One of the world's precious resources, oil, depended on by the wild world to turn the wheels of the Industry of Revolution is in the center of Liberia national discourse for many months now. For many civilized nations, oil remains undisputedly the most precious commodity. On the flip side, however, oil is the real Lucifer of the world, and for many other nations, the sole cause of widespread misery, poverty and death.
Thus, since news broke that there are traces of this oxymoronic resource, this first black republic and one of the world's backward countries, the timidity has run exceedingly high amongst citizens as well as partners helping to restore the nation. This is why the National Oil Company set up to spearhead the sector, has taken due care in crafting a reform bill already passed by the Senate and meant to ensure that oil brings good rather than evil to the people. But the House has sat on the bill, provoking rage in some quarters. In a major statement yesterday, the Speak of the House of Representatives alludes to the fears of the implications of an oil economy, saying his wing of the Legislature is continuing its due diligence process with ordinary Liberians at constituency levels. The Analyst report.
While speaking on a range of national issues at the regular Information Ministry Thursday press briefing, House Speaker Alex Tyler resonated the fears that many have had with the Liberian oil and gas sector; that unless due care is taken, Liberia already fraught with unsavory developments could into another Delta Region in Africa.
News that Liberia may have oil at commercial proportions has provoked memories of both accelerated development in many countries as well as war, conflict and poverty in many other nations. Towards this end, Liberian and international stakeholders have slowed down the temper and delved into questions of how oil and gas, should they be found, would be beneficial to all, and not some, Liberians.
Following nearly two years to all-level consultations across the country, the National Oil Company filed a dossier of prescription, essentially a bill, which when passed into law will provide answers to the many fears, concerns and anxieties being expressed at home and abroad.
While the Senate has already torpedoed the bill through its ranks and files, perhaps having been satisfied with the rather thorough vetting process carried out by NOCAL, the House of Representatives is not seemingly satisfied with the NOCAL nationwide consultation and has taken the discussion process to the communities of their various constituencies.
The Speaker of House, Tyler, made the discloser at a public forum organized by the Ministry of Information.
"Due to the critical nature of the petroleum, oil and gas (sector) reform bills, it was the decided opinion of [House] Plenary to access the views of the public through our respective constituencies," the leader of the Lower House said during the press briefing yesterday.
"That is why members of the house have poised to carry on extensive nationwide consultations during our constituency break."
He insisted that the aim is to solicit the views, desires and aspirations of the Liberian people concerning the oil sector, despite NOCAL earlier works on the same concerns, is that "as all of us know, the oil resources can be a source of blessing or curse to a nation, depending on the laws that will regulate the extraction and the fair distribution of proceeds generated there-from."
He said this is why the House of Reps is mindful of how "we deliberate before passing this piece of legislation into law."
"Consistent with our decision to take the oil reform law to the people realizing that it is a collective responsibility of the house and the senate colleagues," he further said, "We asked our colleagues to join us in this worthy endeavor and other stakeholders are asked to assist." The House Speaker also used the public forum to report on achievements of the august body, now on its annual break. He said he and his colleagues supported the Committee on Public Accounts, which he said is now reviewing reports from the General Auditing Commission.
He spoke of the legislation of the Freedom of Information Act, which according to him, is another example of "our work intended to expose the work of government to public scrutiny," saying upon their return from the annual break, the lawmakers will not relent in their determination to improve the livelihood of Liberian people through appropriate legislations.
"In addition to our successes, we faced profound challenges which taxed our ability to surmount," he conceded, adding, "these difficulties emanated from the submission of a number of bills by various members of our august body; specifically, Decent Work Bill, the Code of Conduct Bill, The Level Playing Field Bill" and "The Petroleum, Oil And Gas Reform Sector Bill".
He said the Decent Work Bill, which was reintroduced on the floor of plenary by Hon. George Mulbah of Bong County, received two readings on April 24 and August 23, 2012 respectively and it was passed by the House of Representatives on au6ust 30, 2013, after lengthy deliberations, and sent to the Liberian senate for concurrence leaving the responsibility of setting a minimum wage to the minimum wage bill as embedded in the bill.
Speaker Tyler noted that the Senate had some reservations that necessitated a conference committee of both houses (of the 53rd legislature), and the committee's final draft was concluded and inclusive therein was a proposed amount of six dollars per day or seventy five cents per hour which was passed by the senate but could not be passed by the House of Representatives.
According to him, the House Plenary observed that there were no empirical data to support the amount of six dollars or seventy five cents as proposed by the Conference Committee and the issue of decent work as not adequately addressed.
He asserted the House then counter- proposed the amount of seventy dollars and twenty cents or ninety cents per hour which has again necessitated the setting up of a conference committee when we return in January.
Speaker Tyler further reported: "The Code Of Conduct Bill after several setbacks and major cleaning up which was passed by the Senate and sent to the House of Representatives for its concurrence. The house immediately observed that the proposed two year as submitted by the crafters of the bill (the governance commission) for public officials who desire to run for elected offices was adjusted to the period of one year. Due to time factor, the bill could not be passed because the House of Reps was unable to confer with the Liberian Senate as to adjustment from two years to one year and the wisdom behind it. This Bill will be debated and decided (for passage) upon our return." For the Level Playing Field Bill, Speaker Tyler said it was introduced in Plenary by the Honorable James P. Biney of Maryland County and it was subsequently passed into law by the House Of Representatives and forwarded the House Of Senate for concurrence.
The House Speaker noted that there seemed to be a direct correlation between the Code of Conduct as submitted by the executive and the Level Playing Field as proposed and passed into.
He said the two bills seek to prevent the misuse of public office and state resources by state actors for personal reasons.
"The general issue addressed by the proposed code of conduct also seems to point in this direction. the Level Playing Field for its part addresses the issue of .appointed officials especially those who reside over the country's resources, information and influences from taking part in political activities, and may be seeking elected office or while in such position," he emphasized.
Tyler said the Level Playing Field Bill has its origin from a law of the United States which was also introduced by a member of Congress. "This law is still being practiced today in the United States, even though amendments are made from time to time," he said and added: "The Level Playing Field Bill does not seek to witch hunt and or deny any Liberian or group of Liberians from taking part in political activities contrary to the view shared by some individuals."