CONGO TOWN, Montserrado – President George Weah has responded to calls to the international community by leaders of last week’s protest in Monrovia to withhold direct support to the government until it fully accounts for the reported missing L$16 billion (US$104 million).
Several groups of Liberians, under the banner of the Concerned Citizens United to Bring Our Money Back, a coalition of 26 civil society groups including the Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia and the University of Liberia’s Student Unification Party staged a peaceful protest outside the U.S. Embassy on Monday, September 24.
The protest aimed to convince the international community to pressure the government to investigate the missing banknotes and deal with other critical transparency and anti-corruption issues in the country.
In their petition, the protestors also drew attention to the US$25 million that the government said it infused into the economy in July, calling for an investigation into how the money was infused into the economy. They drew attention to the president’s “giant-sized” private properties being constructed and called on the international community to pressure the government to have all public officials declare their assets.
The protesters further called for an expedited establishment of a war and economic crimes court to “end the longstanding culture of impunity.” According to them, the government cannot be the accused, defendant, and at the same time be the jurist.
Speaking at a Congo Town church upon arrival from the U.S., where he had gone to participate in the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly, Weah described the action of protestors as “rebellious.”
He said before the protest, the government had expressed and continues to show commitment to carrying out a transparent investigation in line with the law. He said despite the opportunity given for the law to take its course, the world watched impatient Liberians protest and call for the withholding of all direct support because they believed that the money was missing.
“We have laws in this country. When people ask you to be patient [and] let the law take its course, that’s the time you rebel, and you know in any rebellious act, there is casualty. Your children supposed to be leaders for tomorrow. You think jumping into the street that’s the best way? We need to change our attitudes,” he said. “Liberians let us not wish for something we don’t want.”
According to him, the government’s commitment to carry out the investigation came when a journalist reported that L$9 billion was missing and another one also reported that the amount was L$16 billion. He said it was for the sake of transparency that the government requested the international community to aid in the investigation.
He wondered why the protesters chose to advocate for withholding of aid from his administration rather than the previous administration that printed the new banknotes.
“Since we came, it’s been over eight months. Ask the Senate. Ask the House of Representatives, if this Pro-Poor government has ever written to allocate money to come to the country,” he said.
“I was senator before, and records on the books that even the money, the first money that was allocated, I refused to sign.”
He noted that as senator, he did not sign for the printing of the initial L$5 billion to replace mutilated banknotes because he thought that it was inappropriate to print new banknotes close to a transition for a new government. He further disclosed that at no time had he also signed a resolution to authorize printing an addition L$10 billion in new banknotes.
The president, meanwhile, noted that the best way to handle the situation of the reported missing billions is through peaceful means, rather than protesting in the streets. In actuality, the September 24 protest was hailed as unusually peaceful, with police chief Patrick Sudue reportedly praising the level of discipline exhibited by the protestors.
Weah promised that anyone fund culpable in stealing government funds would be given the opportunity to pay back or face the full weight of the law.
Also reacting to critics that he was constructing new mansions, the president clarified that he started building homes in Liberia while he was still a private citizen. He called on critics to be careful in their criticisms.
However, Weah’s refusal to make his asset declaration public and the swift manner in which his properties took shape soon after his inauguration throws doubts at his claims that he started building the homes while he was a private citizen.
The president said it was difficult for L$16 billion to get stolen when the country’s ‘chain’ of banknotes in circulation is L$17 billion. He said having to provide clarifications to fellow world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly on the report of the missing money was shameful.
“You expect me to perform well for you when you tell the whole world that I stole L$16 billion, and I go on the U.N. podium when I make mistake, I don’t represent the country well, then the same persons will be criticizing me. They will say, ‘We told y’all that’s bobo there – he can’t talk,’” he said, making reference to a colloquial term for the mute.
The president emphasized the need to promote positive images of Liberia. Amid the many challenges facing the country, he said there are opportunities for progress.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah