And the gasoline shortage continues with no immediate end in sight, contrary to official pronouncements that an end to the shortage is in sight. Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh's remarks in a FrontPage Africa interview that both the Ministry and the LPRC were misled by the inventory in the LPRC-owned storage tanks, raises a fundamental question of who misled who? Did Professor Tarpeh arrive at such a conclusion based on his expert assessment/examination of the books of the LPRC as a professionally trained accountant with a Masters degree in Accounting?
In case he actually did, how then did he arrive at the conclusion that his Ministry and that of the LPRC were misled by the inventory in the storage tanks? How is it possible that US$4.4 million worth of petroleum would disappear into thin air without explanation? It is no secret that the LPRC is no longer engaged in the refining of petroleum, neither does it import fuel into the country. Its storage tanks are leased to the various importers who use it to their fuel. LPRC, however, provides the workforce and so it has control over the fuel.
Granted that Minister Tarpeh and others were indeed misled by the LPRC inventory, as he claims, does that absolve the LPRC of liability or responsibility for the loss? The government of Liberia should treat this matter with urgency. The government of Liberia knows for example just who are responsible for this. There are, however, public speculations that LPRC officials, both former and present, could also be involved in the Ponzi scheme.
It has long since been an open secret that the LPRC has long since been used as a virtual government cash-cow. It was once called the Liberia Refining Company and its birth was largely the result of the lead role played by the Government of Liberia in organizing and facilitating its set-up. Later, its nomenclature and structure were changed during the Tolbert administration and it became a public corporation. Later refining stopped and the LPRC morphed into a Petroleum importing entity with its oil facility arranged through the Lombardi Group but guaranteed by the then National Housing and Savings Bank
Sometime following the 1980 coup, the LPRC defaulted on its arrangement with the Lombardi Group and relations were severed between the Housing Bank and the Lombardi Group. According to sources, in desperation the military government struck a new relationship with the Oklahoma-based Red Mountain Finance which began supplying the LPRC again through an arrangement guaranteed by the Housing Bank. But the LPRC again defaulted and the relationship with the Red Mountain Finance was suspended.
Then enters Emmanuel Shaw, President Doe's Minister of Finance. According to sources, he and the late Justice Minister Jenkins K.Z.B Scott together organized what was called the Liberia National Petroleum Company (LNPC), which then took over the functions of the LPRC. However it was not clear, according to sources, whether the LNPC was a public or private entity although it had inherited all the LPRC's assets but not its liabilities. The outbreak of civil war in 1990 brought everything to a halt.
Further, according to sources, when Charles Taylor became President in 1997, the Red Mountain Finance wrote the Government of Liberia seeking to reestablish relations in view of outstanding liabilities owed by the Government of Liberia. Sources say a relation of President Taylor (name withheld) was then serving as Managing Director of the LPRC.
Acting in concert with the then Minister of Finance and his deputies (names withheld) an arrangement was struck whereby all debts/liabilities owed by the LPRC were transferred to the debt stock of Liberia. All three Finance officials and the head of the LPRC signed on to the deal.
But at the end of the day, the then Governor of the Central Bank refused, according to sources to append his signature to the deal, probably suggesting that it was bogus. But in exchange for the clean slate, the LPRC agreed to provide to the Ministry of Finance, 100,000 gallons of fuel on an annual basis. Investigations however showed that the Ministry of Finance was paying hard cash for its fuel supplies while a local gas station known at the time as JR Gas Station in Sinkor was where the LPRC supplied fuel was being delivered, according to sources. And that gas station was said to be owned by the then Minister of Finance, according to sources.
And so, with the Housing Bank deeply saddled in debt, hopes of its resuscitation faded, leaving thousands of ordinary Liberians deprived of their life savings and disappointed. The LPRC has a long but sad story. It still remains a cash-cow and, the likelihood that the US$4.4 million worth of fuel will be recovered or that LPRC will indemnify those importers who have sustained such a loss, appear hazy.
Minister Tarpeh should stop fooling himself and stop trying to have others believe that they were misled by the inventory in the storage tanks. He, as well as the NPA managing director, need to tell the people the truth that dredging work, which will require at least a month to complete, has not commenced because the NPA is not paying or has not paid a dime against the contract now awarded to a new entity, according to sources.
Such double-speak should stop. Tell the people the truth!