The Inquirer (Monrovia)

Liberia: LPRC Honors Cletus Wotorson

The Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), at an elaborate program over the weekend honored its first Managing Director; Senator Cletus Segbe Wortorson at a program also used to announce the rebranding of the company by Managing Director T. Nelswon Williams, II.

Senator Cletus Segbe Wortorson was the first Managing Director of LPRC from 1978-1980.

Managing Director Williams at the well-attended ceremony at the company's headquarters on Bushrod Island said the foundation laid by Sen. Wortorson is responsible for the progress currently made by the company.

Mr. Williams who is the 12th MD of the LPRC maintained that it was the most prudent thing to do, and his administration wants to be remembered for giving the pioneer of the country's only refining company his flowers while he is still around.

He then used the occasion to announce the rebranding of the company and laid out a five-year vision and plan.

Dr. Richard Tolbert, the company's youngest member of the board in 1978 at age 27, described the honoree as a man of great principles, intellect and the caliber of man that is needed in Liberia today.

The former National Investment Commission chairman said he and the Senator became friends because they have a common vision and love for Liberia that cross ethnic, religious or class lines. "We both love Liberia and that is what it takes to rebuild this country."

For his part, honoree Wortorson expressed appreciation for the LPRC gesture for recognizing his efforts in adding meaning to the lives and daily existence of employees of the company, while at the same time ensuring the security of energy for the country which he asserted is the principle mandate of the institution.

He recounted some major events during his tenure as MD, such as the construction of the now vandalized LPRC headquarters in Gardnerville which cost US$450,000, and the 45 housing units at New Matadi which was intended for staffers of the LPRC.

Liberia's only geophysicist recalled that the construction of an oil processing refinery by two American companies, Sun-Oil and Dyna-Electronic at a time of uncertainty for investing in Africa, was designed for the Nigerian crude oils. He said the output of that plant commensurate with Liberia's then consumption of 12,000 barrels per day, even though the plant design was 15,000 barrels per day.

When the company decided to sell share to Liberians, most of them were owned by the hierarchy of the defunct True Whig Party and other few individuals.

He recalled that when the company around 1995 and 1996 asked for a four cents increase in anticipation of a potential rise of the cost of crude oil, the government refused and immediately there were two back to back outbreak of fire in the processing plant, causing it to shut down.

Sensitive of the catastrophic financial impact of an indefinite shut down, government negotiated with the two companies for a buyout which was consistent with an agreement between the two. The LPRC was then bought for a negotiated price of US$13 million which included crude inventory, and reconstituted the company as a public enterprise to do business for and on behalf of Government.

As Executive Director of the new LPRC, Mr. Wortorson representing that entity and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf representing the interest of government went ahead and incorporated it.

When government bought the refinery there was no money, but with Liberia's high economic growth rate in the world just behind Japan, he and Madam Sirleaf together with the board of directors were able to secure a US$75 million revolving loan to buy crude oil.

He recalled that as the most profitable company in Liberia then, the LPRC reported an annual turnover of over US$275 million.

But upon the advent of the People's Redemption Council, Sen. Wortorson disclosed that the LPRC was de-monopolized, and with its hefty profits purchased the available product and crude oil tanks in Liberia, thus forcing all ambitious importers to utilize the tanks at LPRC.

When he left he said an amount of LD$17 million (at the exchange rate then US$8m), and US$8 million was in the coffers of the LPRC, but few months later he was asked to return to the corporation because the entire money had been misused.

He then called for the need to allow Liberians participate in the oil industry, saying it is very good and necessary to help build the medium class industry. "We got to take some risks on Liberians. If you take ten Liberians and give them incentive for investment, six might come back, but it is better to take risk on your people."

He challenged women within the corporation to find time to grow, and no to let men dictate their future.

Even though I came from one of the remotest parts of the country, "I had a focus to be somebody and I promised myself that I would be somebody. It was difficult to come from the interior to be somebody, but I pierced the veil and I made it and went as far as running to be President, though I succeeded in becoming a Pro Tempore of the Senate."

Meanwhile, Sen. Wortorson has assured MD Williams of his support and willingness to help him realize his lofty vision for the LPRC in taking it to another level.

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