A Sustainable Development Institute’s investigative survey on the usage of Chevron’s US$10.5m social development funds in Liberia reports gross misspending of the money by the bankrupt National Oil Company of Liberia or NOCAL, under the watch of Robert A. Sirleaf, son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Robert A. Sirleaf Foundation.
SDI, using audit documents obtained from the General Auditing Commission (GAC) on the Chevron social development funds details that the US $10.5 million was allegedly injected into tax-deductible community development projects across the country between 2011-2014, but most of the said projects are nearly non-existent or poorly implemented far below their pronounced values.
A press release issued in Monrovia on Friday, 28 July says the funds established through the Chevron-Liberia Economic Development Initiative (C-LED) were to deliver 80 projects in the areas of enterprise development, health and education across all 15 counties of Liberia for social and economic benefits, targeting women, children, and youth.
The release notes that despite protocols, the Chevron funding did not go through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning as officially required, but was instead, handled through NOCAL then chaired by Mr. Robert A. Sirleaf and the Robert A. Sirleaf Foundation.
Mr. Sirleaf formerly chaired the Board of Directors of NOCAL during period of the administration of the funds and also presided over lucrative blocks 13 and 14 at the time of the Chevron deal, while providing pro bono senior advisor services to his mother, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the same period.
“The Production Sharing Contract (PSC) between the Liberian government and Chevron granted 70% interest and ownership to Chevron for the right to drill, granted tax exemptions to Chevron and reduced government equity and royalties to 5 and 10% respectively despite the 5% royalty fee and 30% yearly income tax required”, the release explains It further notes that this is not the first-time gross misspending and bribery has clouded Chevron’s presence in Liberia, recalling that documents released by the GAC in 2010 point to hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes paid to the legislators and their staff. Despite repeated documentation of back-door dealings in the oil and gas sector, Chevron was welcomed into Liberia with open arms.
SDI says few months ago, its TIMBY reporters visited several of the alleged projects ostensibly implemented by NOCAL and the Robert A. Sirleaf Foundation using Chevron funding, and that based on witness reports and testimonials, a number of the projects don’t exist, have not been started, or have otherwise been poorly executed under obscure circumstances.
“Robert A. Sirleaf and the Robert A. Sirleaf Foundation must be held accountable and give an accurate account of what could have contributed to the infrastructure development of Liberia,” says James G. Otto of the Sustainable Development Institute. “Liberia must develop the culture of holding individuals and institutions entrusted with public funds to account in such a way that contributes to the governance process of the state.”
The release says three main projects investigated include the Youth Community Centre in Logan Town, the Chevron Central Park in Vai Town and the low-income housing units in Buchanan, Grand Bassa, and Sanniquellie, Nimba County, respectively.
According to audit documents, the Logan Town Youth Center was to be furnished with a cyber cafe, computers and a cable TV network facility valued at US$700,000, but SDI reveals that except for a few chairs, there was no evidence of computers, television or internet connection there.
Residents around the area told SDI investigators that the hall is being rented out for functions or by NGOs with fees ranging from 50-150 dollars, depending on the resident and what they wanted to use it for. The release continues that the next area visited is the Chevron Central Park in Vai Town, which according to the audit document was valued at US $ 2 million. But with only four main structures – the entrance, an unfinished bathroom, a palava hut and a restaurant block – the Park does not host much activity.
Reports say the space being used as park, had previously served as a Police Station and some of the major structures in there may have been built by the Chinese, during the construction of the Zulu Duma Bridge. The release says last projects visited were the housing development units in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County and Sanniquellie, Nimba County, respectively. According to the audit, 10 low-income housing units valued at US $ 2.3 million were built in Lofa, Nimba and Grand Bassa Counites.
But a Buchanan tenant laments to SDI: “the houses are substandard…the prices were too high…and there are no internal facilities.” Chevron’s spokesperson Isabel Ordonez is being quoted in a response as explaining, “Chevron Liberia Limited (CLL) and its co-venturers committed a total of $10.5 million in social development funds over five years starting in 2010 to support Liberia’s recovery from the effects of the civil war.” Ordonez did not respond to questions such about whether Chevron funded the Robert Sirleaf Foundation nor the legal implication of violating the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) through alleged bribery and corruption.
But SDI says recipients listed in the audit document including the Carter Center and Mercy Corps confirmed that no monies had been received from the Foundation. The Carter Center confirmed Chevron directly contributed monies. But Ordonez denied this saying, “There is no basis for your suggestions that there were unreported duplicate payments or that CLL’s charitable giving violated any law.” Press Release