presented to the president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in September. In addition to the L$500 denomination, the Central Bank said the security features on the other denominations were increased to discourage counterfeiting.

Members of the legislature raised the issue with the Bank’s governor on the printing of the L$500 denomination, but he said the new banknotes were recommended by the Central Banks Board of Governors and approved by the president.

The law establishing the Central Bank notes that “banknotes or coins issued by the Central Bank shall be in such denominations, composition, form, and design as shall be approved by the president upon the recommendation of the Board of Governors.”

A former member of the House of Representatives, George Mulbah, disclosed in a Truth FM interview Thursday that the legislature did not authorize the printing of the L$500 denomination.

“We asked questions about the purpose of printing the L$500 note when we, in fact, the purpose of printing new banknotes was to replace mutilated notes,” Mulbah said.

He encouraged investigators of the missing L$16 billion to request the communication from the Central Bank that requested the printing of additional banknotes.

Amid the claims and counter claims by the government and its predecessor, the former lawmaker from Bong wants the Sirleaf administration to answer to the printing of the excess notes. Meanwhile, he wants the current government of George Weah to answer to the disappearance of the containers containing the money from the Freeport of Monrovia.

Meanwhile, Margibi’s second district representative, Ivar Jones, has blamed the current situation on what he said was a hasty transition. Jones, who is a member of the House Committee on Banking and Finance, said because of delays in the holding of the presidential run-off elections, the period for the transition was insufficient to allow proper accountability from the past administration.

“On the issue of the reported missing containers, I believe we would not be where we are today if there was a proper turnover,” he said.

Margibi’s second district representative, Ivar K. Jones. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

“Had there been a proper turnover time given to the transitional team where everything would have been accounted properly for, I don’t think there would have been claims and counterclaims.”

He said the current situation of the missing L$16 billion is an embarrassment for the country at a time of financial hardships and ordinary citizens can barely afford to provide for their families.

Although the legislature is on its constituency break, the leadership of the House of Representatives held discussions on Wednesday, but details of the meeting have not been released to the public. The Margibi lawmaker also attended the meeting. He promised that the body would take a decision on the ongoing investigation.

Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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