For the foreseeable future, the attention in the coming days will be focused on the lower house and whether they intend to concur with the Senate’s decision to bar Jones from entering the 2017 presidential sweepstakes. For now, though, Jones, who is yet to publicly comment on anything - from his interests in the presidency to threats of keeping him out of the 2017 play, could find himself entangled in a web of political intrigue, forced to the wall and held to the fire, hanging on the threads of a decision likely to decide his fate or make or break his political future.
Monrovia – Depending on whom you ask; the Senate plenary may have thrown a monkey wrench in the perceived presidential ambition of the Central Bank of Liberia Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones –even before Jones publicly addressed the mystery surrounding whether or not he has any such intentions.
Swirling in uncertainty and in the backdrop of a controversial loan scheme sweeping the length and breadth of Liberia, Jones’ actions in recent weeks raised eyebrows among what some believe are some of his potential opponents, currently serving in government in both executive and legislative branches of government, fearing that Jones is overseeing a financial war chest at CBL which could give him an unfair advantage over others secretly setting their sights on the presidency.
A controversial honor form a select media group and a national tour which is drawing massive crowds for Jones, has only added to the intrigue amid the growing perceptions that Jones has his sights set on the presidency.
Intrigue amid uncertainty
Adding to the intrigue is what some political observers say is a growing wedge between Jones and the incumbent, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf over the controversial loan scheme splitting hairs with the government.
Jones has maintained his commitment to continuing the controversial Microfinance Initiative against objections from the Executive Mansion, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund who FrontPageAfrica reported last year have been pressuring the CBL to end the program, some economic analysts say, may be responsible for the current exchange rate inflation in the country. FrontPageAfrica has learned that both the IMF and the World Bank favor keeping reserves normally abroad, out of the country. But the CBL disagrees.
The inflation debate has sparked concerns that potential ambitions of both Jones and Finance Minister Amara Konneh are contributing to the depreciation and inconsistencies of the Liberia dollar. Konneh has gone on record to say that many Liberians are suffering because the exchange rate has skyrocketed and hurting Liberians.
The issue regarding the inflation, the dwindling economy and the noise over Jones’ potential political sojourn is also expected to ignite a debate over whether the rule banning Jones should be extended to include others as well, currently rumored to be harboring presidential ambitions.
Although Senator Armah Jallah, one of the sponsors of the bill insists the Senate’s decision is void of any political undertones, Senators say, they are simply trying to correct a mistake it made years before by relegating some of its functions to the CBL.
On the campus of the University of Liberia, the Liberia National Students Union disagrees, taking exception to the Senate’s decision targeting Jones’ exclusion from the 2017 presidential play.
Backing for Jones from LINSU
The students group lamented at a news conference last week that the decision is in clear violation of the Liberian Constitution and the right of the individual to free association and participation.
“Article 18 of our Constitution declares "All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, political affiliation, status, ... and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work,” stated LINSU.
“In view of Article 18, we maintain that Dr. Jones and other Duty Governors and Board members of the CBL are entitled to the right to a job, irrespective of what a senator or group of senators may perceive as 'future political treat' from Gov. Jones.”
LINSU maintains that the Senate's action taken to pass such a bogus bill will hurt the people rather than the CBL family.
“What is emanating from the Senate has the poisonous ability to keep frustrating the hope of the ordinary people who continue to suffer under the irresponsible legislative workings of so-called senators speaks volume to the short sightedness of lawmakers who should look farther than near,” stated LINSU at a press conference held on Sunday, February 15, 2014.
Bill Eyeing Loan Scheme, Potential Quest
In passing into law, an amended provision of the March 18, 1999 Act authorizing the Establishment of the Central Bank of Liberia, the Senate’s decision aims to prohibit the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and members of the Board of Governors from contesting political office(s) while serving in their respective offices and shall not be qualified to contest any elected office within three years consecutively after the expiration of their tenure with the CBL.
The passage of the bill was a result of a report submitted to plenary by a special committee established by the Plenary of the Liberian Senate chaired by the Ways, Means and Finance committee. The special committee chaired by Senator Isaac Nyenabo, Chair of the Senate ways, Means and Finance Committee included members of the Judiciary committee, chaired by Senator Fredrick Cherue of River-Gee County.
The committee was mandated by the plenary of the Liberian senate to investigate the CBL on its Micro Credit Loan Scheme plans to print and supply legal tender banknotes by the CBL Governor Jones to ascertain facts of the governor had the power under the Liberian constitution and the CBL act of 1999.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Armah Jallah(National Party of Liberia, Gbarpolu County) and has now been sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence. However, the decision has no doubt put the ball in Jones’ court and will probably force him into making a decision sooner, rather than later.
Sub-Section 3 of Part IV. Section 13 of the CBL amended Act calls for the removal of the board of governors from office upon a bill of impeachment by the House of Representatives, Upon finding by a majority of the Board of Governors and the recommendation of the President, for several reasons which include; Gross Breach of Duty, Misconduct of Office, Conviction of a Felony and Being declared Bankrupt and Violation of paragraph (a) and /or (b) of sub-section 1 of section 13.
The amended provision also gives power to the National Legislature to determine whether or not an impeachable offense has been committed by the Executive Governor or a member of the Board of Governors at the Central Bank of Liberia. The bill also gives power to the Legislature to take the necessary action such as impeachment in keeping with the relevant provisions of the constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
Fearing Uneven Playing Field
Part IX Section 44 which prohibits the Central Bank of Liberia from engaging in trade or participating directly or indirectly in the ownership of any financial, Agriculture, Commercial, Industrial, or enterprises was also amended.
Jones’ critics, many, including some in the Executive are quietly suggesting that the governor is leading an uneven playing field and using the loan scheme and tours around the country to showcase his stature as a presidential material and preferred successor to Sirleaf. However, the underlying factors and divided appeal of the Jones’ loan scheme has made it complicated and difficult to decipher the otherwise obscure political intent.
Some of the Jones’ critics say, the governor may have contributed to his own potential political demise with the micro loan program, his detractors say, could be partly blamed for the lingering inflation as huge sum of Liberian dollars was infused in the economy chasing the available United States dollars. But it is a Jone’s public feud with Finance Minister Amara Konneh which some say is responsible for the poor performance of the economy.
But despite criticisms aimed at Jones, the scheme received some support last year from U.S. Ambassador Deborah Malac who heaped praise on the CBL during a visit to Jones, declaring that Jones’ effort at stimulating the economy and empowering Indigenous Liberian businesses was a step in the right direction.
Said Ambassador Malac: "I'm pleased with the CBL initiative, particularly the micro-finance loan to business men and women. I am well pleased because the initiative was highly critical in working to build the private sector in Liberia."
Jones’ Political Future at Stake
The scheme’s success has been a hit amongst market women and grass root factions of Liberia. However, the Senate inquiry kicked last year when a laundry list of high-profile former banking executives and legal experts, including former Governor Eli Saleeby, former Agriculture Bank President Professor Wilson Tarpeh, former Solicitor General Cllr. Wilkins Wright, Professor Geegbae and Senator Sumo Kupee took turns before the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance, offering their views on the much-talked about CBL policy in regards to the loan initiative.
The Loan Extension and Availability Facility (LEAF) is a grassroots program intended to get funds directly into the hands of Liberians who utilize the microfinance sector at a low interest rate and a longer period.
According to the CBL, the goal of the program is to help ordinary Liberians who otherwise would be unable to get loans from commercial banks. The program requires no collateral, and loans are provided to beneficiaries through their financial institutions, including microfinance institutions, credit unions and village savings and loan associations. The LEAF program, according to the CBL has provided a total of 364 loans to financial groups of ordinary Liberians in all 15 counties since its inception to a tone of over $200 Million Liberian dollars.
Since 2012, the Microfinance Unit of the CBL has among other things developed a regulatory framework for the microfinance sector, provided loans to support onward lending, provided funds to microfinance institutions, credit unions and village savings and loan associations; assisted with village saving loans in twelve counties and has pursued opportunities for advancing mobile and branchless banking.
While much of the criticism of the bank's initiative has raised questions about the motives, the CBL insists that long term growth and development of Liberia must rest in the hands of Liberians and sea access to credit as a significant impediment to the success of Liberian entrepreneurship.
"When Liberian-owned businesses are able to access credit, they are able to expand, create new jobs for other Liberians and enhance the general state of economic activities in Liberia.
For the foreseeable future, the attention in the coming days will be focused on the lower house and whether they intend to concur with the Senate’s decision to bar Jones from entering the 2017 presidential sweepstakes.
For now, though, Jones, who is yet to publicly comment on anything - from his interests in the presidency to threats of keeping him out of the 2017 play, could find himself entangled in a web of political intrigue, forced to the wall and held to the fire, hanging on the threads of a decision likely to decide his fate or make or break his political future.