23 July 2014

Liberia: 'Don't Sell Our Oil Blocks' - Citizens Mount Pressure On Lawmakers

Monrovia — With information that there are ongoing discussions for the 53rd National Legislature to hastily ratify agreements for the sale of additional oil blocks to foreign companies, some Liberians gathered on the grounds of the Capitol Building Tuesday protesting and calling on the National Legislature not to ratify agreements for the sale of new oil blocks in Liberia.

Holding placards with slogans: "The 53rd National legislature can redeem herself by stopping the sale of oil blocks 6,7,16 and 17," "reserve the remaining natural resources for the future generation and the betterment of Liberia", the protestors are demanding the body to ratify the sale of remaining blocks in Liberia.

The National Legislature has already ratified the sale of several oil blocks with no significant provisions for benefit to the struggling population amid huge employment and raging poverty. Liberians are skeptical that the current legislators are busy ratifying agreements for the purpose of benefiting their personal interest not taking into account the future impact these agreements will have on the country.

Like its predecessor, the 52nd National legislature of Liberia which ratified over 60 concession agreements that did not culminate in job creation for the population as audit conducted by an international independent auditing firm Moore Stevens found that more than half of the agreements were marred by flaws, the current body has also ratified several agreements.

Many of the concessions were signed without due diligence conducted on the ability of the concessionaires to perform as after signing these agreements some of the companies like Buchanan Renewable Energy which promised to provide cheap electricity using dead wood could not meet up with the terms of the agreement signed with the government of Liberia.

The 53rd Legislature has also been following the footstep of its predecessor by also signing into law several oil agreements. Recently, the body expended close to US$ 1 million for a row show nationwide consultation on oil reform laws for the country. The group of Liberians under the banner, Concerned Liberian Citizens in a petition to the National Legislature stated:

"We, a cross section of concerned Liberian citizens, cognizant of the poor and abusive management of our natural resources, particularly our last extractive frontier; the oil and gas sector, and realizing our conscious duty and responsibility to defend and safeguard our future, and children's future, do hereby assemble invoking Article 17 of our Constitution to petition our National Legislature not to ratify the planned sale of oil blocks 6,7,16 and 17, and any future sale of any oil blocks until at such time when the ongoing reform process is completed ensuring significant Liberian participation".

The group headed by three Liberians including Michael B. Wah, Samuel F. McGill and Henry P. Costa in the petition vowed to champion the cause of the Liberian people in ensuring that the right things are done in the oil and gas sector of the country. The group further stated "We also hereby assure you, and swear to our sacred commitment to Country and People that; we shall continue to champion this cause not only in the oil and gas sector, but in the natural resource sector in general".

Resources in many African countries including Nigeria, Central African Republic, Equilateral Guinea and others have been the main source of conflicts as despite vast resources standard of living in these resource rich countries are very poor. Liberia has had its share of abuse of resources when various warring factions used gold, timber and other resources to fuel their war machinery subjecting the country to nearly 15 years of persistent civil wars.

Pro temp blames Urey

Senate Pro-Temp Gbehzongar Findley has accused Mr. Benoni Urey of sponsoring the protesters who are protesting against an alleged attempt by the Legislature to sell new oil blocks. At a press conference Tuesday, Pro-Temp Findley denied the protesters' claims and accused Mr. Urey for supporting the group of young people with false information to cause instability in the country.

Findley said: "Mr. Benoni Urey should know that this is a country that enjoys stability so for him to support this kind of group to bring instability with lies and false information and he wants to be a leader for the country let him stop. "We know where that is coming from we know who is behind the concern group of Liberians all NGO organizations are registered if you check that group right now I am sure this group is not legitimate."

The protesters presented a petition to the grievance committees of both the House of Representatives and Senate calling on them not to proceed with the sale of oil block 6, 7, and 9. According to them, they were informed that the legislatures along with the executive branches of government are contemplating selling the oil blocks.

In further comments the Senate Pro-Temp called on Urey to do away with what he termed falsehood and stop encouraging young people to bring instability. "I am calling Urey's name because he is my friend but he needs to know that is not the path to becoming a President of Liberia this is not the time," he added.

He also claimed that if an oil block is to be sold it will be done by negotiation noting that the legislature is not the first line of negotiation. He also said, if there is an oil block that is available and people want to buy through due diligence the legislature will look into it.

The protesters' action coincided with a communication from the National oil company sent to the House of Representatives requesting an audience with that august body to plan on future activities of NOCAL. The letter from NOCAL was endorsed and agreed by the House of Representatives and meeting was scheduled for Thursday of this week.

The NOCAL's Communication though, did not form part of the plenary agenda for Tuesday, but it is believed that it is because of the letter the House has postponed the commencement of their Independence Day holiday break that should have started Tuesday to Thursday the day set for the meeting with NOCAL.

Citizens call for oil block to be reserve

During the Nationwide tour with the country draft oil law by the House of Representatives, reserving the remaining oil blocks were among the many recommendations forwarded by citizens across the country to the lawmakers. Citizens who gathered from all parts of the country at each of the meetings held in Bong, Lofa, River-Cess, Grand Gedeh and Margibi Counties amongst others called on their lawmakers to reserve the remaining oil blocks. The citizens referenced oil block 13 given out by the government as a lesson learnt and did not want a reccurrence of such.

Since the end of the nationwide tour the House of Representative has failed to come out with a finalized oil law to be forwarded to the senate that earlier passed the law for concurrence promoting the interest of the ordinary Liberian. At one of his news conferences Deputy Speaker Hans Bache told reporters that findings from the tour are being finalized and will be shortly released to the public at a national conference that will take place in Monrovia.


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