19 March 2014

Liberia: Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee Slams Oil 'Experts' Credibility

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, Founder and President, Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa is questioning the credentials and credibility of "oil experts' brought in by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) to make presentations on phase two of the nation-wide public engagement on the post-war Liberia's Petroleum Sector Law Reform.

Estrada J. Bernard III is currently in his last year at South Anchorage High School, where he is an honors student, varsity athlete.

Gbowee, who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, expressed her disagreements in an open letter to the President Tuesday.

The Nobel Laureate said it raises serious questions to learn that NOCAL entrusted your grandnephew Mr. Estrada Bernard III, husband of the President's sister, Mrs. Jennie Bernard, a South Anchorage High School student in the State of Alaska, USA, to make a presentation on the development of the National Oil and Gas Industry of Liberia, a country of three and a half million citizens.

Gbowee reminded the president that the National Legislature, in 2000, established the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) to hold "all of the rights, titles and interests of the Republic of Liberia in the deposits and reserves of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons within the territorial limits of the Republic of Liberia, whether potential, proven, or actual, with the aim of facilitating the development of the oil and gas industry in the Republic of Liberia.

Gbowee explained that it is her understanding that the young Mr. Bernard did an internship with Malcolm B. Roberts & Associates, a firm in Alaska, through his participation in an extracurricular program, the Anchorage School District Gifted Mentorships. Said Gbowee: "I am curious how the 90-day after-school program (SEE LINK) in Alaska prepared 17 years old Mr. Estrada Bernard III with the requisite expertise to speak at NOCAL's behest before the National Legislature of Liberia and key stakeholders at the National Oil Roundtable. My concern is that the inclusion of Mr. Bernard without further clarity on his expertise undermines your stated efforts to build a transparent process to developing the oil and gas industry."

According to the Alaska school's web the Gifted Mentorship program is for the exceptional 11th and 12th grade high school student who has the self-discipline and interest to pursue independent study under the direction of a professional/ expert in a field of great interest to the student. The mentor program is a part of the district's Gifted Program. "Mentorship study programs are for high-ability, high-achieving students who often have completed all advanced coursework available at the high school level or who are currently enrolled in coursework that applies to their area of interest. The program gives motivated, mature high school students an idea of what it is like to work in a field of their interest by being teamed with a professional who acts as their mentor during a 45- to 60-hour program. The mentor, the student, and the coordinator design a curriculum of activities and projects that expose the student to real-life work situations as well as the latest information and technology in the field. The mentorship is usually completed in ninety days. Meeting times are arranged when it works best for the mentor and the student: usually after school and on in-service days. Students receive an elective credit for the mentorship when they successfully complete a range of requirements."

Jacqueline Khoury, Director to the Board of NOCAL, explained to reporters last week that NOCAL was making use of the clause of the draft NOCAL law that talks about citizens' participation. Khoury said Liberia has a Citizens participation clause in that law and that NOCAL is now drying to develop how this clause gives direct benefits to each and every citizen prompting a request to the government of Alaska to provide the experts. "In the course of that, I saw young Bernard on the internet. Liberia pays nothing for their expertise; they were all, including the young man, given to us by the state of Alaska to help us with our process."

Khoury went on to express disappointment in reporters for shifting focus on the issue when she said: "This is the most important conversation that we will have for the next 15 to 30 years. Let's focus on how we will achieve the maximum benefit of our new law so we can now fund education, health, social welfare, roads, transportation and put fund aside for our people, that is the focus of our conversation, thank you."

Besides her criticism of the inclusion of the young Bernard in the presentation, Gbowee also raised credibility over the other experts brought in for the roundtable discussion. "As your fellow Nobel Laureate, I supported your first and second term campaign platform to build an open, accountable government committed to rooting out corruption. Therefore, I join Liberians in keeping a keen eye on the NOCAL process. A March 10 FrontPageAfrica Online article listed participants of a roundtable consultation. Of the seven speakers listed in the article, one biography included direct experience working in the oil and gas industry, and another was an adult Liberian; three participants, one of whom is your grandnephew--the aforementioned current high school student--were affiliated with the Malcolm B. Roberts & Associates firm based in Alaska."

Gbowee said she searched for information about the Malcolm B. Roberts & Associates firm and its employees online, but was unable to locate a website underlining a lack of a web presence or footprints to authenticate their credibility. "To curb criticisms that these roundtable consultations are not taking a serious approach to the development of the oil and gas industry, I strongly urge your administration to widely distribute the names and biographies of all invited participants."

Among the experts presenters were:

Paul Brown, a former Newspaperman, who, according to NOCAL has more than thirty-five years of management, fund-raising, marketing and organizational development experience and has led and been a key member of projects in candidate and issue campaigns, community service, and the arts.

Engineer Nwapa (MNSE) was appointed Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board in April 2010 following the signing of the Nigerian Content Act. He has worked for many years in the international oil and gas industry, gaining most of his experience within various capacities and functions at NNPC.

Cindy Roberts, is a key component of her husband's Anchorage-based government and community relations consulting firm, Malcolm B. Roberts & Associates. Since its founding in 1972, she has dealt with a range of Alaska issues, most notably state oil and natural gas development policy and legislation, and public information regarding timber and mineral resources. Mrs. Roberts has held a variety of government positions with federal, state and municipal organizations.

Malcolm B. Roberts, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of the North and worked closely with the founder, the late Governor Walter J. Hickel, for nearly 40 years. The Institute studies and teaches about the Alaska economic model and how to care for and use commonly owned lands and resources for the benefit of the common man.

Robert E. Smallwood, is an International Tax Director with Pricewaterhouse Cooper's African Tax Group based in New York. He primarily advises clients on tax and business matters relative to English speaking West Africa (Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone) as well as Angola and Mozambique. He has over 12 years of diverse tax experience including advising energy and mining clients on tax due diligence, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), corporate restructuring, tax planning, holding company analysis, and other related matters. Robert has presented on various African tax and business topics at forums and conferences in the USA, Europe and Africa. Robert is a Certified Public Accountant and has a postgraduate degree in Taxation.

Taa Wongbe, Managing Partner of The Khana Group, a management consulting and advisory firm that combines private sector views with development approaches to positively impact and transform Africa. He is responsible for all aspects of the firm's strategy, teams and operations across all four offices in New York, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana.

In her communication, Gbowee encouraged the Sirleaf administration to make public the agreement NOCAL and the State of Alaska signed to bring Mr. Bernard and the other experts to speak before the National Legislature to quell questions that funds were misused. "I also encourage that any materials Madam Khoury viewed on the Internet that demonstrates Mr. Bernard's insights on the oil and gas industry be made publicly available along with any papers Mr. Bernard may have written. My search online was only able to find a video about your grand nephew speaking enthusiastically about a pre-college summer preparation course. Greater transparency on who is selected to speak at NOCAL roundtables and the expertise they bring will help buttress Liberians' faith NOCAL is fulfilling its mandate."

The Nobel Laureate said Liberians are rightfully optimistic about the great benefits an accountable, effective management of Liberia's natural resources, especially the energy sector can bring to their lives--higher paying jobs, greater infrastructure development, and wider access to electricity and clean water among other benefits. "The National Petroleum Policy report echoes this optimism. It states that the policy goal is to "manage Liberia's petroleum resources in an environmentally responsible manner to optimize returns for Liberia and ensure equitable benefits to the people of Liberia now and in the future." Both the Government of Liberia and Liberians are on one accord that the oil and gas sector must be developed responsibly and for the benefit of all Liberians. It is my hope that you will invest in greater transparency to alleviate concerns of all Liberians that NOCAL and every government entity is acting in their best interests."

Phase-two of the public engagement on the two draft oil legislations (The Draft Petroleum Exploration & Production Act of 2013 & The New NOCAL Act of 2013) will be Stakeholders' Roundtable Consultations that sought to solicit observations and recommendations from Local and International Civil Society Organizations, the Donor Community, the Business Community, Political Parties, Youth & Student Organizations, International Oil Companies, and Faith Based Organizations. However, turnout at the week-ong engagement was poor.

Expectations are high for Liberia's budding oil program. According to NOCAL, since 2007, 10 Production Sharing Contracts have been signed, including four with two of the largest and most reputable companies in the World, Chevron (2010) and Exxon (2013). To date, five exploration wells have been drilled and more wells are expected to be drilled in 2014. Liberia has a total of 30 offshore Blocks: 17 Deep Water Blocks and 13 Ultra Deep Water Blocks. To date, some eight companies are in Liberia's Deep Water Blocks currently looking for oil, but no company has found oil in enough quantities to produce it.

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