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Central Bank of Somalia: Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire

By Abdelkarim A. Haji Hassan

Recently it was reported that one of Somalia’s Central Bank teller managed to steal $ 530,000. The Governor of the Bank, Mr. Bashir Essa, who assumed the Governor’s position in 2013, has confirmed the incident. The theft however, has raised many eye brows and have many asking and wondering how it was possible for a teller to single handedly manage to steal such an exorbitant amount of cash without the complicit assistance of members of the Bank’s senior management or a web of inner circle accomplice.

Bashir Essa
The Governor of the Bank, Mr. Bashir Essa

This is not the first time Somalia’s Central Bank grabs the headlines as a result of financial fraud activities and allegations of corruption.  In 2013 the UN Monitoring group report stated that “On average, some 80 percent of withdrawals from the Central Bank are made for private purposes and not for the running of government, representing a patronage system and a set of social relations that defy institutionalization of the state,” i.e Slush fund or Fadlan. The former Governor of the Bank, Ms.Yusur Abrar, abruptly resigned her post only after seven weeks on the job alleging that “she was pressured illegally to violate her “fiduciary responsibility”.

This recent theft however, be it an organized scheme of some sort or not, puts an already cash strapped Central Bank with an already weak reputation, in a challenging position to revive itself as an emerging and trusted  financial institution shoring up Somalia’s economy.

The banks usually have standard guidelines on safety measures to safeguard their assets such as cash currency and other instruments of money. They protect and secure these assets physically through the use of cashier’s cages, locked drawers, vaults, locked metal boxes, etc.

Banks also put in place other measures to deter fraud and theft. One key aspect to this is operational management, particularly training staff in procedures of cash management security. This includes separation of duties between the staff that are receiving the cash and those that are doing the day to day cash management activities. It’s also imperative and aligned with industry standards not to retain cash overnight or after working hours in easily accessible desk drawers or standard file cabinets.

Central Bank of SomaliaAnother crucial measure put in place is also the complex policies and procedures in accessing large amounts of cash or gold. Such measures make it an almost impossible task for a single person regardless of their rank to access these assets without getting the authorization of one or more key members of senior management. This usually involves many layers of senior management and security staff to work together to access such assets.

The story of this recent Central Bank theft in Somalia indicates that the teller has swapped fake notes to get the cash! Thus, the question that comes to mind is how was the teller solely able to gain the necessary authorization to handle such large amounts of cash?

It’s not out of ordinary for the banks to receive Counterfeit Currency, however, there are standard  procedures put in place to screen fake notes, where if questionable bills are received, the bank contacts the appropriate agents after a thorough screening of the currency.

Governor Essa’s response didn’t address many of the legitimate issues that surrounded the reported theft, but simply managed to raise even more inquiries on the matter.

The key role of the Central Banks is to “act as government banks by playing a role in the collection and disbursement of government funds.”

Somalia’s Central Bank is currently construing a plan for new currency. Governor Essa in an interview with Reuters earlier this year stated: “We absolutely need new currency, the existing notes are old, they’re torn, they’re dirty and they’re fake.”

I agree with the Governor for the need of new currency, however the question arises on how a Central Bank that can’t even put in place the basic mechanisms necessary to safeguard its assets be trusted to undertake such a monumental task?

The Bank theft could not have come at a more critical time where there are worries and concern the stolen money could make its way into vote rigging the presidential and parliamentarian elections expected to take place at the end of 2016.

Thus far, other than vague talking points, the government or the Central Bank are yet to place the priority and the transparency this crime deserves to follow through (track) to bring the culprits to justice and deter similar incidents in the future.

As the saying goes, and perfectly fits this scenario “where there’s smoke, there’s often fire!”

Abdelkarim A. Haji Hassan, MBA

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