Why are Things so Different in Liberia: The Case of the "Tear, Tear Money"

By Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

The Inquirer
Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 1, 2003

Sometimes, as I sit and ponder over some of the numerous problems for which I am yet to find answers on my own, I tend to think on why things are done and are so different in Liberia! My former professor of philosophy at the University of Liberia, Dr. Dr.Wollor Topor, once said, "there is only one science, and there is only one mathematics...", in reference to why things so different in Liberia.

I have always "knocked on my chest" to say that our country indeed has perfect socio-economic and political structures. What do I mean? I am referring to the various structures that would make a country like Liberia move forward with its development. Disappointingly, our dear country is still lagging behind. We continue to behave so differently as if the mathematics, sciences etc. that are taught in our schools are not the same as in other countries. Even countries that recently gained their independence are making headways while we seem to be content with our backwardness and continue to brag about sovereignty.

I have had to make the above synopsis just to bring to focus the issue on how we treat, may I say reject "tear, tear money," which the professionals refer to as mutilated banknotes. The phrase "tear, tear money" in the Liberian parlance, refers to banknotes which have some cut marks, or just have a piece torn off, eventhough the essential features of a currency are intact. The rejection of such banknotes has become so grave to the extent that confusion always crops up between buyers and sellers in the various markets, and between commuters and commercial drivers. At times, such situations end up in fist fights.

Although, I earlier published something about this, I have been constrained to reinforce it because of an incident near the ELWA Junction recently. On my way from the ELWA radio station few days ago, I saw a driver and a passenger engaged in a heated argument over "tear, tear, money." Out of curiosity, I decided to intervene. During that process, I discovered that the money was still useful, but the driver insisted he could not accept it. He said if he took it to the filling station, the petrol dealer will not accept it. To lay the matter to rest, I immediately took the risk by replacing the fifty dollars banknote.

What Is The Source Of The Problem?

Apart from my interaction with the driver, I have heard of people refusing banknotes on grounds that should they take same to transact business, the seller will outrightly reject it. Some persons claim that even some banks are refusing to accept the "tear, tear, money." Something that clearly indicates that there is a source of the problem. I do not believe in only looking at the symptom, than the cause of a sickness.

From all indications, if the source(banks/sellers) of this bad practice could be identified, then this matter would be put to rest. Until then, the confusion over "tear, tear money" will continue and may one day lead to a greater crisis.

I believe there is a source for this problem, for which people are refusing to accept the "tear, tear money". The other day, I presented a US$5.00 note to pay for a gallon of gas at the filling station on Lynch and Carey streets, to my utmost surprise the dealer refused to accept it on grounds that if he took it to the Petroleum Storage Terminal(PST) of the

Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), they will not accept it. When I asked for what was wrong with the money, he said it was too weak. From that development, one can trace the situation; first from the gas station, and on to the PST, which could in turn lead to other areas, thus discovering the source for which the gas dealer had to refuse or accept the US$5.00. Obviously, from such a scenario, measures could be instituted for a solution.

Neighboring Countries

Visit our neighboring countries and you will observe that their banknotes in circulation are worse off than ours, yet we still have problem with ours. Why? This is a matter that the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) should tackle immediately, because it is the government’s institution charged with such matters. The CBL handles one of the two major economic tools in the country, monetary policy.

In some of the neighboring countries where I have traveled, one can hardly see the special features on their banknotes, for some you even have to guess the color yet their citizens proudly use them as a medium of exchange, the primary reason for the existence of money. "My brother, there is no problem. This is only to do business. It is not your personal property. You receive it, you use it to do business", was exactly the answer to a question I posed to a citizen of one of our neighboring countries.

From his response, I was reminded of the essence of money. Generally, it is said that money is anything that is accepted as a medium of exchange. For simplicity, that is anything sanctioned by the state to exchange for goods and services. Before, gold and silver were the most common forms of money. This was so because it was generally accepted that gold and silver be used as medium of exchange. In other cases, people use the barter system- where they exchange goods and services for other goods and services. But as times changed, further improvements brought about the introduction of paper money, now referred to as banknotes. The first paper money was developed in China in the AD 600's, from there, it began to spread to other areas. The Italian trader, Marco Polo, was amazed when he saw the use of paper money instead of coins in China while on a visit there in 1200s. I do not wish to dwell too much on history but at times, it is important to give some historical facts.

During the administration of the late Samuel Doe, banknotes referred to as "JJ Roberts" were introduced to replace the Liberian coins "seven corners", as national currency. That decision may have been taken because of the inconveniences people were faced with in carrying taking a sizable amount of the coins. During the transitional period of Dr, Amos Sawyer, new banknotes commonly known as the "Liberty," were introduced to replace the "JJ Roberts" banknotes. Again, following the election of July 1997, the

Charles Taylor Government printed new banknotes, this time with additional denominations.

Medium of Exchange

Actually, the printing of these banknotes as medium of exchange was principally intended to ensure smooth transactions in the country’s commerce. However, in today’s Liberia, it has become so different to an extent that what should be a medium of exchange is now a medium of confusion. This certainly, is not healthy for the economy because people have to transact business daily. But with what is obtaining in Liberia, there is a need for action.

I always told people that one of the institutions in this country, I am proud of is the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). I have explicit confidence in the galaxy of men at the bank. Even though, the bank has decided not to do business with The INQUIRER, I still admire the hierarchy and staff of the bank, as it has some of the best brains in the country.

Despite my admiration of the officials of the bank, this matter should claim their attention. The bank, as the institution charged with implementing monetary policies, needs to trace the source for which people do not accept "tear, tear money". Why are marketers refusing the "tear, tear banknotes?" Why are gas dealers refusing the money? Why are workers refusing the money? Why are drivers refusing to accept the money? WHY? WHY? WHY?

One of the reasons why institutions are set up is to ensure that certain policies are implemented or are adhered to by the people. In the sphere of economic activities, people’s behavior and attitude must be followed keenly to restrain them doing things that are detrimental to the economy. Economics is also referred to as a social science because it has to relate or deal with consumers’ behavior. A Consumer is one of the economic agents, therefore, his behavior must be checked.

It is time that the CBL acts to save the day. Liberians should not be seen as a people with different science, mathematics, economics, etc. We should not be a laughing stock for our neighbors and others, whose banknotes are worse off than ours. Maybe, an announcement or an educational campaign with the sole purpose of improving the situation will yield a fruitful result.

About the Author: Mr. Wesseh is studying Economics as his Minor, at theUniversity of Liberia.

© 2003: This article is copyrighted by The Inquirer newspaper (Monrovia, Liberia) and distributed by The Perspective (Atlanta, Georgia). All rights reserved.