6 November 2012

Liberia: Sirleaf's Son Speaks Out on Allegations from Former Speaker

Robert Sirleaf, former chair, National Oil Company of Liberia, spoke to AllAfrica in New York during events related to the UN General Assembly, 23 ... ( Resource: Robert Sirleaf Interview with AllAfrica )


My fellow NOCAL family, and President and CEO Dr. Randolph McClain
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press;
My Fellow Liberians:

For some time now, the national conversation has centered on the transparency, accountability and the ultimate beneficiaries of our natural resources and how it has been managed. As a Nation blessed with resource, we have historically made mistakes. As a Nation on its path to reconstruction and renewed national identity, we must learn from the mistakes of our past and forge a new presence for our future.. Like you, I believe that all Liberians are the beneficiaries of our resource blessings, particularly from our potential oil revenues. This is why the conversation on the oil and gas sector reform and the reform process its-self has been enlightening and uplifting. At home, and across the Diaspora, the voices of interests are the same, proving the growing presence of a sense of shared ownership of our country and its natural resources are one. We encourage all Liberians to participate in this conversation because it benefits our people and is good for our country. The simple truth is that what is own together ought to benefit all and not a selected few.

Even so, questions have repeatedly arisen about whether or not I should be the Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company. And I totally respect the dialogue. In quieter moments, I have also deeply pondered that question myself. I know that I could have settled for lesser public exposure and mischaracterizations, and even lesser political attacks on the President, who happens to be my mother. But, if I can do something to help our country – if by my talent, my experience and competence, I can help my country; if by the privilege and responsibility of being the son of the President and the trust that it brings, I can help our President succeed in her ambitious agenda of transformation; If I can help her build the durable and sustainable institutional frameworks to guarantee that revenues from the exploitation of our natural resources are used to benefit all Liberians– and if I turn away because it will causes me personal pain or draws political criticism, what would be the value of my birth right? And more importantly, what would be the value of my relationship with our people, I made the right choice in remaining steadfast. I owe Liberia me!

I do not need, nor do I want to own an oil block. Oil blocks are owned by the people of Liberia. I do not need, nor do I want to cut a deal in the middle of the night, then hide the transaction from the light of day. I am not a product of that mind-set, and my long professional history has been a testament to that. I have served many years and many times in positions of trust and never once was I inclined to betray the trust of others.

Like any child would be, I am so proud of my mother. Even greater than that, I am the proud son of a resilient and determined Nation. I want to see all the children of this Nation succeed. I want to see our great nation prosper. I want to see our nation build upon its peace, through economic empowerment and opportunity for all people. I want to see the potential petroleum resources managed in a way that will benefit all.. But we know that there is always a difference between what anyone may WANT to see, and what they can DO to make it happen. I know what I would like to see, and God has blessed me at this time to be able to do something about it. It's about Less talk more action! It's about less attacking more developing. And so, throughout the public discussions, I have been silent, listening and opting to work harder, not only to prove critics wrong but to contribute to the development of our country, help the President, and to allow my performance to speak for me.

I am the third Chairman of the board of NOCAL. I came to the position of chairman after having served for more than two years as a board member. My preference was necessitated by the growing demand on the public entity for increased transparency, reform and accountability.

NOCAL could no longer continue to operate in secrecy, conduct its activities imprudently, negotiate feebly, and conflictingly present itself as a shareholder and a regulator. The time had come for openness and reforms. This, also, is why I accepted the challenge, knowing that every detail of my contribution would be scrutinized not only by the Liberian people, but by a larger international community. I not only welcomed the scrutiny I was the one who invited it. This would allow all to evaluate me, and my competency as Chairman of the national oil company for themselves. I ask you today to judge me based on what we have been able to accomplish at NOCAL and not based on what "they say."

At NOCAL, I have nothing to hide and, in the spirit of my commitment to transparency, I welcome the National Oil Company’s commission of an independent audit of all expenditures related to my activities in my official capacity as Chairman.. I also insist that the report of the audit be published in keeping with the Freedom of Information Law of Liberia.

My Fellow citizens:
I am aware that public confidence in the public sector needs to be improved. This attrition occurred over a period of time and will require a lot of effort and time to be reversed. As a result, I will continue to restrain myself from responding to the various attacks on me as an individual in the exercise of the duties of this post of public trust.

Today, we have invited you here not so much as to respond to the most recent of these attacks carried out while I was out of the country attending to the business of NOCAL but to correct the litany of falsehoods and half-truths, intended only to besmear me, and thwart our country’s historic achievement in the divestiture of oil bloc LB#13.

There is very little doubt that the attacks were largely personal and disguised as exposing the “ills in our society.” Strangely, the only "ills" exposed was how low greed and selfishness will
permit individuals to sink. This is sad and an example of what is still wrong with our development. Wholly self-serving, hateful attacks were clearly motivated by the failure to have me participate in the decadent business of putting personal interests above the interests of our country, a practice which has led time and time again to the impoverishment of our people.

I expect more personal attacks, because that is what people do to promote their personal agendas. We will continue to lead NOCAL into responding to the needs of the people. But we have also seen enough deprivations to know that I must use my position of birth privilege and public trust not just to benefit an individual but more importantly, to lift as many Liberians as I can through economic inclusion and opportunity.
I have no animosity, only sympathy for the attacker or anyone who, after all that our country has endured, still thinks that we ought to settle for business as usual – that we ought to take care of ourselves at the expense of those who appointed or elected us to serve them. These attackers and their associates should know by now that I will not participate in deals from which a few will get richer and the life of the ordinary man, woman and child stays stagnated. I will not participate in deals that will increase the number of Liberians who must abandon their pride only to beg for bread and for school fees, at the gates of a few who have gotten richer by depriving the people of what is rightfully theirs. Not THIS time, not AT NOCAL, and certainly not WITH me.
Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I, Robert Alvin Sirleaf, am a law-abiding citizen of the Republic of Liberia. My navel string is buried in Montserrado County.. Like all citizens of this country who require travel documents, I possess a Liberian passport in which I have the privilege of being issued visas for the United States and Europe. My latest visa was issued on April 17, 2012 I know of no country on the face of this earth which requires its citizens to display a visa to enter its territory.

Let me now deal with some of the other issues. In the midst of the last campaign preceding the general elections, a House Representative requested an audience with the President for the CEO of GPB Neftegaz, a subsidiary of Gazprom Bank, which itself is a subsidiary of Gazprom. The company is now called GPB Resources a subsidiary of the Gazprombank Group. NOCAL continues to engage the company as all others on their interest in Liberia. I have not any personal issues with them.

I want it to be made clear the House Member asked ME to participate. The President agreed to accord the Representative the courtesy and met with the GPB Executive. The President requested Cllr. Jeff Wood, of the International Senior Lawyers’ Project (ISLP) to sit in on the meeting. The ISLP is an international organization of highly skilled and experienced lawyers of who assists governments, NGOs and other institutions in building the strength of their legal capacity. Mr Wood is one of the contributing "authors" of Liberia's PPCC law.

It was exactly to avoid the kind of scandalous charges from such characters that the President insisted that Mr. Wood participate in the meeting. She, however pointed out to the Representative that it would be a clear conflict in his role as a member of the Legislative Branch.

It was then, and still is now ethically wrong, for the Representative to have participated in the meeting with the President and the representatives of a private company seeking an investment opportunity. The representative is a Legislator. At the time, and perhaps even now, a ranking member of the House’s Committee on Concessions and Investments. If the Republic had concluded a concession agreement with GPB Neftegaz, that agreement would have gone to the Legislature for ratification. Again, the President respectfully pointed this out to the representative, and judging from his prolonged silence, it appeared to all that he understood and accepted the President’s position prior to the meeting. She asked where he would prefer to wait, HE chose the Palava Hut.

In that meeting, the GPB Executive expressed his company’s interest in Block 13. The President listened, thanked him for the interest and gave him the standard response which was that the process was ongoing through the NIC by which every concession is agreed, and also he should directly engage NOCAL and then CEO Chris Neyor. The President indicated that the Inter-ministerial Concessions Committee (IMCC), NOCAL, and ultimately the Legislature ratification would determine the resolution of Block 13.

The truth is, any Liberian can invite private companies to Liberia to invest, and it is incumbent upon lawmakers to promote Liberia as a destination for investment. But there is a clear line – at least some of us think there ought to be one – between a lawmaker inviting a company to invest in Liberia and actively representing said company, to the extent of manufacturing a national controversy when it appears that the client company may not win its desired concession. I suggest those in positions of public trust who want to operate in such fashion, resign their post and open a private consulting firm that represents foreign companies in Liberia. One cannot be both the seeker of private opportunities while the keeper of public interests,, and certainly not while serving as the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Order and a member of several other committees, including Concessions and Investments.

Distinguished Members of the Press:

As many of you know, I served as a member of the NOCAL board for two years before my appointment as Chairman. In those two years, my presence on the board was never an issue. In fact, it did not become an issue until we set about effectively reforming our petroleum sector. My presence at NOCAL gained prominence as those reforms threatened to close off the petroleum sector to unscrupulous speculators and others whose aim, is to deprive Liberians of getting the best value from their resources.

The terms of my tenure at NOCAL are clear and were publicly available from day one. Unlike the Chairs and Board members of other autonomous agencies, I serve without receiving any honorarium. It was agreed between the President and my-self, that my tenure at NOCAL would be tied to one benchmark: presiding over the successful completion of the Petroleum Sector Reforms. The intent is for the Board, under my leadership, to oversee irreversible reforms that will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for abuse of our potential resources.

We will oversee reforms that will make it impossible for any individual, any group of individuals or company, who do not have the financial capacity nor technical expertise, to obtain our resources, hold on to it for a short period of time and then sell them for huge profits at the expense of the Liberian people. It has happened before. It will NOT be permitted to happen again. And NOT while I am Chairman of the Board of NOCAL.
It is unfortunate, that this appointment has become a huge distraction to the national agenda and the source of a pointless and unnecessary controversy. For those who do not believe that a strong Board was necessary for this process, I urge you to think again and to draw conclusions from the occurrences of the last couple of months.

Say what you may about me but we must, together, refuse to let happen with petroleum what occurred with iron ore and rubber for decades in this country. WE must protect the interests of Liberians today and our unborn generations tomorrow through the kind of sector we build BEFORE we begin exporting petroleum products. That is why I was appointed at NOCAL and, that is what I intend to do. Once these reforms are irreversible and Liberia's future potential oil revenues are safeguarded I will depart NOCAL and hand over to the next younger generation.

At NOCAL, we will unapologetically bring our best effort to recreate a petroleum sector that is friendly to investors and, at the same time, beneficial to Liberians. We will use our natural resources to advance the country's development goal of making Liberia a middle income country by 2030. Working with responsible leadership in the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary Branches, with the appropriate laws and policies, while investing in our people, I know we can achieve this.

My Fellow Liberians:
Let me throw a bit of light on the much-talked about the divestiture of oil bloc 13. Some people have excited themselves and saturated the airwaves with claims that NOCAL rejected the “GAZPROM” offer of which caused the country to lose $27M in projected revenues. During numerous House Hearings on this matter, NOCAL has explained that the Offer submitted by  GPB Neftegaz was not in the best interests of the Country. GPB offered $90M to Broadway/Peppercoast and $10M to the Government of Liberia as a signature bonus in exchange for a 100% return on all of its investment once production actually began. NOCAL could not accept this.

Always with an eye to the future, NOCAL could not accept this because this offer would have obligated Liberia to a $100M debt burden for $27M. Add a $100M to the high cost of exploration and a partner, GPB Neftegaz which then had no deep-water drilling experience; Liberia could potentially owe an estimated $500M by first oil under this deal. This does not benefit Liberia and Liberians. Rather, it hurts us and imposes a burden which we do not need.
Perhaps we are being astounded with these attacks and misinformation because the National Oil Company of Liberia via it's hydrogen technical committee which is designated by the NOCAL 's Petroleum Law is currently negotiating terms of sale for Block LB #13 with Broadway/Peppercoast, Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) and its potential future development partner, Exxon Mobil.

Exxon Mobil is the largest oil and gas exploration company in the World with revenues in excess of $500B. Considered the largest and best of the “super majors”, the Exxon reputation is built on oil and gas exploration and development, with expertise in deep water exploration. The terms of the agreement with Exxon Mobil, if finalized, will benefit Liberia considerably more than “$27M” and is historic in the benefits allotted to a host government under a private sale. If this deal closes Liberia will set a "new record" for a non-producing country.
Finally, I like to conclude on the reforms that are underway at NOCAL. In 2010, the President of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf commissioned various assessments of the oil and gas sector and remedies for areas with deficiencies. Aided by non-participating oil companies, petroleum lawyers and consultants, the President has identified four key areas for reforms:

1. The creation of a policy that incorporates local content and revenue management;

2. Revisions to the existing Petroleum Laws and Model Production Sharing Contracts;

3. An Environmental Management Plan; and

4. Placing a moratorium on the Bid and Award of blocks 1 – 5 until the completion of the above reforms

The President issued a mandate in early 2011 to NOCAL for the immediate implementation of these reforms. NOCAL began assessments on local content standards, offshore environmental impact studies and building internal capacity through its scholarship fund.

The bid submissions for Blocks 1 – 5 have been cancelled pending the completion of the reforms. Since then, from the release of its budget, commitment to continuous audits, broadening consultations and review of best practices, NOCAL has walked the talk of reforms so much so that the new levels of transparency, accountability and inclusion have garnered praise from Global Witness – a first for Liberia.

In closing, I can only hope that we as a nation can move away from division and petty personal squabbles/attacks, and focus on the most important of tasks – that is to use our God given talents and learned experiences to develop our great nation, the task with which we have been entrusted and the task for which we have been elected and appointed by the people of Liberia. We owe it to them.
I thank you. And God bless Liberia.

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