25 March 2013

Liberia: People's Voice Ignored - As Oil Block 13 Contractual Agreement Sails Firmly

Amidst varying voices billowing out of secret and public discussions on the future of the recently signed contract between the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and two of the world's topnotch petroleum companies, Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) and EXXON Mobil, the Liberian Senate has gone ahead ratifying the agreement.

The Senate at the weekend ratified the agreement with two amendments, according to report, forwarding same to the House of Representatives for its concurrence.

However, before the document could reach the House, discontentment had already simmered amongst members of the Lower House, with some lawmakers expressing approbation while others taking deep respite before acting.

Representative Edwin Snowe of District #6 Montserrado County could not his sentiments about the goodness of the agreement, agreeing with previous praise-singers that the agreement is the best.

Expressing fears that he foresaw contentions from some lawmakers , he told Truth FM's TBS last week that he would work with his colleagues in ensuring  the passage of the agreement.

He made specific reference to CDC lawmaker Acarous Gray who has already taken an uncompromising position on the generosity of the agreement which several others have hailed thus far.

Representatives Gray and Bhofal Chambers of Maryland are opposing the Agreement on grounds that "there were some flaws in the negotiation process."

That Rep. Snowe has given his approval to the Agreement in the absence of the House having the opportunity to debate it seems to be baffling. It means also, observers claimed that the House has already given in and that it will take them no inch to concur with the Senate.

The Unity Party has more lawmakers in the House of Representatives than any of the other parties, and there are indications that all of them are in support with the Agreement.

During the public hearings held by the Senate last week, Press Union President Peter Quaqua appealed for enough time as well as public participation to be considered before the ratification of the Agreement by the legislature.

Without raising qualms about the vagueness of the Agreement as others have deemed it to be, the PUL president said the time allotted to hold hearings was too short, adding "the agreement is  voluminous for one to read in two days after receiving it to make a final decision on whether or not to ratify the contract."

He recalled instances where members of the National Legislature were accused of hastily passing agreements, saying"We think this oil block 13 is critical and we want you to be critical in what you do here today."

Besides the PUL boss' concerns, other Liberians pleaded with the lawmakers to review the contract as thoroughly as possible so that the interest of the nation is protected, even-though others said it was a waste of time to ask lawmakers to be a bit conscientious before ratifying the agreement considering past agreements  that went though similar process.

Most Liberians have lost faith in the National Legislature over the handling of important national issues ranging from passing of bills and the ratifications of agreements presented it by the Legislature.

A major problem affecting the image of the lawmakers is the manner in which it confirms people to positions of trust without taking into consideration people views, concerns or opposition to the nominees for reasons at times outlined.

The Lower House which is the House of Representatives does not partake in the confirmation of officials appointed by the president, except for the Upper House, otherwise known as Senate.

Senator Cletus Wotorson of Grand Kru County, who served as Pro Tempore of the Senate sometimes expressed concerns over the manner in which the Senate confirmed some officials, even-though he did comment on the issue when he was in the position.

Appearance

Meanwhile, the House's Committees on Lands, Mines and Energy, Public Utility, Investment and Concessions, Judiciary, Contracts and Monopolies and States Enterprises, Public Autonomous Commission is expected to hold public hearings on the Restarted and Amended Production Sharing Contract signed between the government, COPL and Exxon Mobil.

Because of the significance of the issue to the heart of Liberians,  the House has requested the presence of  Justice Minister Christian Tah, James Kollie, acting Finance Minister, Rudolph McClain, CEO of NOCAL, Gesler Murray, Geology instructor UL, Thomas Doe-Nah of CENTAL, Lester Tenny of Governance Commission, and Cllr. Tiawon Gongolo, former Minister of Labor.

The invited personalities are expected to give their expert opinions on why the Contract should stand as it is or not, but what is not clear is the preparedness of the lawmakers to pay yields to what will come out the hearings.

Liberians will glue to the radios, others will have the means of making to the Capitol Building to hear what these experts will have to say and what the lawmakers' responses will be.

Officials of NOCAL as well as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have capped the contractual agreement as the best of previous arrangements seemed to have little effect on the firmness of Liberians as to how they want the contract to be handed by their representatives.

"The participation of the world's largest oil and gas company, ExxonMobil, and other considerations have persuaded me that, truly, this renegotiated agreement is different from, and better than, the previous. It is a good step forward. And so, I have consented to affix my signature to this agreement and have further instructed that it be forwarded to the Honorable Legislature for possible ratification," the president said before signing the document at the weekend.

"In notable respects, a number of the provisions in this renegotiated agreement stand out as amongst the first in Liberia. These benefits include an unprecedented US$50 million in upfront payments in signature bonus, taxes and fees; equity participation for citizens; royalties, carry-free interests for the State and linkages to local businesses," she indicated.

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