23

Mar

THIEVES IN THE TREASURY 08062015

2015-06-08

THIEVES IN THE TREASURY
BY HENRY BOYO

Clearly, the heavy grime and dirt on Nigerian currency notes readily serve as vector for the spread of germs and diseases, particularly in an environment where the culture of regular hand washing is not well grounded. However, despite commendable progress in the adoption of E-transactions, cash handling still remains very popular regardless of the quality of the notes and the attendant health hazard.

Curiously, however, new currency notes have become easier to obtain at social parties and event centres where they are brazenly hawked with up to 20 percent discount, even when commercial banks, continue to plead non supply from CBN. Nevertheless, the popular suspicion of ‘under table dealings’ in currency supply were probably validated last week by media reports, such as “EFCC nabs six CBN officials and 16 other bankers over N8bn fraud”, (pg 9 in Vanguard edition of 1/ 6/15). Apparently, the EFCC picked up the suspects for “stealing and putting back into circulation about N8bn stock of defaced and mutilated Nigerian currency notes which were meant for destruction”; investigations also revealed that in September 2014, “a box that was supposed to contain N5bn in N500 note denominations was discovered to be filled instead with old newspapers” at the same Ibadan branch of the CBN.

Clearly, the sum of N8bn indicated, may actually be an understatement, since the EFCC also claims that such escapades had enjoyed considerable mileage over several years. Besides, the N134m credit balance in one of several bank accounts and the value of other listed properties allegedly acquired by a standard six certificate cash assistant, who is, incidentally, a junior member of the Ibadan syndicate, may already exceed N1bn! The whistle blower who uncovered the heist also alleged that the Treasury assistant, and the Head of Security at CBN-Ibadan branch were alerted, but surprisingly took no action. Be that as it may, this development probably explains why grimy, dirty notes still form a good proportion of currency in circulation. 

Nevertheless, the EFCC, also recognized that “this currency fraud is partly to blame for the failure of CBN’s monetary policy, as the surplus cash mop up exercises by the Apex bank inevitably failed to check the inflationary pressure on the economy”. The EFCC’s above statement seeks to explain that in order to reduce the inflationary threat from perceived surplus Naira in the system, the CBN commits the hari-kari of adopting high monetary policy rates which are antagonistic to economic growth and job creation. Worse still, as counter measure against rising prices, the CBN becomes forced to reduce the extant surplus money supply by borrowing hundreds of billions of Naira that would simply be kept as idle funds, despite the attendant oppressive interest rates of up to 15 percent, in order to restrain commercial banks from promoting spending by lending to other customers and fueling inflation. This unfortunate counterproductive and anti people strategy to restrain inflation clearly becomes meaningless, if senior CBN staff, in collusion with other commercial bank staff continue to re-inject billions of already discarded/condemned currency notes back into the system, while the Apex bank is conversely kept busy with the simultaneous mopping up of perceived systemic excess Naira supply, despite the attendant oppressive national debt burden. 

Curiously, the modus operandi of the Ibadan currency theft is awkwardly similar to the process CBN also formally adopts for its excess liquidity mop up operations. For example, while CBN on one hand pretends to be socially responsible in attempting to stop inflation by reducing Naira surplus and liberal spending, the same Reserve bank also deliberately promotes the disenabling liquidity surplus syndrome when it substitutes humongous Naira allocations for the distributable portion of dollar denominated revenue every month!

Indeed, with the prevailing culture of impunity in governance, it would be a hard sell to convince Nigerians that the Ibadan currency scam is an isolated case; thus, it would be presumptions to approve a clean bill to the other 36 stations where such CBN cash operations are executed nationwide. Expectedly, the arrests in Ibadan would obviously trigger cover-up strategies in other CBN cash centres nationwide before the investigators arrived.

Incidentally, currency scams involving CBN staff are not unusual; for example, in December 2012, the House of Representatives expressed shock to “hear that N2.1bn of newly printed N1000 notes was missing at the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company”, a corporation over which CBN has supervisory role. Media reports suggested then, that in order to facilitate investigations, the Managing Director of the NSPMC, one, Ehi Okoyomon who reportedly enjoyed extravagant lifestyle, and the subsisting Head of security, of the Mint Company were sent on compulsory leave. Sadly, the initial intensity of public attention to this scam has since waned and prosecution may ultimately never be concluded. 
In another related development, the cover report of the Sun Newspaper edition of 16th April 2013 also carried a story titled “EFCC detains ex Mint MD Okoyomon over N750m polymer scandal!” The story was sequel to allegations that an Australian Newspaper had reported that, SECURENCY (a note printing subsidiary of the Reserve bank of Australia) paid N750m in bribes to some officials of CBN between 2006- 2008 to secure the contract to make polymer notes in Nigeria. According to the report, apart from a former CBN Governor, senior officials of the Finance ministry and a former President were named as beneficiaries of the bribes.

While no official of the Central Bank has so far been indicted, the EFCC is presently in court with Ehi Okoyomon, over a request to extradite him to the UK to face prosecution over bribery allegations on the contract for the N20 polymer note. 
However, in a curious twist of events, the same CBN which had, earlier zealously promoted attributes of the polymer notes at great public expense, has lately turned around to condemn the adoption of such currency as ill advised because polymer notes were found to rapidly deteriorate. Nevertheless, it is also alleged that the polymer contract bribes may have encouraged Securrency to breach the planned establishment of 

Surely, the autonomy of the CBN should not provide a cover for the perpetuation of financial crimes especially when the success or failure of the Nigerian economy rest squarely on its performance. The source of billions of Naira unilaterally expended as interventions in various sectors of the economy by former Governors is yet to be determined. Furthermore, the source of billions of dollars liberally auctioned to Bureau de Change, even when the real sector is deprived is also yet to be ascertained; why for example, should the CBN sit on tens of billions of dollars as idle deposits, while our Government goes cap in hand to borrow at atrocious rates of interest from external creditors.

Furthermore, CBN’s unhealthy collusion with commercial banks, has openly promoted the scam of margin trading, round tripping and the provisions of free funds, which are subsequently mopped with atrocious interest rates which inordinately bloat the profitability of banks despite their zero added value, while the real sector totters and unemployment spirals. A forensic audit of the uses and sources of funds by the CBN is certainly urgently required.

SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!!