FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

Liberia: National Conference to Climax Deliberations On Liberia's Draft Petroleum Legislation

Bentol — The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex J. Tyler says the ongoing consultations on the Draft Petroleum Legislation for Liberia will be climaxed with a national conference next year before any decision is reached by the legislative body.

On the final leg of the consultations in Bentol City Monday, Speaker Tyler cautioned critics that no amount of criticism will detract the body from this process which he says will be climaxed by a national conference There will be a national conference that will climax this process where our ideas will be put together."

The Speaker said, Liberians have for long been caretakers of their resources and not beneficiaries but committed the legislature under his leadership to not compromising anything that will benefit the ordinary Liberian.

In early 2014, the Liberian House of Representatives will review the draft Petroleum Exploration and Production Act 2013 (Petroleum Act) and the draft National Oil Company of Liberia Act 2013 (NOCAL Act).

In September, the Senate passed the act without public consultation but the House consulted with civil society and chose not to pass the acts at that point and instead took the act on the road to the various counties in a bid to gauge public opinion on the draft.

Critics, including Global Witness have raised concerns at the speed at which authorities sought to have the draft passed into law.

GW alarmed that while the efforts to consult and inform the Liberian people are welcomed, each county will be given very little time to read, consider and respond to two very complicated and important acts.

Already the watchdog group, Global Witness has raised red flags about some of the contents in the draft, suggesting that while the draft acts contain some progressive and positive provisions, including requirements for the public disclosure of the ultimate beneficial owners of companies and strong transparency provisions, there are areas that need to be improved for the country to fully realize the potential benefits of its emerging oil sector.

GW says several factors have raised concerns that there may be insufficient political will within the Liberian Government to bring about the sweeping changes the sector needs.

The watchdog group alarmed that the government, in September this year, attempted to breach legislative process and secretly pass the two draft laws.

GW is urging the legislature to ensure that it has sufficient time to consider and debate the draft petroleum law.

Concerns in the hall

The consultations at the Bentol Town Hall in Montserrado County brought delegates from the 17 electoral districts. Under a tense atmosphere, delegates sought to make inputs and suggestions in the country's draft petroleum law as part of final nation-wide legislature tour on the draft petroleum law of Liberia.

However, at the forum intended for Liberians to make their input and suggestions into the draft petroleum law, it was observed that the legislature instituted tighter strengthening measure of delegates entering the hall.

Aware that Montserrado County is the country's most controversial political seat and learning for the Gbarnga incident, the committee ensured that stringent security measures were put in place to avoid any form of protests from individuals wanting to protest against the process and something many described as a staged-manage process.

Unlike other counties where the consultations have already been held, delegates at the Bentol consultations were seen wearing tags as a clearance-free passage into the hall to participate. Those without tags were not allowed into the hall.

Tyler told the gathering that the Legislature will not be deterred by any one individuals and civil Society Organization criticizing their decision to tour with the Country Draft Petroleum Law.

The speaker said the legislature welcomes criticisms from the public on their decision and described it as the beauty of democracy for a country like Liberia.

The legislature has come under a barrage of criticisms from the public especially after they announced that a budget of nine hundred thousand United States dollars was being used for the process.

Many described the lawmakers' decision as a money-eating spree because according to critics, the amount stipulated for the tour was causing more harm than good to the ordinary citizens especially with the country on the verge of collapse and citizens still live on a dollar or less per day.

Critics claimed that the money should have been used to create avenues that will better the livelihood of Liberians especially in the rehabilitation of feeder roads, scholarship for deserving students and the payment of Teachers salaries owed by the government for more than 12 months.

The Bentol consultation is the last of the fifteen counties nationwide tour started by the legislature few weeks ago.

Critics like Global Witness insists that if the laws are sufficiently revised, revenues from petroleum could drive the country's post-conflict economic development should there be a significant oil find. "Failure to put in place the necessary transparency and accountability mechanisms could lead to a downward spiral of mismanagement."

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