The public is closely following developments arising from comments and opinions that focus on Liberia’s oil industry. There seems to be a particular uniqueness about different positions policy makers are holding regarding what is apparently becoming a debate over the emerging energy sector. The uniqueness of the issue is that the very government that has been given renewed mandate for another six years was the one that negotiated and ratified oil contracts during the first term of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The very government, upon ascendancy in 2006 mandated the review of previous contracts signed under the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) and other regimes before the transitional administration. One of those contracts at the time was the AcerlorMittal Concession Agreement that was negotiated under the NTGL. One particular contract that was reviewed and canceled was the Malaysian timber company-OTC which was negotiated and signed into agreement under the regime of Charles Taylor. The Firestone Rubber Plantation Company Concession Agreement was also reviewed, and the list goes on.
Overwhelmingly embraced as a new dawn of political emancipation, Liberians on the average were never in opposition to the mandate of the Unity Party-led government to review contracts previous governments ratified, given the perception that most of those contracts were dubiously signed against the interest of the Liberian people.
No one can deny the news of Liberia having oil during the administration of Mr. Taylor and come to think about it, members of the 51st National Legislature have stories to tell as to how they dealt with the oil issue. The role of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) in contract negotiation has remained questionable because legal minds argue that the body was not an elected body and the power of ratification of contracts was very slim under its sphere. This argument provided the current government then the first regime, the boost to nullify some of those decisions the NTGL left on the books.
Now, constitutionally elected lawmakers under the 52nd National Legislature of the UP-led government who reviewed previous contracts deemed dubious were clothed with the responsibility to deliberate and ratify oil contracts with the passage of Petroleum Law and other related laws by the very body. Thank God Global Witness which brought the regime of Mr. Taylor to its knees also alarmed that an undue diligence was practiced during the period of oil contract negotiation to influence ratification which resembled corruption. Global Witness’ claim was backed by the General Auditing Commission audit report on the activities of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) which was directly involved with oil companies that have signed contract agreements with the Liberian Government.
With the tenure of the 52nd National Legislature now over, the 53rd Legislature is tussling and insisting that it review the ten Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) already signed, aimed at seeking the benefit of Liberians. Again, the argument has resurfaced that these contracts were not transparently and accountably negotiated and signed by lawmakers of the 52nd Legislature.
However, with majority of members of the Upper House(Senate) holding back their previous commitment to join rank with members of the House of Representatives and review those contracts, President Sirleaf has not concealed her position that she accepts reforms and not review of the contracts. For the President, reviewing the contracts would prolong the pace of progress needed in the energy sector. Nevertheless, critics of the President say it is not how swift the government should implement concession agreements but how better the contracts are negotiated to benefit the citizens whom the President leads.