Heritage (Monrovia)

20 March 2014

Liberia: Leymah Gbowee Descends On Ellen

Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Madam Leymah Robetha Gbowee, has descended on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf over the presentation role played by her grandnephew, Mr. Estrada Bernard in the just ended nationwide conference on the oil and gas sector of Liberia.

Mr. Bernard, 17, is a South Anchorage High School student in Alaska, United States of America. According to her, the selection of Mr. Bernard to make a presentation at the conference "raises serious questions."

She pointed out that the President's grandnephew did a 90-day internship with Malcolm B. Roberts & Associates, a firm in Alaska, through his participation in an extracurricular program, the Anchorage School District Gifted Mentorships.

Madam Gbowee's assertions were contained in an open letter addressed to the Liberian Chief Executive and posted on her (Leymah Gbowee) facebook page.

She maintained that the inclusion of Bernard "without further clarity on his expertise undermines" President Johnson-Sirleaf's efforts to build a transparent process in the oil and gas industry of Liberia.

"In 2000, the National Legislature 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.

Therefore, it raises serious questions to learn that NOCAL entrusted your grandnephew Mr. Estrada Bernard III, 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," she stated.

The Nobel Laureate added: "I am curious how the 90-day after-school program 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."

Madam Gbowee said her search on line about the youngster only found a "video about her grandnephew speaking enthusiastically about pre-college summer preparation course."

It can be recalled that over the week end, a member of the Board of Directors of NOCAL Madam Jacqueline Khoury justified that the inclusion of the President's grandnephew was based on the "citizen participation clause" in the Draft Petroleum Exploratory and Production Law.

According to her, Bernard and his colleagues were given to Liberia "by the state of Alaska to help in the process."

But Madam Gbowee encouraged the Unity Party (UP) led administration to make public the agreement NOCAL and the state of Alaska signed to bring Bernard and other experts to "speak before the National Legislature to quell questions that funds were misused."

She stated that Bernard's insights on the oil and gas industry must also be made available to the public.

She indicated that "greater transparency on who is selected to speak at NOCAL roundtables and the expertise they bring will help buttress Liberians' faith that NOCAL is fulfilling its mandate."

"I encourage your 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 grandnephew speaking enthusiastically about a pre-college summer preparation course," Madam Gbowee added in her open letter to the President.

The President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa noted that "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."

Those benefits, she stated, are echoed in the National Petroleum Policy of Liberia.

"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," she stated.

Said Madam Gbowee: "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 FrontPage Africa 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.

I 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."

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