Liberia: Did Payments Sway Ex-Justice Minister’s Advice on Legality of Bonuses to Board Members?
Monrovia – Payments of ridiculous bonuses to Board members of the National Oil Company (NOCAL) could have been averted if former Justice Minister, Benedict Sannoh, had advised otherwise, but fresh documentary evidence obtained by FrontPageAfrica shows that he was a beneficiary of the ‘spoiled system’ with several NOCAL cheques prepared in his name.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
In a legal opinion proffered by the then Minister of Justice on the legitimacy of payment of bonuses to members of Boards of state-owned enterprises, Cllr. Sannoh advised that by all legal reasoning, receipt of sitting fees by Board Members does not measure up to receiving double salaries or emulations as prohibited in Section 9.10 of the National Code of Conduct for Public Officials.
Three years before the release of the Global Witness’ Catch Me If You Can Report that, heads of state-owned enterprises and the Ministry of Finance had written the Ministry of Justice, seeking its opinion on the legitimacy of fees to board members.
Their inquiry was based on the fact that the Ministry of Finance and other anti-corruption agencies, often viewed such payments as illegitimate and a violation of the National Code of Conduct.
Section 9.10 of the Code of Conduct states: “Public officials and Employees of Government shall not, while receiving or being paid salaries by the Government, at the same time receive or be paid salary by any other public office unless it is established that such additional employment is in the public interest (eg. Teaching at public educational institutions) and that such service does not conflict with such public official or Employee of Government’s principal employment.”
Referencing the Black Law Dictionary which defines “salary” as “As agreed compensation for services paid at intervals or a yearly basis, as distinguished from an hourly basis.”
Cllr. Sannoh, in his opinion and legal advice, noted that there’s a correlation between salary and employment as per its definition, noting that a person must be employed to receive salary.
“Payment of salary demonstrates the existence of an employment contract under which an individual agrees to perform the service for an accepted compensation.”
Cllr. Sannoh in his capacity as Justice Minister further opined that public officials are appointed to Boards by the President and they embark on their responsibilities without any accepted compensation or contract as a condition precedent.
The opinion further explains that Board Members hold a fiduciary relationship with the corporation on the boards on which they serve and are answerable only to the Board and to the President of Liberia.
“They are not employees and monies paid to and received by them from the corporation on whose board they sit are not salaries.”
He insisted that there is no conflict of interest as defined in the Code of Conduct when a public official serves on a board of directors of a public corporation where such does not conflict with the public official’s principal employment.
However, observers of the unfolding events at NOCAL in the wake of Global Witness Report on the scandalous sale of oil Block-13 believe Min. Sannoh’s legal advice may have been influenced because he has been a beneficiary of several payments he received from NOCAL.
FrontPageAfrica is in possession of a copy of NOCAL Account Statement dating 2014 – 2015 showing several cheque withdrawals made by Cllr. Sannoh from NOCAL’s operational account.
The records obtained by FPA show that on April 8, 2014, Cllr. Sannoh made a cheque withdrawal of US$1,500 from the National Oil Company’s operating account. The cheque was numbered 6579.
On December 18, 2014, an amount of US$1,350 was again withdrawn by Cllr. Sannoh from the same account. The amount was withdrawn from cheque number 8114.
Cllr. Sannoh on February 26, 2015, withdrew from the same account a cheque of US$1,350 issued him. He made another similar transaction of the same amount on June 24, 2016.
The Global Witness report on the sale of Block-13 exposed the involvement of members of NOCAL Board of Directors and the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee in the sale of Block-13.
The report disclosed that Board members received up to US$136,560 in bonuses for negotiating the sale of the oil block.
The Special Presidential Committee noted that for a company like NOCAL that was experiencing some financial constraints during the period under review, to simply award bonuses/honoraria indiscriminately is a clear act of recklessness to which the Board of Directors of NOCAL must be held to account.
“In consideration of these, therefore, the Committee concludes that payment of bonus/honorarium, even it was statutorily and constitutionally supported, could not have been paid to members of the HTC because they are neither employees of NOCAL nor was the amount paid in addition to their regular salaries paid by NOCAL. The committee, therefore, finds that the decision of the Board of Directors to pay bonuses/honorarium is not supported by our law,” the committee stated in the report.
The committee recommended that members of Board of Directors and the HTC be made to restitute the amounts or be prosecuted for economic sabotage.