The 16 Billion Dollar Crisis in Liberia

A Coincidence or The Result of Government Corruption?

By: Chermo Toure

Liberia’s central bank in Monrovia doesn’t have its own mint and is the only body that can order currency. (Credit: Wall Street Journal)

In recent weeks, it was revealed that 16 billion Liberian dollars (LRD), equivalent to 104 million US dollars, were stolen from the country of Liberia.

Liberia, located in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Liberia has little to no infrastructure; things we take for granted in the United States, such as basic plumbing and clean water, are almost non-existent there.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Liberia is 729 dollars, an extremely low amount compared to other countries.

The loss of sixteen billion Liberian dollars could cause an economic recession, as the already poor country cannot afford to lose that amount of money.  

Liberia’s GDP is $2.101 billion US dollars, according to the World Bank. The 104 million dollars stolen from the country represent approximately five percent of  Liberia’s GDP.

Liberia, which is still recovering from the commodity-price crash of 2014 and the devastating Ebola epidemic, is not in the best position to take this recent hit.

The stolen money had been ordered by the Liberian central bank during former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s term in office. As one of the poorest countries on the planet, Liberia does not own a national mint and consequently cannot print its own currency.

As a result, other countries overseas must print Liberia’s currency, then deliver it to the country itself.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the 104 million dollars had arrived in Liberia between November 2017 and August 2018. The monies had arrived in canvas bags in 20-foot sealed containers.

Once the monies were cleared by Liberia’s customs and entered the country, they never made it to the central bank. Liberian authorities immediately began investigating the situation.

According to TimesLive, more than thirty arrest warrants have been issued toward former Liberian central bank officials. These include former bank governor Milton Weeks and Charles Sirleaf, the son of former Liberian president Sirleaf.

Sirleaf, who had promised to fight corruption during her tenure in office, only exacerbated the problem. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Sirleaf has been accused of nepotism. During her time in office, she promoted close family members to senior positions in her administration.

With news of the 104 million dollars going missing, Liberians are not happy, as the money was meant to stimulate the economy. Thousands of  Liberians took to the streets on September 24th to voice their frustration with the situation.

“We cannot go to other countries lobbying for money then 16 billion Liberian dollars just goes missing. I want them to bring back our money immediately,” Reuters reported from a political activist.

Some analysts have said that this situation can threaten the delicate political climate in Liberia. George Weah, the current president of Liberia, took office in a peaceful transition of power.

Peaceful transitions of power are not common in Liberian history. During Charles Taylor’s transition to the presidency, various rebel groups competed for power in the country.

Furthermore, if there are any public officials charged with stealing the 16 billion LRD, this could give President Weah an opportunity to reform the administration. Perhaps this crisis can pave the way to much needed anti-corruption laws in Liberia.

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