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Check scandal rocks Finance

-L$6m and US$68,000 withdrawn

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The nation’s financial house, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) is walloping in a check scandal that has seen L$6m and US$68,000 withdrawn from various branches of the GN Bank.

Finance Ministry authorities say the financial syndicate involves the Ministry’s ‘Unapplied accounts’ at GN Bank Liberia Limited and other commercial banks operating here. Liberia’s Comptroller General Janga Augustus Kowo, who office manages these checks says the ministry has begun an investigations into the scandal.

Recently, it was reported that a syndicate at the Ministry of Finance Development and Planning and other financial institutions has been defrauding the Government of Liberia several thousand dollars.

The latest syndicate allegedly occurred at GN Bank Liberia Limited when about L$6M and US$68,000 were withdrawn at various branches of the bank from the “Unapplied Account”, but its Clara Town branch was the main point of withdrawal, due to its strong liquidity base.

Prior to the discovery of the alleged ‘syndicate’, some officials of the Ministry of Finance had paid several visits to GN Bank Liberia Limited to conduct investigations, according to Finance Ministry sources.

The nature of the probe was not revealed, but the syndicate, according to sources at the National Security Agency, has been operating for a while now from the “Unapplied Accounts” at various commercial banks in the country.

The Office of Comptroller General, says it observed suspicious transactions, which prompted the Comptroller General to invite the National Security Agency to conduct investigations.
“Due to rigid monitoring policy we instituted here, it led us to uncover this act. It could have been more if we had not put into place some of those measures. Maybe it has been ongoing for years. We met some of those people (who are under investigation) here and we did not want to remove them,” Mr. Kowo told this paper late Saturday.

“Based on our invitation, the NSA came in and started to conduct its investigations. Up to now, a number of employees have been arrested here and that of GN Bank, which is in question”, he explained. An ‘Unapplied Account’ is a special Government of Liberia account established to effect payments to government employees.

Those accounts are owned by the Ministry for the purpose of salaries that are not credited to employees’ accounts and are later returned to the government due to either, account name mismatch, wrong account number, duplicated entries, etc on the payroll, and rejected by bank system as invalid during automated processing.

Comptroller General Kowo said the amount in question, which is missing from the government’s account, is about L$6m (an equivalent of US$30,000) and not US$6M as was earlier reported.
He said that they are waiting for the outcome of the investigations from the NSA before embarking on next course of action. “But for now, we do not want to say anything. What we have done here is to put into place tighter and rigorous procedures here.”

A source close to the investigation said, findings are expected to be released shortly. “My Intel told me that they have gone far with the investigations and should give their report soon.”

Another source claimed two check books were missing from the Ministry which were used to forge signatures of officials at the Ministry to withdraw said amount. But the Ministry has informed all to cease transactions on said account.

Mr. Kowo said, as a person from transparency background (he previously worked with the General Auditing Commission as one of its senior auditors), he is concerned about public funds. “When it comes to public money, we have to be very careful. Every penny must be accounted for at this ministry. We will do everything to get to the bottom of this matter. Maybe this has been ongoing for some time,” he said.

In relations to expenditure, the Deputy Minister for Expenditure at the Finance Ministry, Samora Wolokollie told this paper via phone Saturday that, he was concerned about the transactions. He however could not deny nor confirm the missing of check books, but added that it was unfortunate that the person at Treasury could not be vigilant.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor–Editing by Jonathan Browne

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