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Oil Politics Hits Liberia: Reforms Demanded To Avoid Future Crisis

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The oil debate in Liberia is getting strong and stronger each day. The House of Representatives gave the first kick off against the appointment of Robert Sirleaf as Chairman of the Board of Directors of NOCAL. This was followed by Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, a pro-democracy advocate and former Minister of Labor, who, though thought it nothing wrong morally and constitutionally to appoint his brother as Assistant Minister of Labor for Administration, now accuses President Sirleaf as a nepotist. His views were reinforced by President Sirleaf’s worst critic, Dr. Bhoffol Chambers, a former allied of President Sirleaf and fighter to the death against those who criticize her.

Though, contemporary politics in the African political stratosphere may not permit those known to be supporters of Government to speak on issues that are not pro-administration, but when one listens to Chief Chuba Wilberforce Okaidigbo (Late) of blessed memory, the reverberations of connecting cords between patriotism, justice and nationalism sets high the two against the spirit of loyalty which emphasized personal loyalty against national interest. This seems to be the current explosion relating to Liberia’s future billions of dollars revenue intake on an annual basis. Analysts say it is now a battle between patriots, nationalists, and administration loyalists.

What strikes even those considered diehard supporters of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the enormous powers vested in NOCAL and the legal rights of said entity to receive and control Liberia’s oil revenues. The Act which is considered power concentrated and has the potentials to create establishments to legally drain the national coffers of oil wealth and could turn Liberia into a future Delta Region of Nigeria with a version of the notorious Boka Haram, says a former Legislator who prefers anonymity. But Former President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Honorable Isaac Nyenabo agrees that the Act only needs reform to reflect citizens’ expectations. This Act is however not the creation of the Ellen’s administration and thus blames of its architecture cannot be attributed to an act of sinisterism on her part, says an administration supporter..

NOCAL’S birth finds no genesis in the Sirleaf’s administration; though traceable to that of Taylor’s administration, yet experts believe reforms in this very crucial economic sector should, as a priority, be instituted by her to divest enormous economic power from this corporate entity to a Trust Commission. Both Legislators and staffers of the National Legislature are over heated with the oil debate which is gaining prominence also in communities.  Opposition political parties are resolved to use oil politics as an edge for lost political unity and strength. Those who believe the opening of NOCAL’S books and accounts to public scrutiny would resolve the current oil debate may have a rude awakening, says a UL Student in a recent social gathering.

The pressure of the debate may have led the nation to believe President Sirleaf, along with the Senate President Pro-Tempore and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, were off to the USA to finalize the much debated oil contract which is believed to be disadvantageous to the Liberian economy. In response, President Sirleaf refuted those thoughts but informed the nation that her trip to Houston, Taxis was to hold talks with oil executives. The nature of talks is yet unknown but believe to be in the best interest of the nation.

The concerns of Liberians on this new economic strength of the nation are emphasized on management, control, and benefits to the citizens. Former President of NOCAL, Hon. Chris Neyor has given credible and inside analysis of the advantages if reformed is instituted in the Act and the company and the disadvantages if the NOCAL Act remains the same. He believes the current structure of NOCAL places too much power in the company to manage the nation’s oil revenues. If NOCAL’s legal structural policies would be to receive all oil revenues on behalf of the people of Liberia and can only transfer excess money after its budget, this legally suggest that NOCAL could create establishments to prevent excess money transfer and there would be no money to transfer to the Central Bank, meaning, as Chris has put it, that the company could establish its own bank to control Liberia’s oil wealth.

With the enormity of the powers of NOCAL and the billions of dollars to be generated per annum in the near future, Liberians have become distrusting of the leadership of the Board which in my view should not border on President Sirleaf’s son Robert and the presence of Charles at the Central Bank but on a more grounded moral foundation that would remove general suspicion away from the Presidency on negative thoughts Liberians are now harboring.

The oil politics and the prevailing fierce repercussions in Nigeria found its genesis on how laws regarding this sector were enacted and how the NNPC policies were shaped and the containment of certain clauses in concession agreements which violated the expectations of oil producing areas and the general public. The Ogoni people led several protests that were unheeded to. The Niger Delta has produced terrorists as a result of none reform in the oil sector. Whilst the Liberian oil industry is been shaped, concerns being raised should be studied and acted upon.

As suggested by Chris Neyor supported by random opinion polls conducted by this writer endorsing his management and revenue control strategy, oil wealth must demonstrate capacity to fulfill the development aspirations of the people. Experts believe that such wealth must not be left with NOCAL’s Board as does LPRC, NPA, FDA, and other public corporations, but should have a Trust Fund such as Mohammedu Buhari of Nigeria headed to deal with critical citizens’ needs and infrastructures. It is also argued that the Board be nominated and appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Liberian Senate.  

As this debate goes on, the National Chairman of the Independent Union for Progressive Leadership, Honorable Emmanuel A. Lomax cited an Executive Meeting to discuss and contribute to the current debate over the weekend. The Executive Committee believes President Sirleaf is a committed development strategist and a leader who believes in strong institutions and not strong people and as such, it would be honorable and esteeming to institute reforms and revisit concession agreements in the oil industry. The IUPL which supported President Johnson’s re-election wants the NOCAL’S Act to be published with the zeal that the books of NOCOL have been opened to the public.

Honorable Philibert Toe, a NDC young progressive and anti-corruption crusader in River Gee County and former representative candidate of his district wants a review of NOCAL’S Act. He believes extensive abusable powers are imbedded in that Act which prunes the nation to future oil revenues conflicts. Legislative sources say that the Legislature has geared towards ensuring that oil revenue doesn’t become dynastical but reflective of collective development benefits for the citizens of Liberia and oil producing zones.

Issues which seem to be dominating centered on alleged controversies between two giant oil explorators. It is believed that Government seems more keen on a US$12,000,000,00 deal with Chervon oil then a US$27,000,000 deal with a Russian Company. This controversy, according to sources propels existing structural controversies. In the 1980’s, President Doe made enormous sacrifices in the best interest of Liberia relating to how oil wealth would be determined between foreign oil investors and the Republic of Liberia. This, according to sources, cost him valuable and sustaining relationship with the USA and was the fundamental reason for his down fall and the civil war. President Charles Taylor is said to be a victim as President Doe. Political leaders of Liberia are said to be very careful of international conspiracy concerning oil decisions.

But what is President Sirleaf’s position on the structure of future oil wealth for the nation? Did her position influence the appointment of Robert? Is she becoming careful? Those closed to the President sees her decisions as representing the best national interest. Research shows that NOCOL precedes the Sirleaf’s administration. It is believed that at the end of the day, she would continue her prized reforms of all political, social and economic sectors.

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