30 June 2014

Liberia: Facts From Falsehood

Monrovia — Since it became public knowledge that the first company was given the right to explore the coast of Liberia for the world's most coveted natural resource, oil, public expectation has become wild with many thinking that the ideal magic wand against intractable poverty and underdevelopment in the country has come. Though there hasn't been definitive confirmation of its existence yet, oil is replacing the nation's staple, rice, as the next political commodity; naysayers already predicting that the country's next ruinous conflict would be about oil or the way it is handled by political leaders. It is no doubt that self-appointed advocates and politicians have got in the emerging oil and gas sector a strategic platform to legitimize their agitation against the status quo. However, the managers at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) are not feeling too overstretched with the magnitude of their assignment to, as they often put it, sifter the wheat from the chaff, and to balance the perceptive of the public about the sector. In the reignited debate on the oil sector, NOCAL responds methodically, as The Analyst reports.

The midterm senatorial election this year has begun to dynamite the political discourse, and given its strategic relationship with general and presidential elections two years later, the Liberian political terrain is heavily charged and many people and sectors have begun getting the heat. Not so surprisingly, the country's infantile oil and gas sector is drawn into firing line, with its former Managing Director flaunting the skeletons' closet.

Chris Neyor is not and will not be the first or last alarmist about situation at NOCAL; the sector has long been the compost of many a public speaker's political menu and will continue to be so in coming days of the ensuing midterm senatorial elections and beyond.

As if to set the records straight once and for all in direct response to the generalized and often perverted issues about the sector, the Chief Executive Officer of NOCAL, Dr. Randolph A.W.K. McClain, spoke to journalists yesterday on a range of matters.

Local Content

There has been the criticism that the managers of the oil sector have bequeathed the rights of Liberians to participation in the sector to foreigners, denying citizens their critical role.

But NOCAL's McClain has refuted this criticism, stating that under a joint NOCAL-Exxon Linkages initiative, which promotes local content, NOCAL has exerted maximum efforts in its interaction with International Oil Companies to ensure that they work with Liberian and indigenous businesses in the provision of goods and services that these IOCs need during their operations in the country.

He said on the basis of the understanding reached with IOCs concerned, in situations where some of these local companies do not have the capabilities to provide said goods and services, the IOCs will work towards enhancing the capacities of these Liberian businesses to provide the needed services and goods in the future.

“In other words,” he noted further, “the IOCs are now obliged to empower our local businesses in the provision of goods and services for the IOCs instead of contracting foreign companies to do so.”

Corporate Social Relations

In response the social service constraints facing ordinary Liberians, particularly, the problem of Housing which remains a major challenge, the NOCAL CEO says his management inherited low cost housing facilities in Voinjama, Lofa County, in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, and in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County that were not habitable—lacking, for example, basic self-contained facilities like toilets and bathrooms as well as kitchens.

“Consequently, the present NOCAL leadership has deemed it necessary to substantially improve on the existing structures to make them habitable—as their original state did not justify the resources previously spent on them,” McClain said, adding, “There are plans to continue many more such housing activities in other parts of the country once rehabilitation and expanded developments are carried out on the existing ones.”

He further stated: “Recognizing that transportation, especially in the heavily populated Monrovia and its environs, continues to constitute a serious social problem for our commuters, NOCAL, at the request of NTA, recently donated three new buses (estimated at nearly a quarter Million US Dollars) to help NTA facilitate the movement of our people.

Meanwhile, NOCAL has since made funds available to construct three bus terminals at Bo Waterside in Bomi County, Kakata in Margibi County, and Gbarnga, in Bong County—all of which are now in the completion stage.”

Scholarship Program

Also responding to repeated concerns about NOCAL's role in building the human resource capacity of the country, Dr McCain revealed that the Company's scholarship program is one of the entity's flagship projects.

In the past, he said, only modest attempts were made in this direction but since then, especially under the current NOCAL leadership, the scholarship program has been expanded exponentially, and has become much better structured than before.

“For example, while in the past the program was somewhat restrictive in terms of its beneficiary spread and limited number involved, NOCAL has not only significantly increased the number of scholarship beneficiaries, but has now established clear cut and appropriate criteria for granting scholarships,” the NOCAL chief said.

He recounted: “From a small number of four students granted NOCAL scholarship to study abroad between 2010/2011, and with 15 beneficiaries in 2011/2012, the present NOCAL leadership is proud to state that in 2012/2013, a total of 20 students benefitted from the scholarship scheme.

“And for the current 2013/2014 period, the entity is processing 33 beneficiaries who are slated to attend various Graduate schools overseas for academic year 2013/2014. Thus from an expenditure of Three Hundred Thousand United States Dollars in 2010/2011, NOCAL is poised to spend over Three Million United States Dollars on the scholarship program in 2013/2014 — constituting a hundred percent increment over the amount spent on such overseas scholarship grantees in 2010/2011 academic year.”

Oil Sector Reform

According to Dr. McClain, the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee (HTC), which includes a number of topnotch government officials, has already produced a draft National Petroleum Policy with the assistance of various sector stakeholders and external partners.

He said the draft was subsequently presented to the people in a nation-wide consultation process. The process was concluded and the National Petroleum Policy was completed. This has since been followed by action on the part of the Lower House to hold similar nation-wide discussions on the draft Petroleum Law and Amendments to the NOCAL Act, he said, and added, “NOCAL actively cooperated and supported the national consultation efforts of the Legislature.”

NOCAL's Contributions to National Budget

Contrary to criticism that NOCAL has not been contributive to national revenues, Dr McClain said Additionally, NOCAL contributed nearly US$13m to the National Budget in 2012/2013, while in 2013/2014, NOCAL has thus far contributed over 14 million United States Dollars.

“Before the onset of the ongoing sector reform, thanks to the new leadership at NOCAL, and the Negotiating Team of the HTC, an agreement was reached with Exxon Mobil on Block 13, netting for the government more than US$45 Million in 2012/2013 fiscal period,” he noted. ‘This deal has also been described by industry experts as “one of the best ever in the history of frontier countries.'”

Dr. McClain said while NOCAL welcomes varying perspectives on the oil and gas sector, there were those views and opinions from other quarters that are not grounded in facts.

“True, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but certainly not to his or her own facts,” he said, adding: “It is against this backdrop that we have come here today to highlight some of the issues that have been in the public domain of late regarding what NOCAL has been doing or has not been doing, and to set the record straight on these and related sector issues. That way, we can separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.”

He said NOCAL and the oil sector are marching on impressively, and that the present NOCAL management has achieved more in terms of accomplishments in the sector than at any other time in the recent past.

“Yes, for sure, we do respect and recognize past accomplishments, but our statement today will show that we have significantly improved upon those past accomplishments,” he asserted further. “Based on available evidence supported by facts, NOCAL has in recent times accelerated its programmatic and developmental strides across many levels of the sector and society as a whole—especially in regard to those projects and activities that touch in very meaningful ways the lives of our people—the ordinary people.”

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