Liberia’s Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe might not have elected to mention anything about issues surrounding claims of missing Liberian banknotes at this year’s convention of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), but not until he said his cup was made full by further claim from opposition figure Alexander Cummings that money was actually missing.
Cummings, an ex-executive of Cola Cola International, is the leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) now steering a seemingly post-election coalition of two other parties – former ruling Unity Party, and Liberty Party.
When he took the stage shortly after Cummings did, Nagbe said: “If any member of the opposition, including Mr. Cummings, knows that we have missing billions, we’d urge him to avail the information to the ongoing investigation. Other than that, the government has proven to be very transparent about this matter.”
“The Central Bank of Liberia itself is a focus of the investigation; it has the right to set its own records straight that there’s no money missing, though that does not preclude the investigation from going to its logical conclusion,” he said.
The government, Minister Nagbe vowed, will make the investigation transparent and the Liberian people will see all of the facts as to who printed the money; how much was brought in whether by the airport or seaport or wherever, and in the end, he said, this will be laid to rest.
According to Nagbe, there was no need for Cummings to “utilize” platforms such as the journalists’ convention, “to score political points.”
The both of them were selected by ALJA as keynote speakers for the 2018 convention that took place over the weekend in Minnesota in which scores of Liberia-based media practitioners flew to join colleagues in the United States.
When he first mounted the podium to talk about the importance of development journalism to country and people, Mr. Cummings challenged the media to expose corruption in the private and public sectors, pointing to “the millions of dollars that suddenly went missing and cannot be accounted for” after the government printed the money.
“We will depend on you to follow up on the story so that government provides answers to the questions that demand answers: who ordered the printing of the money? How much exactly is printed? Who took charge of the money once it entered the country? And did it go through the proper channel?” the ANC stalwart told the congregation of journalists.
Consequently, Nagbe had had to literally put a hold on the delivery of his “prepared speech” for the moment to react to the assertions made by Cummings as some journalists listened keenly while a few quarrelled in the background apparently due to the slight twist of events.
Minister Nagbe said although he was asked to speak about “Government-Media Relationship,” yet the “new-found opposition leader” had raised the issue of ‘16 billion’, referring to Cummings.
“So what am I supposed to do? Stick to the scripts?” he asked, adding “I have a prepared speech that says nothing about 16 billion or 1 billion or 1 cent. That would have been the case had I not been a politician, myself. Now I’m under obligation to correct [the misinformation] that was spewed by Mr. Cummings that the government said there was 16 billion missing,” he said.
The Liberian government’s spokesman eventually reflected saying: “You know Mr. Cummings happens to be a former colleague of mine; he and I served in the previous government. He was director of the board of a big entity (Booker Washington Institute-BWI) and I was a minister, so we are both well-placed to understand some of the things that happened in the past.”
Those things, the Information Minister furthered, include “the fact that a few months to the (2017) elections there were instructions given for the printing of money – whether within or without the confines of the law—that will be determined at a later date.”
Moreover, in his reaction to the ANC political leader, Mr. Nagbe said “so L$10 billion was printed very close to the elections. A new president took over. He was not briefed about this development during the transitional period neither by the Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia. The exchange-notes did not say this is what happened, so when he (President Weah) got the winds of the situation he ordered an investigation which any president would do.”
Meanwhile, the Presidential Investigation Team probing into general circumstances surrounding the printing of Liberian banknotes told the press last week that it is working to unearth facts of such matter in time.