The biggest political and social shock that hit the administration of President George Manneh Weah has been the alleged disappearance of L$16 billion. Not only does this event come as a debilitating blow to the young administration which has been finding its bearing on the political and economic landscape amid the shambled economy inherited and high public expectation for change but also that some Liberians who are still nursing the wounds of electoral defeat have found in the event an ideal opportunity to render the nation ungovernable for the new regime and score political points. Thus, since the last six to seven months, the country has been restless and the citizens flustered on this singular event and it seems the major breaking point is afoot as two groups investigating the event are reportedly set to release their findings. The Analyst has been following public anxiety and comments bobbling all over the place ahead of the release of the much-expected reports.
The Presidential Investigating Team set up by President George Manneh Weah as well as the auditing firm hired by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected release to the public findings of their investigation of L$16 billion which was allegedly missing from state coffers.
The news about the missing money has stirred emotions in the country, triggering public demonstrations and protests seeking verifiable answers to what might have happened to the money.
The President of Liberia, George Manneh Weah, swiftly set up a special Presidential Investigation Team including public and private integrity organizations in the country to probe the news of the missing the money.
The Liberian leader also quickly implored the international community to help in the investigation.
The United States Embassy near Monrovia promptly responded to the President’s request and announced that it had reached out to independent, internationally recognized firms with specialization in forensic investigations, to conduct a scoping mission to ascertain the basic facts of the alleged missing currency matter, and determine to what extent a broader mission would be needed.
In a release, the US Embassy noted that “If a broader and longer investigation were found to be needed after the scoping mission has concluded, the government could discuss next steps with international partners.”
In his state of the nation address this year, President Weah reiterated his preparedness to unleash the full weight of the law upon anyone that would be found culpable in reports emanating from investigations commissioned in the missing L$16 billion.
He also confirmed that the reports would be available at the end of February.
Nation braces for Reports
Since the early days of this week, speculations and rumors got rife on the release of reports of the twin investigations into the alleged missing billions. Radio talk show hosts and posters on the social media have indicated some knowledge of what they consider to be the reports, even though the reports are yet to be released officially.
Some talk show hosts during the week were heard reading what they considered Executive Summary of one of the reports, and many callers and discussants on the talk shows have been sounding militant as to what they want to happen to culprits of the investigations.
As the week folds, the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) announced that the Presidential Investigation Team, which was also probing the alleged missing money, would release its report Thursday.
But what would recharge an already high public anxiety came Wednesday morning when the Ministry in less than ten hours postponed the releasing time of the report from 11:am to 4:pm.
“Given the importance of this report and its implication on the security and economy of the country,” a senior government official preferring anonymity told The Analyst that “the adjustment in the time is to allow many citizens return from work and market and listen or watch the release of the report. “
Meanwhile, the diplomatic community near Liberia has been bringing stakeholders together in tete-a-tete ahead of the release of the reports.
It appears the international community is running these meetings so as to reduce tension and acrimonies that might come from the release of the reports and their impact on national security and stability.
While the international community is softening the ground and psychologically preparing Liberians to remain calm and conduct themselves properly when the reports are released, some Liberians have already begun venting their outrage and position on what they think must happen when the reports are out.
A local newspaper this week called names of individuals it believes are linked to the report, but failed to quote portion of the report.
Some of the reactions are no different from what they were when news of the alleged missing billion first broke in the country.
Some are speculating that top officials of the Central Bank of Liberia, with close links with the past administration, are most culpable and may be the ones named in the pending report.
Critics and detractors of the current government suspect that the report would indict key members the new administration, vowing street protests.
Some discussants on radio and posters of the social media, mainly Facebook, have been calling on Government, particularly President Weah, not to spare a single person who is indicted by the investigation reports, though there are callings insinuating the complicity of the President himself.
“Whether the President of the country is involved in the scandal of the missing money or not will be determined from how he handles the report by his own team set up and more so by the international community,” said a caller on one talk show yesterday morning.
He added: “We will see, and every soon. And I hope the President is aware how much his government’s peace and health is tied to these reports and how he handles them.”
A mix of demonstrations and protests are being threatened in the wake of the release of the L$16 billion investigative reports.
Though some of the protests target the ongoing impeachment trial of Justice Kabina Ja’neh, there are unconfirmed reports of threats of demonstration to pressure government to take actions to address recommendations from the L$16 billion reports.
Some Liberians are calling for calm and understanding. Speaking to The Analyst Wednesday, a Liberian cleric, Pastor Henry T. Benda said Liberians should not tear apart their country for money, no matter how much.
“This is the only country we have. We must do everything to preserve it; to preserve its peace no matter what,” he said. “The United States of America in whom we all have hope has hired a consultant to do an audit. When the report is out, let’s demonstrate faith in America and in the report and accept it.”
The Liberian cleric continued: “It is also my plea that the Government, particularly President Weah would do the right thing as required by the reports. Not only should he do the right thing, he must do it promptly. This is one of the greatest tests he has got. He promised the law will take its course; he must ensure that law must take its course. In that cause, he will be disproving critics that he actually knows what he’s doing and is supposed to do as President.”
As the country braces itself for the release of the reports, many tend to share the views of Cleric Benda that the citizens remain calm but that the Government will proceed with what is lawful and do it timely.
“This is the only thing that guarantees the peace and stability of the country after all the hulling and pulling amongst Liberians about the L$16 billion dollar,” said shop-owner Augustus Z. Tarley. “Good that one of the reports was done by a US-sponsored firm. Good. But again, how we handle the report or its findings is all that matters. Most importantly, the onus is on the President.”