MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ As pressure mounts on the government to provide information about the allegedly missing L$16 billion banknotes, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah says Liberians should disregard previous statements and press releases by Information Minister Eugene Nagbe and Justice Minister Musa Dean.
Since news broke out about the issue, Nagbe and Dean have been the official government sources providing updates to the public about the investigation to recover the money.
On September 17, Dean issued a press statement noting that on August 8, 2018, a presidential investigating team comprising the Liberia National Police, National Security Agency, and the Financial Intelligence Unit had been constituted and mandated to investigate information surrounding the arrival of containers and bags of monies into the country through the Roberts International Airport in Margibi and Freeport of Monrovia.
Dean said initial findings indicate that the containers and bags of money allegedly arrived in the country between November 2017 and August 2018.
Nagbe then appeared on ELBC Radio and the Voice of America on Tuesday, September 18 to say that President George Weah had commissioned an investigation following a tip that new banknotes had been printed and brought into the country without the presidentâ€™s knowledge.
In his interviews, Nagbe revised the amount in question from L$9 billion to L$16 billion (US$104 million).
But Tweah contradicted Nagbeâ€™s statement in a call to OK FM on Thursday, September 20. He noted that the total amount of Liberian dollar currency was L$15 billion and not L$16 billion. He blamed the media for changing the figure.
â€œThe total amount of money printed from 2016 to 2018 is L$15 billion Tweah said. â€œI got a called from an international friend who said, â€˜You people have to be stupid in Liberia.â€™â€
When challenged about the information ministerâ€™s interview on VOA Day Break Africa program, Tweah told his interviewers, â€œForget about all that was said by Minister Nagbe and Dean and report from now that, absolutely, the government is not chasing any billion.â€
â€œWe are not chasing any missing container containing L$9 billion or L$16 billion because it is not possible to print L$15 billion and one more billion that is added by the media is missing,â€ he said.
Tweah mentioned that no countryâ€™s economy could function properly if half of the money supply is missing.
â€œIndividuals who are to be going to school are sitting down and playing politics with the people live in the country,â€ he said.
â€œI cannot withstand the ridiculing of my country for political purposes, and this is unacceptable,â€ he added. â€œI could not withstand the fake news that is now making headlines globally to the extent that the BBC is calling a journalist who was trying to make the government look ugly on the basis of no facts.â€
Tweah said the investigation undertaken by the government is not about recovering missing money, but rather about establishing credibility.
â€œThe government is bringing in the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and International Monetary Fund to show that no billion is missing and are accounted for, and all money trails exceed all the laws at the CBL to establish a credible basis for the government to launch a monetary policy,â€ he said.
Although Tweah blamed journalists throughout his interview for fabricating stories, the government has not been forthcoming about the case of the missing billions. However, most of the public statements from the government have been defensive and as a result of details uncovered by the media, with the Information Ministry often declining to respond to local journalists.
Moreover, Tweah is not known for being truthful. During his Thursday interview, as proof the media fabricating stories, he claimed that he had never told the press in a previous appearance that he made US$500,000 a year at his past job at the African Development Bank. However, there is clear video footage of Tweah making that claim.
The finance minister, after dismissing the previous statements of the information minister, also said there would be a press conference at the Information Ministry on September 20 to better address the matter.
However, shortly after Tweahâ€™s interview, Lawrence Fahnbulleh, the director for press at the Information Ministry, posted on his official Facebook page that the press conference was canceled.
â€œThe Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism informs all journalists that there will be no press briefing today,â€ Fahnbulleh wrote.
When The Bush Chicken contacted Fahnbulleh via mobile phone to ascertain why the press conference was canceled, he provided no definite reason but said journalists would be informed later about the rescheduled press conference.
Sources within the Information Ministry who spoke to The Bush Chicken anonymously said Tweahâ€™s comments dismissing Nagbeâ€™s previous statements were responsible for the press conference being called off.
Featured Photo by Zeze Ballah