The Lower House of the National Legislature has echoed a stand that seems to ensure proper mechanisms concerning how Liberia’s Gas and Oil Sectors should be run. This is the newest economic front of post-war Liberia that is yet to kick off. The decision being publicized in local dailies from the House of Representatives has come amidst a stepped up advocacy for transparency and accountability in the energy sector. NOCAL, the National Oil Company of Liberia which is clothed with the responsibility to steer the affairs of the sector is being seen as operating within the framework of secrecy.
The House held sustained discussions and at some point suspended talks on NOCAL, insisting that it is the appropriate body clothed with the task to review instruments intended for Liberia’s energy sector, aimed at facilitating effective, transparent and accountable undertakings within the sector to ensure the direct participation of Liberians. This advocacy appears to signal a generalized care for the masses. It is seen to unite lawmakers irrespective of different party affiliations. By the way, the coordinative nature attached to the House’s decision to straighten whatever NOCAL had laid down in pursuit of concession negotiations with oil companies probably senses unanimity. With the House’s Plenary endorsement of the decision, followed by a formal transmission to the President of the Republic of Liberia, the public is watching the trend to see further actions.
It sounds welcoming that the Upper House has also concurred with the Lower House on recommendations contained in a five-page document entitled: “ Summary Of The Actions Taken By The House Of Representatives On Reforms Of The Oil and Gas Sectors Of The Liberian Economy In Order To Facilitate More Effective Transparency And Accountability And Direct Participation Of Liberians”.
Surely, it would be expedient were all existing Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) and /or addendum NOCAL had entered into with oil companies; reviewed for compliance with provisions of the New Petroleum Law of Liberia (2002), as the Lower House has instructed. Such step is likely to renew public trust in the work of NOCAL because, no matter whatever clarifications the entity continues to provide in reactions to persistent corruption allegations bombarding it, uncertainties keep germinating in several quarters that NOCAL has made wrong judgments that tend to affect Liberians in the future. It would also be helpful if all negotiations on offshore blocks 1-7 and all ultra-deep water blocks are halted until the Act creating NOCAL is thoroughly reviewed including other activities surrounding the oil deal, which the House is poised to scrutinize.
One lawmaker to be hailed on this matter is Margibi County Representative J. Emmanuel Nuquay, whose February 13, 2012 communication addressed to Plenary has awakened this clarion call on the House to act . Representative Nuquay said the 2011/2012 fiscal budget has stood the risk of not realizing about US$27 million. According to him, the budget was being undermined due to the deposit of revenue generated from the sale of a Japanese food aid and petroleum product placed into an escrow account, rather than Government of Liberia’s account, something he observed was contrary to its appropriation and disbursement procedures. The Margibi lawmaker did not leave NOCAL out in his communication addressed to Plenary when he accused the oil company of failing to adhere to the legislature’s mandate to complete negotiations of Block 13; a failure which he noted has the propensity to create budgetary deficit in breach of the National Budget Law of Liberia.
The solemnity of Representative Nuquay’s complain subsequently prompted the constitution of a joint committee comprising selected members of the House and Senate to probe what was contained in the communication. Findings thereof seem to have proven that there was no US$27m realized in the pending budget. The laws creating NOCAL; the New Petroleum Law of 2002, and the Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) were all said to be in harmony. Yet, the PSCs were realized being negotiated in complete violation of the New Petroleum Law (2002) on grounds that the PSCs lack Liberian participation and ownership.
Another demand of the Lower House is that a comprehensive national content law be enacted to take care of all aspects of local content in all concessions, grants and privileges from the Liberian Government.