The promised reform in the Liberian oil sector is unveiling itself by increased widespread consultation and popular participation. This new paradigm is not only helping to reduce unnecessary bickering and hovering clouds of doubts and uncertainties, but also infusing fresh air of ideas in the management of the sector by Government's lead agency, NOCAL. The latest dimension of the paradigm has come in a highly publicized legislative hearing on Block 13 contract lavishly hailed by both NOCAL and President Sirleaf as the best so far since the advent of the oil sector on the Liberian economic landscape. As Edwood Dennis reports, it seems experts are in tune with the President and NOCAL over the unprecedented gainful nature of the Block.
Since it was first confirmed that oil and gas exist in waters off the coast of Liberia, many are embroiled in arguments on whether or not the coveted natural resource can and will improve the lot of Liberians. Amongst those have been particularly hopeful and reassuring that oil has come to Liberia to fight poverty and underdevelopment are President Sirleaf and the Chief Executive Officer CEO of the National Oil Company of Liberia NACOL , Dr. Randolph McClain. At the Ministry of Information regular press conference recently, McLain announced US$50 million "sign bonus" from ExxonMobil and Canadian Oversea Petroleum Limited COPL. This revelation was sealed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her expeditious signing of the contract and its subsequent submission to the National Legislature for ratification.
In an apparent support of the president's move, the Senate Committee Chairman on Land, Mines and Energy, Sen. Cletus Wotorson few days ago announced from his residence that a joint legislative committee on the oil sector would hold a public hearing that would lead to the ratification of oil block #13 contract. Yesterday, the process begun at the Capitol Building.
The contract is nearly eight years old since it was first proposed by the Liberian government and Broadway for oil exploration in oil block #13 in 2005. But serious disagreement ensued over the unfairness of the contract forcing Government to reconstruct the contract for the greater good of Liberia. Following years of further developments, two giants in the global oil market, ExxonMobil and the Canadian Oversea Petroleum Limited (COPL), struck a deal to take charge of the oil block #13.
To have oil block #13 contract and exploration meet the expectation of Liberians whose desires are very high in terms of benefits and positive impact from oil companies operating in Liberia, the Liberian Senate Committee headed by Cletus Wortorson, Senate Committee Chairman on Lands, Mines and Energy, a committee that has oversight responsibility on the oil sector of Liberia, embarked on a public hearing that brought together a cross-section of stakeholders in the oil sector and civil society representatives yesterday.
Sen. Wotorson of Grand Kru County began hearings in the chamber of the Liberian Senate to rally the views of stakeholders in the oil sector, civil society organizations, market women, youth group, students including the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) to provide opinions and suggestions what is needed to be done before the Liberian Senate ratifies oil block #13 contract.
Sen. Cletus Wotorson said the Senate Committee intended the hearings to promote serious debates on Liberia's oil potential and how to partner with international oil companies to explore and tap the country's oil sector for the benefit of the people in general.
He informed the gathering that Liberia has the potential of serving as a major oil producing nation but cautioned that oil does not provide for quick mining as believed by some Liberians in the country.
Speaking at the hearings, National Oil Company of Liberia NOCAL President and CEO, Dr. Randolph McClain hailed the government of Liberia headed by President Sirleaf for being on the right track in ratifying the oil block#13 which he said would benefit the people of Liberia at every level and regardless of their status in the Liberian society.
NOCAL, Dr. McClain noted that NOCAL has put into place policies and regulations aimed at monitoring the contracts of the oil sector for companies doing oil business in Liberia to operate in the confines of the laws and in line with the interest of the people of Liberia as the key beneficiary of the oil sector in the country.
The oil Block #13 contract presented the Liberian National Legislature for ratification, Dr. McClain assured that when ratified by the Legislatures, the contract will leap rapid developments in the interest of the people since it is beneficiary-centered. He called on the Liberian senate to give the ratification process speedy consideration as soon as possible.
Deputy Minister of Finance, who also spoke at the public hearing, Dr. James Kollie pointed out that the ratification of oil block #13 would create the opportunity for a strong economy that will be beneficial to the government of Liberia and the people, noting that the contract has the best arrangements that are in the interest of the state.
The Acting Finance Ministry boss disclosed it will provide huge financial dividends for Liberia and its citizenry and help to stimulate the Liberian economy and improve the life of the people in the country.
He noted that among several financial gains that the nation will make under the contract, is US 27.75m among others that would be acquired from the contract when it goes through ratification by the Liberian legislature.
Stating the legal position of the government, Justice Minister, Christina Tarr agreed with others who argued that the government and the people of Liberians have got more to benefit from the latest block 13 awarded to ExxonMobil and COPL.
Justice Minster Christina Tarr continued her position that the all the things that were left out in the previous agreement that denied Liberia government from benefiting from onward negotiations of contracts are now found in the new contract.
The Liberian Attorney General indicated that block #13 oil contract as well as other contracts signed would serve the greater interest of the people of Liberia, stressing that all those clauses that would serve as impediment to improving the lives of Liberians through the oil sector will not be encouraged in the petroleum laws of Liberia.
The Center for Transparency and Accountability Executive Director, Thomas Doe Nah, first thanked the Sen. Wotorson led committee of 15 senators for the opportunity in having a public hearings but quickly noted that the document calling for the ratification of the oil block #13 was huge in size for two days scrutiny and for an informed decision to be made. He stressed that there were lots of eyes on the oil of Liberia; therefore, anything that is done out of the interest of the people will not serve the general interest of Liberians.
Speaking at the debate, Press Union of Liberia PUL president Peter Quaqua noted that the public always accused the legislatures of hastily passing concession agreements as such; needed not threat the block #13 ratification in haste if they are to rally the good intent of the oil block for which they have called for people's views and position on the matter.
Several organizations including the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia AFEL, the Liberia Council of Churches LCC, Liberia National Students among others, made presentations at the hearings.
The Liberian Senate Committee members including Sen. Sumo Kupee, Sen. Clarice Jah, Sen. Jewel Howard Taylor, Sen. Sando Johnson, Sen. Abel Massalley, Sen. Fredrick Cherue, Sen. Joseph Nagbe, Sen. Jonathon Bannie, Sen. Theodore Momo, among others, were present at the hearing.