Monrovia — A controversial legislation targeting sweeping reform in Liberia's budding oil sector will not be set in stone any time soon.
The Speaker of the Lower House of the National Legislature, Alex Tyler, declared Monday that the next phase of the process of debating the legislation will shortly get underway and will include the holding of a round table stakeholders meeting and the compilation and harmonization of views and interventions emanating from consultations.
Said Speaker Tyler in a speech marking the return to work of the national legislature: "These synchronized views and proposed bills - which we intend to demarcate into two distinct bills, one specifically dealing with the local content and the other with the revenue management component, including the National Oil Company and the Petroleum and exploration bills forwarded to the House of Representatives by the Liberian Senate - will be presented at a National conference for the participation of all stakeholders, inclusive of political parties civil societies, the fourth estate and all interested persons."
The speaker's statement comes on the heels of a nationwide tour by lawmakers to gauge the views of citizens on the legislation currently being debated.
The House of Representatives is currently reviewing the draft Petroleum Exploration and Production Act 2013 (Petroleum Act) and the draft National Oil Company of Liberia Act 2013 (NOCAL Act) in early 2014.
A recent report by the watchdog group, Global Witness on the draft oil legislation raised concerns that there may not be insufficient political will within the Liberian Government to bring about the sweeping changes the sector needs.
The report says while the controversial oil draft legislation contains 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 in the country to fully realize the potential benefits of its emerging oil sector.
GW concluded that the success of the laws in developing a petroleum sector that supports the country's economic development will be in part determined by the safeguards within the Revenue Management Bill which has yet to be developed.
"Strong transparency, oversight and accountability provisions will be needed to ensure that any revenue from a potential oil find in Liberia can be effectively harnessed. "
"The Petroleum and NOCAL Acts contain some progressive and innovative clauses on beneficial ownership and transparency of information.
"However, they fail to recognize and accordingly protect the land rights of all of those who may be affected by petroleum operations and do not require international competitive bidding in all cases."
GW has challenged the Legislature to use this chance to revise the acts and ensure that sufficient safeguards are put in place to enable any potential income from the Liberian's oil sector, in the absence of other sources of finance being available, to contribute to real development benefits.
The GW report examined the strengths and weaknesses of the draft acts to support the Liberian House of Representatives (the House) in its ongoing review.
"There have already been significant weaknesses with the legislative and consultation processes for these acts. This raises concerns that there may be insufficient political will within the Liberian Government to bring about the sweeping changes the sector needs."
On Monday, Speaker Tyler said the bill(s) will be presented on the floor for discussion, debate and consideration for passage.
The leader of the lower house explained that the body's decision to recast the oil and gas proposed laws is due to feedbacks received from consultations from the rank and file of our citizens across the country.
"As promised you, our citizens, in statements made to the media just before our Annual Break, we committed that upon our return, "we would not relent in our determination to improve the livelihood of our people by [enacting] appropriate legislations."
Remarkably, we have a number of outstanding bills in Committee Rooms, before Plenary and with our sister Chamber, the Honorable Liberian Senate.
Amongst which are the "Decent Work Bill," "The Code of Conduct Bill," "The Level Playing Field Bill," and the "The Petroleum, Oil and Gas Reform Sector Bill."
"We shall immediately recommence working on these, while not neglecting others before us, or exigent bills which should come before this Honorable Body."
The speaker said the problems which surround the bills named earlier were fully enumerated during our statement to the press a couple of months ago and can be obtained from the Legislative Press Office of the House, or my Chief of Office Staff, should anyone be interested in reviewing my comments, then.
The speaker called for a new beginning; a beginning that will reflect a reciprocal approach of taking messages from plenary to our people and bringing messages from our people to plenary.
"That is what I thought could be part of the legacy of the 53rd Legislature and other actions that will strengthen our democracy."
The speaker said lawmakers received a lot of positive comments from fellow citizens around the country about their visit, but will press on.
"We hosted the largest town hall meetings ever seen from the Legislature-from J.J. Roberts' incumbency, excepting the Executive Councils of some of our Presidents. There have been a few detractors, notwithstanding. "
"But we can take the criticism - we are politicians, after all, and always enjoy a healthy debate. This is called freedom of speech. But this freedom has been attended responsibilities. (Recent issues in the press will bear me out.)."