17 March 2014

Liberia: Bribery Inquest - Ex-NOCAL Chair, Lawmaker Face LACC

Monrovia — Two former senior officials of the Government of Liberia, former lawmaker Alomiza Ennos Barr and former Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia Clemenceau Urey have made an initial appearance before the country's anti graft body, the Anti Corruption Commission of Liberia as probe begins in a bribery saga involving the National Oil Company and some members of the erstwhile 52nd National Legislature of Liberia.

I had gone to a nearby office, outside of my office building, to conduct business and was returning to my office when I was approached by three unidentified men who informed me that I was wanted at the LACC office, immediately. I inquired if they had any document or warrant for my arrest in their possession and they responded in the negative. - Mr. Clemenceau Urey, Former Chair, National Oil Company of Liberia

'I Fully Cooperated With That Body'- Urey on NOCAL, Bribery

Both Urey and Barr were spotted at the LACC on Friday afternoon where they had brief interactions with some officials of the commission.

Urey says LACC Actions unacceptable

Urey says he will comply with ongoing investigation by the LACC, but is insisting that NOCAL is not run by one individual and as such the action of LACC is unacceptable to him.

In a statement, Urey stated "It should be remembered that a public corporation is not run by one individual, but a board and a management, who act in consultation with higher authorities. Hence, the action of the agents of the LACC is unacceptable. I believe that the LACC, its agents and investigators are under a duty to be civil and courteous to all who are being investigated or who are aiding an investigation. Its agents should not be overzealous in executing their orders and infringe on and violate the rights of others. It behooves all of us Liberians to always and at all times demonstrate to the world that we are a nation of laws and not of men. Anything less will lead to chaos and be detrimental for our young democracy".

According to Urey, when he was cited by the Public Accounts Committee at the National Legislature, he complied and under oath he told the body what he termed the whole truth.

"I would like to bring to the attention of the public that when I was cited by the Audit Committee of the National Legislature, I fully cooperated with that body by immediately and promptly appearing before it. Under oath, I told them the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In like manner, I answered the call of the LACC as soon as I was cited. I intend to cooperate with the LACC until this matter is resolved", Urey stated.

Urey declared that he worked with a Board and other official at NOCAL and there are no indications in the audit report that he converted funds into his personal use.

Stated Urey "Hence, I cannot comprehend why the LACC is taking such action against an individual who was working with members of the Board of NOCAL, the Management and others who were motivated only the their burning desire to seek the National Interest; one how took a bankrupt company, with $250.00USD in its bank account, employees unpaid for more than six months, a domestic debt of about half a million U.S. dollar, and left a bank balance of thirty one million U.S dollars, one hundred ninety thousand and eight cents ($31, 190,000.08), when I was removed from office, in addition to many other contributions from which Liberia through NOCAL is benefiting from today. I did not personally benefit from the transaction being investigated; Liberia did. There is nowhere in the audit report showing that I converted a diem form NOCAL to my personal use".

Former Lawmaker Barr also told reporters she does not want to comment publicly because the matter is now legal but her lawyer, Attorney Kuku Dorbor, who also served as lawmaker of the 52nd National Legislature where her client Barr also served angrily threatened to sue journalists who publish her photos. Both Bah and Dorbor were defeated during the 2011 general and Presidential elections after serving as lawmakers for six years.

Ben Kolako, head of Public Relations at the LACC told FrontPageAfrica that the two (Urey and Barr) were invited by the LACC as the beginning of investigation into statement made by Urey that NOCAL paid money to the Legislature for the passage of oil reform laws.

"The investigation just started, they will be called upon when needed while investigation continues", Kolako disclosed.

Urey and Barr were invited based on findings of an audit conducted by the General Auditing Commission of Liberia (GAC) in which NOCAL is said to have made payments for lobbying to some lawmakers for the passage of laws for the emerging oil sector. The audit report stated that Barr serving as lawmaker at the time signed for and received US$40,000 while other payments were purportedly made to the lawmakers totaling US$118,400 as lobbying fees.

At a recent public hearing on audit reports issued by the GAC on the operations of NOCAL, Mr. Urey admitted that the oil regulatory body gave thousands of United Sates dollars to the legislature through some lawmakers as lobby fees.

Did it reluctantly

Urey Said: "We did it reluctantly. It is not something we wanted to do. We did it in the national interest to get those agreements ratified, but what I can say here to you today is that when the second payment was done, I was not in the Country and when I heard about it I got angry."

The GAC in recommendations regarding the payment for lobbying fees stated that the NOCAL purportedly paid US$118,400 as lobbying fees.

"I recommended that the US$118,400.00 purportedly paid as lobbying fees be refunded to NOCAL's coffers by Madam Alomiza Ennos Barr, Member of the House of Representative, James Kaba, Chief Clerk of the House of Representative, and Dr. Fodee Kromah, President of NOCAL. Except for a payment received and signed for by Madam Barr in the tune of US$40,000.00 and another payment signed for by Chief Clerk Kaba in the tune of US$1,500.00, there was no evidence of receipt by the National legislature of US$76,900.00. On the basis of the information and clarification provided by Chairman Urey, I recommended that Dr. Kromah refund the amount and that the Minister of Justice employs the necessary legal means to remedy the fraud and the contravention of Liberian laws", the Auditor General indicated in one of the recommendations contained in the NOCAL audit report.

The 52nd National Legislature was constantly accused of taking bribes before ratifying concession contracts and other investment agreements. During the sitting of that body, over 50 contracts and concession agreements were signed with nearly all turning out to be fiasco as some of these concessionaires are yet to even begin operations and others have collapse within short time frame. Experts say the lawmakers did not do due diligence in ratifying some of the contracts and concessions.

Governance Commission Chairman, Dr. Amos Sawyer recently declared that the commission would do a formal complaint to the anti graft body for further investigation into admittance by Mr. Clemenceau Urey that NOCAL reluctantly paid lobbying fees in an amount of over US$118,000 to the National Legislature for the passage of some bills for the oil sector of Liberia.

Serving as one of the discussants at a public hearing at the Capitol Building for the Code of Conduct Bill, Dr. Sawyer said such action as payment of lobbying fees needs to be investigated by the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission.

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