Liberian Diaspora communities in the United States over the week were engaged in a series of sequential and synchronized consultative oil forum which covered four states including Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Georgia, and Washington D C . The National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), Liberia’s state-owned corporation in charge of the country’s
virgin oil discovered just few years ago held a barrage of consultative forum which kicked off in Washington D C last Friday while Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Minnesota were allotted Saturday and Atlanta and Rhode Island gatherings were held on Sunday.
The Philadelphia Consultative Forum was held at the Christ Assembly Lutheran Church on 229 North 23rd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Saturday.
NOCAL’s consultative team was welcomed by Mr. Dahn Dennis, President of the Liberian Diaspora community of Pennsylvania who emphasized that Liberians residing in the city of Philadelphia are not the perception people think they are but are instead people who will voice out their opinion on issues affecting their country.
Opening the consultative forum on behalf of the National Oil Company of Liberia was Mr. Jacob Kabakole, Senior Strategies Adviser to the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NOCAL, Mr. Robert Sirleaf. Mr. Kabakole told the gathering that the purpose of the forum was a way for NOCAL to sit with Liberians in the Diaspora as they are also doing in Liberia to have a dialogue about the future oil discovered in the country and how to go about it so as to avoid mistakes made by other countries. Mr. Kabakole to the gathering that Liberia wants to get it right, emphasizing as much as oil is a blessing, it can also be a curse.
NOCAL oil consultant, Ms Jackqueline Khoury took the podium presenting NOCAL’s draft petroleum policy giving the history of petroleum development commencing in 1958 when three wells were dug in a bid to search for the possibility of oil. The NOCAL consultant said it was concluded after the search that Liberia had oil potential but not of commercial potential.
Ms Khoury told her fellow citizens that Liberia is not producing oil as yet and it might likely be the next government on whose watch the country could begin to produce because it could take about seven years before oil production begins noting it takes time to built the platforms to explore and produce oil and each platform has to be build to its own specification of the Ms. Khoury said the draft petroleum policy being discussed with Liberia at home and abroad was developed after having studied about eight other countries.
After Ms. Khoury’s well-articulated presentation of the draft petroleum policy, came question and answer. The sensitive and serious concerns and frustrations guided by bewilderment and outrage characterized the gathering meeting immediately. Focal point of concern and outrage dissipated by Liberians is the appointment by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of her son, Robert Sirleaf as chairman of the Board of Director the state own oil corporation. The gathering noted that the President appointment of her son to head the oil company is re-incarnation of the late President William R. Tolbert’s trend who appointed lot of his relatives in government, emphasizing that it seem we as a country did not learn from the Tolbert mistake. A speaker said though Mr. Sirleaf serves on a pro bono basis, in the Liberian context, “we know what pro bono means”; the Sirleaf family is deciding the fate of the country in their living room, a speaker concluded.
Defending the chairmanship of Mr. Sirleaf, the NOCAL team insist there is no law in Liberia which precludes the President from appointing her son into government and it was Mr Sirleaf who introduced Chevron to Liberia. The gathering reacted sharply to Mr. Sirleaf’s chairmanship defense with the narrative that society does not only live on laws alone but ethics and morals as well and his appointment is in contrast breed nepotism and conflict of interest. Mr. Sirleaf did not introduce Chevron the gathering challenged the panel recalling that Chevron was one of the earlier entity invited by the Liberian government to explore for oil in Liberia.
A speaker asserted that President Sirleaf respects the governed who elected her to power and listen to the outrage and outcry by citizens to remove her son, Mr. Sirleaf as chairman of the Board of Director of the state-owned corporation. Another speaker asked the Senior Strategies Adviser to the Chairman to carry a memo to the President and Mr. Sirleaf informing him that he rescue himself from the oil company or President Sirleaf withdraw his appointment from the oil company and that the Liberian people as the governed, will not accept Mr. Sirleaf as Chairman of NOCAL.
Other burning and fiery issues factored in as common denominator of concerns are the bewilderment of the gathering span well anchored in the painful experience of the Firestone Rubber Plantations Company which has operated in the country for 100 plus years now and up to date despite being one of the largest rubber producing countries, there is no finished rubber product been produced in the country but instead Firestone elected to built its factory in South Africa which is not producing of rubber and the interest of the Liberian people was not secured, leaving the country a loser in the Firestone deal. Speakers at the gathering also recalled the memories from the mining concessions Liberia entered into in the 1960s with foreign films and countries which left the country with many empty holes as the benefit the country accrued from the concession after years of exploitation.
Liberians at the forum also expressed their concern about the lack of trust that the Liberian government will put the interest of the country first rather than the powerful taking the oil wealth for themselves and children as it has been with all investment s in Liberia. Giving a specific instance about for their fear, a speaker recounted how President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, then minister of Finance and former Managing Director and Current Senator Cletus Wotorson signed the legal documentation of the formation state-owned Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC) in the 1970s as individuals and not as Ministers of Finance and LPRC Managing Director respectively, representing the government and people of Liberia which ultimately gave legal ownership to them rather than the country. The former LPRC Managing Director, Harry Greaves held to this position and he refused to relinquished his post when told to do so, insisting the state-owned refinery was not owned by President Sirleaf and Senator Wotorson.
The NOCAL team tried to address passionate concerns and outrage of the gathering but Liberians at the forum seemed not to find comfortable responses from the panelist to ease their fear and bewilderment.
Click below for audio version of Philadelphia Consultative forum: