MoF, Ecobank Fuss Over Multiple Payments Claims
Finance Minister Amara Konneh and Ecobank Liberia Limited are seriously locked in war of words over multiple payments of government salaries through the bank.
Addressing reporters on Friday, Minister Konneh said: “We have a situation where you have seven paychecks going into one account; when you put all of that together, from what we have discovered so far, the monthly cost to government is around 50,000 dollars”.
“When you multiply that by twelve months, you are talking about 600, 000 dollars and it has been going on for three years. If you multiply 600,000 by three that’s 1.8million dollars and that’s just one transaction. So imagine as we go around and around and you will see that the cost to government will be much, much higher.”
But the President of Ecobank Liberia Limited Kola Adeleke seems to be treating Konneh’s statements unkindly that the ministry is looking into the behavior of Ecobank regarding a number of government paychecks winding up in the hands of ghosts GOL workers.
Kola has described Konneh’s statement as rather unfortunate. “It is really very unfortunate that the Minister of Finance will have a press conference and make those remarks about Ecobank without seeking an official comment from us on the issue before going to the press. I am sure he was not properly briefed and/or must have been misinformed,” he said.
According to him, the fact of the matter is that Ecobank has been processing payroll for some government ministries and agencies, and noted, in the process of doing that, the bank has had instances where it drew the attention of relevant ministries and agencies to multiplicity of payments to same employees' accounts.
“In few instances, we have had to refuse to process and returned some of the funds to the government by raising our Managers Check and delivering same to Ministry of Finance. We have also sent official communications to and met with relevant officials of Ministry of Finance to report such incidents in the past,” Kola disclosed.
However, Konneh said the Finance Ministry is considering taking decisive and quick action against Ecobank for what he termed its role in the fraudulent process that led government to lose nearly US$1.8 million over a period of three years.
He said the ministry is looking into the behavior of Ecobank in the transaction and that, in the next few days, it will review its contract with the bank and take the appropriate action.
“They too should have paid due diligence to their system and informed us appropriately,” he added. The minister noted that the ministry will ensure that it exhausts all legal means if the need arises to make Ecobank pays for its actions.
“We will review their contract and where we find that they did not exercise due diligence and defraud government, we will take them to court because they are supposed to enforce our contract and help us safeguard against fraud,” he said.
Konneh said the current actions being taken affect the Ministry of Education and Ecobank in the ministry’s direct deposit scheme, and that more ministries and agencies, including other banks will also be investigated.
But the Ecobank President has questioned whether it is the bank (or any bank for that matter) that prepares government’s payroll, adding “Banks only act on instructions of clients. If you ask Banks to credit your staff's account even 15 times, why should you hold the Bank responsible for doing so?”
“Has Ecobank done anything wrong by drawing the attention of government officials to such malpractices? Now that they finally decided to act, why should the blame be on Ecobank or any Bank for that matter?”
Kola said Ecobank stands ready to defend its position and activities relating to the transactions in question: “We will certainly engage the Ministry of Finance and forward to them relevant documents on this matter.”
Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry has dismissed eight employees in connection with the latest development. Those dismissed include, Etta Salvage, EDP Payroll Supervisor; Elder Jallah, EDP Payroll staff; Siafa Kemokai EDP Payroll staff; and Dunyan Pewee, EDP Payroll staff.
Others are Henry Sele, Acting Deputy Controller, Payroll; Scholastic Nimely, Chief Disbursing Officer; Byron Trokon Geply, Bank Relationship Officer; and Benedict Brown, Former Supervisor, Payroll Direct Deposit.
“Let me be quick to point out that these people are being relieved of their duties for either singular or collective negligent that led to the abuse of the payroll system thereby causing GoL millions of dollars. No criminal intent or mal-practices have been established even though not ruled out”, said the Finance boss.