As soon as investigative reports on the controversial L$16 billion were out and there was no mention of names that some pundits had expected would come out, names of present officials of the Weah administration, opposition elements veered their agitation to another controversial money—the $25 million used by Government to mop up excess liquidity of Liberian dollars from the money market. Yet still, some began to plough the propaganda filth as to grab the legs of particular officials of the government and hold them for wrongdoing. One specific person in the spotlight was Finance and Development Planning Minster Samuel Tweah, who chairs the Government Technical Economic Management Team and a strong voice and face of the Weah government. Though the General Auditing Commission issued a broad disclaimer in its reports on the $25 million audit, stating that it did not use certain standards of audit that would have dug up other material issues, it however pointed out to some material issues that generally show discrepancies placed on the lap of the Central Bank of Liberia. As The Analyst reports, the GAC did not mention any specific wrongdoing on the part of Finance Minister Tweah, something that may disappoint some critics.
The General Auditing Commission (GAC) has finally released the findings of its investigation on the US$25 million which government had withdrawn from the national reserve to remedy rising inflation underpinned by excess liquidity of Liberian Dollars.
There had been wild public demand for Government to explain and account for how such a huge amount of money was used. Much of the concerns arise out of the fact the stability between the country’s two legal tenders—the Liberian and US Dollars—is still fragile and running out of control.
It can be recalled that President George Manneh Weah in addressing the Nation on the state of the economy and announced an immediate infusion by the Central Bank of Liberia the amount of US$25 Million.
Following the President’s announcement, the Central Bank of Liberia under the mandate of the Technical Economic Management Team carried out the Mop-up Exercise during the period of July 17, 2018 to October 30, 2018.
Both Kroll and the Presidential Investigation Team’s Reports released months ago called for a forensic investigation of the entire Mop-up Exercise carried out by the CBL.
In that vein, the President of Liberia requested the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to conduct an investigative audit into the US$25 Million earmarked for the Mop-up Exercise through the Minister of Justice /Attorney General.
On Thursday, May 15, 2019 the GAC produced report on the mop up exercise, stating that it provided possible alternative approaches to the President’s request such as a Forensic Audit or an Agreed Upon Procedure (AUP) Engagement.
According to the GAC, it set forth conditions relating to the conduct of a forensic audit and An Agreed-Upon Procedure (AUP) Engagement but that the Government of Liberia through the Minister of Justice/Attorney General, opted for an Agreed Upon Procedure to be performed on the US$25 Million Mop-up Exercise.
Factual Findings on Authorization
The GAC said it first sought to find out and verify whether the proper, legal authorization was given for the withdrawal and use of the money. This entail a look at minutes, resolutions and other policy documents in order to determine the levels of authorization the CBL had to carry out the exercise.
But, according to the GAC, the TEMT Meetings Minutes provided to the GAC did not include minutes for the month of November 2018. The Minutes covered the months of July, August, September, October and December 2018.
The meetings minutes provided by TEMT were not signed.
Regarding CBL Memorandum of Understanding with GoL, the GAC revealed that the MOU also indicated that the Government of Liberia would refund the CBL of the amount used so as to restore the Reserve position on or before December 31, 2018; and that the Liberian dollars received by the CBL from the intervention (US$25Million Mop-Up exercise) shall be sterilized until there is a broad stability in the exchange rate for a period not less than one year.
The GAC reported that the meetings minutes of TEMT show that TEMT mandated CBL to carry out the Mop-Up Exercise and also authorized the CBL to re-infuse the mopped-up funds into the economy.
There have been some troubling findings in the report, which impugn on the veracity of how the CBL handled the mopping up exercise after it has mandated by the TEMT.
For instance, the GAC reported it did not note any transaction with narrative on the International Foreign Exchange Reserve Account held with the Federal Bank of New York that is related to the US$25Million Mop-up Exercise.
A letter dated April 22, 2019 from Executive Governor Nathaniel R. Patray, III revealed that the CBL Operational Fund was used for the US$25Million Mop-up Exercise. The funds used for the Mop-up, US$15M for direct mop-up and $2M auction to TOTAL Liberia, Inc. were traced to the CBL Operational Vault Account.
The GAC requested documents related to the beneficiaries of the US$25Million Mop-Up Exercise from the CBL, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Liberia Business Registry to determine the legitimacy of the beneficiaries.
The GAC also confirmed prior to the field visit the name, location and contact of each beneficiary as per the List submitted to us by the CBL.
For the period July 17 to October 26, 2018, CBL recorded US$15 Million as the amount sold to 281 businesses and foreign exchange bureaus by direct mop-up while US$2,000,000.00 was recorded as the amount sold to TOTAL Liberia Inc., through a special auction.
What appear most troubling is that the GAC indicated it was listed by the CBL of beneficiaries who indicated that they did not participate in the Mop-Up Exercise. Fifteen of these institutions were listed by the CBL as receiving $491,769, even though the entities told the GAC they did not participate in the exercise.
There is also another group of 27 entities that participated in the Mop Up Exercise per CBL Records but found as not registered per Liberia Business Registry Records. This means, the entities might have been non-tax compliant or illegal beneficiaries.
Yet still, there were 52 entities that that GAC reported also participated in the Mop Up Exercise per CBL Records but could not answer or reply to GAC’s telephone calls and text messages to verify their participation. These entities purported received $1,092,292.
There is also another category of beneficiaries. These eight entities, according to the GAC report, participated as per CBL Records in the Mop Up Exercise but auditors were not able to see them in operation during the field visits. They also purportedly received $163,446 of the money under audit.
The GAC said it verified activities of the transactions on the account but it found that that there was no corresponding United States Dollars account opened to hold the US$25Million to be drawn from the International Foreign Exchange Reserve Account for the purpose of the Mop-up Exercise.
The total of US$15 Million reported by the CBL as the amount used for the Mop-Up Exercise was drawn from the CBL’s Operational Vault Account instead of the International Foreign Reserve Account as per the MOU.
According to the GAC report, the Operational Vault Account of the CBL hosts several other transactions in addition to the amount used for the Mop-up Exercise.
No Men of Specific Role of Tweah
The GAC report did not mention specific or personal official role that Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah might have played to link him to any discrepancies and culpability.
Some pressure groups and critics have been calling for his dismissal, perhaps thinking that the entire $25 million saga was on his head.
So far, as the GAC report indicates, the Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT) gave the CBL that exclusive mandate, which is its fiduciary responsibility, for the mopping up exercise.
The Commission has left an unusual disclaimer.
It states: “Because the above procedures do not constitute either an audit or a review made in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI) or International Standards on Review Engagements (ISRE), we do not provide any assurance on the direct mop-up of excess liquidity conducted by the Central Bank of Liberia for the period July 17, 2018 to march 21, 2019.
“Had we performed additional procedures or had we performed an audit or review of the Reports of the Mopped Up Exercise in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI) or International Standards on Review Engagements (ISRE), other matters might have come to our attention that would have been reported to you.”