Liberia: Who Passed, Who Failed? FPA’s 2019 Report Card Grades Performance of State-owned Enterprises
Monrovia – Liberia’s State-Owned Enterprises can make or break a country’s economy – or in some cases overburden them with when governance lapses are in abundance.
The sum total of 20 SOEs are government-owned and make up several sectors including port services, airport and civil aviation, electricity supply, oil and gas, water and sewage, agriculture and forestry, maritime, petroleum importation and storage, and information/communications services.
For a Weah-led government trumpeting a pro-poor agenda, these are key areas where the emphasis, if laid right, could help reduce the stress on government and set it on its way to fulfilling its key objectives.
Sadly, during the course of the year under review, some of these institutions became notorious for breaching the Public Financial Management (PFM) Law of 2009 which sets out rules governing SOE management and operations.
The year 2019 was a bad year for some SOE’s as major concession operations at a near standstill in Liberia and some packing up and about to show Liberia the door.
Like the previous year, this year found a number of high-profile SOE’s enduring financial meltdowns and unable to rescue the national government. While some have been able to stay afloat, a lot of others are finding it difficult just to break even or perform simple salary payments for employees.
Long before the Weah government came into office, the writings were already on the wall. The former government of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf pushed to dissolved a few SOE’s, either for inability to perform or deliver – or perhaps simply causing government more strains.
Former President Sirleaf submitted a bill in 2015 to the national legislature seeking to dissolve six State owned Enterprises. – the National Insurance Company of Liberia (NICOL), Libyan-Liberia Holding Company (LLHC), the Liberia Free Zone Authority (LFZA), the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC), the Bureau of State Enterprises (BSE) and the National Food Assistance Program (NFAP) respectively.
For Sirleaf, these institutions had outlived their viability and functionality and it is not in the interest of the Liberian people to continue to support non-functional enterprises with public resources.
Over the years, the major contributors to the economy have been the National Port Authority (NPA), Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), Roberts International Airport (RIA), Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA), National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA), Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC), Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) and Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA).
These days, the numbers and projects appear to be dwindling by the day. More importantly, the SOE’s have become a haven for political appointments with little to show in terms of how much contribution they make to government’s coffers. This, economists say, is bad for a government and country heavily reliant on foreign aid.
Today, we look at the performance of the State-owned enterprises.
LIBERIA ELECTRICITY CORPORATION (LEC)
The entity mandated to produce and supply economic and reliable electric power throughout Liberia continues to struggle as more and more Liberian crave consistent electricity. Not much has changed since the entity’s formation in 1973 when electricity was largely limited to the capital of Monrovia and its environs.
As Liberia struggles to rebuild its power sector, destroyed during a civil war which lasted from 1989 to 2003, the challenges remain enormous with only 12% of Liberians – and less than 20% of residents in the capital, Monrovia benefiting from electricity, making Liberia one of the lowest access rates in the world.
During the course of the year under review, the LEC commenced the commercialization of the rural electrification grids in Grand Gedeh and Maryland Counties after which residents and businesses connected to the grid to commence payment of electricity bills.
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the LEC broke grounds for the electrification of the Pleebo to Fish Town Corridor, a component of the Liberia Energy Efficiency Access Project (LEEAP). The separate groundbreaking ceremonies were held in Pleebo, Maryland County and Fish Town, Rivergee County. The LEAP is a 31.8m project jointly funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Union (EU) and the Government of Liberia.
The project entails the construction of 66KV double circuit transmission lines from Paynesville to RIA; the construction of two new substations (66/22Kv and 66/33KV); the construction of medium and low voltage networks in communities along the ELWA – RIA corridor and the Pleebo to Fish Town corridor; and the connection of 45,000 new customers. The project is expected to develop the institutional capacity at the LEC, Rural Renewable Energy Agency (RREA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME). The launched of the LEEAP in Pleebo and Fish Town signifies the LEC commitment to improving people’s livelihood through the provision of reliable and affordable electricity.
2019 LOWS: The LEC continues to struggle to curb power theft. During the year, nearly 70 percent of electricity generated fell prey to illegal connections to homes and businesses, causing losses of about $US35m to the company.
In August, the Senate passed a bill submitted by President Weah aptly dubbed, the Power Theft Bill with violation punishable as a felonious act. The Senate’s action was based on a recommendation contained in a report submitted to plenary by the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment and Judiciary. In its decision to make power theft a felony, the committee firstly defined it under the Black Law Dictionary’s 18th edition of 2004 as a serious crime, usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death, such as is brought against acts of burglary, arson, rape and murder.
2020 OUTLOOK: When will electricity become consistent in Liberia? Will the West African Power Pool finally become a reality?
NATIONAL FISHERIES & AQUACULTURE AUTHORITY
Like agriculture, the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority has the potential to help the Weah-led government get out of the current financial mess it finds itself. If utilized wisely and efficiently, the Fisheries sector could contribute immensely to national growth and development through huge support to the national budget.
To put it in a broad perspective, the sector in The Gambia contributes about 13% annually to government revenue. The national fish per caput consumption average is 25 kg but it is as low as 9 kg in the inland areas, as fish consumption is highest in coastal areas where fish production is high.
The artisanal subsector in The Gambia employs between 25,000 and 30,000 people, while about 2,000 people work in the industrial sub-sector. The livelihoods of an estimated 200,000 people are indirectly dependent on fisheries and related activities. For women in particular, fish processing and marketing provide an important source of income and livelihood support: an estimated 80 percent of fish processors and 50 percent of small-scale fish traders are women.
In neighboring Guinea, the National Institute of Statistics, reports the contribution of the industry to the GDP is 15,8 percent while fisheries represent only 3.7 percent. All the fisheries sectors contribute with more than 40 percent to the total State budget.
In Ghana, the Fisheries sector is estimated to contribute about 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 5 percent of the Agriculture GDP. … The per capita consumption of fish is estimated at about 25 kg per annum representing 60 percent of animal protein intake by the Ghanaian populace.
In the Ivory Coast, a modern fishing wharf opened since 1964 in Abidjan, which is Africa’s largest tuna fishing port, handling about 100,000 tons of tuna each year. There are fish hatcheries in Bouake, Bamoro and Korhogo. Commercial fishing for tuna is carried on in the Gulf of Guinea; sardines are also caught in quantity. The total catch was 71,841 tons in 2004, with commercial fishing accounting for 25 percent; artisanal fishing, 74 percent; and aquaculture, 1 percent.
The Liberian Fisheries sector has been underperforming unlike other countries because of outdated laws and lack of polices to probably manage the fishing sector. During the 1970, Liberia generated at least 40M per annum from the Mesurado Fishing Pier on export of shrimps which happens to be one of our main commercial species to Japan.
Director General Emma Metieh Glassco is on record for acknowledging that the development of coastal communities could lead to the creating of more job opportunities for Liberians to reduce the current hardships and more importantly make the fisheries sector more commercialized where private investors will be operating fish processing facilities across the Coastal Communities.
During the course of the year under review, NaFAA held discussions with the World Bank for a fisheries project valued at US$21 million. Phase 2 of that project dubbed, the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP) came to an end as a result of the pause on regional project by the bank in December 2018. It has now been increased to US$40M subsequent to the agreement in July 2019 to continue with as a National Project.
The project titled Sustainable Management of the Fisheries Project aims to sustain the gains of the WARFP in Liberia and develop National capacity to improve the value added and increase the economic contribution to the fisheries sectors and the restoration of key infrastructure to enhance the sector contribution to the economy.
This new World Bank National Fisheries Project will focus on the rehabilitation and expansion of the Mesurado Fishing Pier to a state-of-the-art Modern Fishing port with onshore processing facilities for value addition, it will also prioritize the establishment of landing jetties targeted in five coastal counties with densely populated fishing communities such as Montserrado, Grand Bassa County etc, in an effort to reduce to huge Post Harvest loss and supply the domestic market with high quality of fish products which has a fish demand deficit of 33, 000metric tons
With infrastructure development in the fisheries sector Liberia will be in a strong position to compete with its next-door neighbor, and gravitate from a regime of only issuance of License for wild marine fisheries to a fully industrialize and commercialized fishing industry which includes huge exports proceeds, signing of fish access agreement through bilateral arrangements such as EU-Liberia or Senegal-Liberia as well as with Private Tuna fishing industry
When implemented the project will greatly impart the Liberian fisheries sector as there exist a need for a state-of-the-art fishing and processing facilities and landing jetties in all of the nine coastal counties.
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, NaFAA gain accession and ratification of the Port State Measure Agreement (PSMA) which is an international FAO fisheries instrument that has been deposited at Food & Agriculture Organization, headquarters, Italy. NaFAA also, developed a National Plan of Action on Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Activities (NPOA-IUU) which has also been deposited at FAO Headquarters.
The agency also received fisheries patrol boat from Wales to monitor our territorial waters against illegal fishing and signed Senegal partnership agreement to attract investment in the sector. Additionally, NaFAA signed a 3.1 million USD agreement with Icelandic government for establishment of Competent Laboratory for testing and certification of fish product and another bilateral agreement with Japan for the supply of motorize boats which will increase the fish productivity on the local market.
NaFAA also signed a partnership agreement with FAO for fish stock assessment to know the status of stocks available which helps to inform management decision on the Fisheries Quota Allocation system in regards to the issuance of fishing license.
NaFaa also signed a private tuna fisheries agreement with Sovereign Trade International Liberian registered company in partnership with the Ghanaian fishing company named Panofi and for the first time Flagged two tuna fishing vessel which attracted investment in Liberia and n Memorandum of Understanding with the Ghana Standard Authority, the Ministry of Commerce for certification of Fish product for export the EU market.
NaFAA is currently in the process of completing the World Bank fishing project at the value of $40M and provided training opportunities for 25 persons to China. The agency also engineered the signing into Law an Act amending the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority which provides effective managerial and operational leverage to the national entity to appropriately execute its functions and signed on behalf of the government of Liberia along with 45 other countries the Torremolinos Declaration non-binding political instrument, on Fishing Vessel Safety and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
2019 LOWS: NaFAA was not without controversy during the course of the year under review following the signing of a five-year agreement with its West African neighbors, Senegal to exploit Liberian territorial waters and in return provide training and support to local fisherman and the fishing industry. The five-year agreement which is also renewable for equal period will grant Senegal greenlight to the exploitation and the management of the marine resources, the enhancement and commercialization of fishery and aquaculture products, fisheries research, preservation of the marine and coastal environment, training and capacity building of human resources, monitoring, control and surveillance of fisheries and safety at sea for artisanal fishermen, among other important measures in Liberia.
Amid the controversy, the government scrambled for answers to put local fishermen at ease. In the end, Plenary of the House of Representatives voted to endorse a report from its Joint Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Investment and Concession, that the Fishery Agreement is a “No Deal.’ The report said the Fishery Agreement is still at its embryonic (pre-natal) stage and needs to reach its threshold or maturity to meet legislative involvement because the Ministries of Justice and Finance and Development Planning are yet to sign the agreement to become a legal and binding instrument for ratification of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate. The House’s Joint Committee further said that any Senegalese business (institution) interested in the Liberian waters must meet the pre-conditions and all criteria set for licenses under our laws.
For NaFAA, the Senegalese Agreement was controversial because of misconceptions on the protocol of the agreement. “After clarity was provided to both houses than it was than agreed that the Executives should go ahead and complete the process before resubmission. However, at the time both the Justice Minister and the Finance had not attested to the document. Also, the agreement did not reach the US$10 million threshold to be brought to the legislature. Therefore, the executive can now proceed with the implementation of the protocol which has already been attested
NaFAA believes the Senegalese agreement has the potential of attracting huge investment to the sector which cover all the different aspects such as the Onshore processing and value addition for exports to international markets, expansion of the industrial Tuna fishing, introduction of new fisheries licensing regime such as Shrimps and Octopus fishing as the Liberian coastal waters has high productivity for shellfish fishing. It attracts onshore processing such as Canning Factory, Fish mill as well as a robust semi- industrial program which intends to supply the local market thus decreasing the net importation of fish product
2020 OUTLOOK: Will the coming year see NaFAA stepping it up a notch and fulfill its potential and endless possibilities?
LIBERIA WATER & SEWER CORPORATION
The LWSC is empowered to construct, install, establish, operate, manage and supply to all parts of Liberia, safe drinking water and perform all sewerage services, as well as to maintain such water and sewerage facilities. During the course of the year under review however, residents across Monrovia and its environs struggled to benefit from those services.
During the course of the year under review President Weah broke grounds for the construction of a raw water intake pipeline at White Plains.The 48-inch diameter pipeline, according to officials, will replace the original 36-inch diameter pipeline that was destroyed during Liberia’s civil war. It is part of the energy project under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact with Liberia.
The MCC is a Liberia-United States partnership to reduce poverty and promote economic growth.
2019 HIGHS: The LWSC has never been short of money to run its operations. It is the utilization that has always been the problem. During the course of the year under review, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved an additional financing of $24.74 million International Development Association (IDA)credit and $5.26 million IDA grant to increase access to piped water supply services in Monrovia and surrounding areas, and improve the operational efficiency of Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC).
The additional financing of Liberia Urban Water Supply Project (UWSP), approved on June 14, was intended to be used to scale-up the rehabilitation and extension of Monrovia’s piped water distribution system, as well as to reinforce LWSC’s operational efficiency. The parent project was conceived as a “first step” to carry out urgent rehabilitation works to alleviate the most binding constraints for the Monrovia water supply distribution network and thus lays the basis for additional investments to further expand access to safe piped water.
“The Liberia Urban Water Supply Project additional financing will help address the critical need for the provision of adequate and safe water supply. It is aligned with Liberia’s ‘Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development’, calling for an increase in households, institutions and communities that have access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities,” said Larisa Leshchenko, World Bank Country Manager for Liberia.
2019 LOWS: The LWSC ended the year on a bad note as scores of aggrieved employees on November 22nd humiliated and booed their Managing Director, Duannah A. Kamara for being allegedly ‘insensitive’ to their plights at the corporation. The protesters staged a protest before the LWSC’s premises on Front Street in Monrovia, besieging Mr. Kamara, his Deputy for Administration, Moseray Momoh, and other high-ranking officials from leaving the compound for several hours.
C. Abayemi Cassell, Secretary-General of the LWSC Workers Union summed aptly up the problem well. “The management of the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation has been very inhumane to workers of the corporation. They have been giving us very misleading information as it relates to our salaries and benefits. This month makes it exactly five months we have not taken pay; and seven months we have not gotten transportation allowance. But every day they tell workers that you, come to work; if you do not come, we will mark you absent.”
2020 OUTLOOK: Whatever happened to the much-talked about Act of Legislature seeking to charge residents who commercialize their private wells and boreholes to register with the LWSC in order to obtain meter and get billed?
NATIONAL PORT AUTHORITY
Tasked with the responsibility to manage, plan, and build all public ports in Liberia, the year under review proved to be a rather poor one for the Gateway to Liberia. All four ports: Freeport of Monrovia, Port of Buchanan, Port of Greenville, and Port of Harper struggled to break even.
Freeport, which is the main port and once regarded as a key contributor to the national budget is only a shell of what it once was. The port which once boasted record-setting 7,452,492 metric tons of cargo at its docks – even during the days of the 2014 Ebola outbreak fell short of expectations during the year.
This was evident in July when Managing Director Bill Twehway, who replaced Celia Cuffy Brown acknowledged the dip in numbers upon his return from next door Guinea. “We have come to Guinea to look at the Port of Conakry and to find out why our people are coming to Guinea to import their goods, drive their goods from here for more than three days into Monrovia, rather than using the Free Port of Monrovia that is closed to them.”
According to Twehway, his trip to Guinea showed him that there was a strong need to act as urgently as possible to make the Free Port of Monrovia, Gateway to Liberia’s economy, affordable for importers and exporters, most of whom are using alternative means to import or export their goods.
The sad reality of Mr. Twehway’s denial is that the current government met the gateway in a much better shape then it has not been denigrated to.
Twehway’s new obsession with transforming the Free Port of Monrovia to make it affordable for good public service suggest that the NPA may have kissed its best days goodbye.
2019 HIGHS: The cancellation of demurrage payments and charges on all containers being shipped into the country as of April 1, 2019 was a rare high point for the port and although it did little to improve revenues, it offered a small cushion for shippers. The port management acknowledged that the decision was necessary to alleviate the unwarranted hardship and huge financial nightmare on shippers and members of the business community suffered over the years.
“Demurrage is a charge levied by shipping agencies to the importers in cases where they have not taken delivery of the full container and move it out of the port or terminal for unpacking within the allowed line free days”. The NPA Management says the imposition of demurrage in 2016 by the past government cost huge losses to shippers and diversion of consignments and containers to neighboring ports.
2019 LOWS: Two-steps forward; two-steps backwards. Despite dropping Demurrage fees and laying the blame on the past government, the port management would trigger new controversy of its own when it signed a container tracking deal with Global Tracking and Maritime Solutions, Liberia – a company chased out of Sierra Leone for allegedly defrauding the Sierra Leonean government over US$11 million. Under the deal, and based on the agreement, GMT Solutions would track all containers coming to and passing through all sea ports in the country at an additional fee of US$175.00. All this when the government already has an arrangement and deal in place with BIVAC.
2020 OUTLOOK: Will Twehway aka “Gbekubeh Jr.” finally put his acts together?
LIBERIA AIRPORT AUTHORITY (LAA)
The LAA which is responsible for flights entering and leaving Liberia unveiled its new terminal during the course of the year under review, bringing an end to embarrassment and shame Liberians endured over the past decade in the aftermath of the civil war.
The project started during the reign of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf began in 2017 under the terms of a loan agreement with the People’s Republic of China. The loan will be paid with interest within 25 years. The new terminal is the first up to date modern terminal ever at the RIA since the end of the civil war. It features two jet bridges, two escalators, two elevators, ten check-in counters, eight duty free stores, a restaurant and two luggage carousels among several other features.
The new passenger terminal will process 350,000 to 500,000 passengers per annul, a projection he said suits the future air traffic needs of the Roberts International Airport (RIA).
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the LAA struck an arrangement with Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Georgia and advanced talks for a new deal with Delta Airlines. The deal with Hartsfield-Jackson halted the RIA’s reliance on the South Africa aviation sector for its aircraft maintenance. In addition, the move also contributed to job creation and boost to the aviation sector as aircrafts from several other countries in the region will turn to Liberia for aircraft spare parts and repairs.
Liberia already has the longest runway in West Africa, which is about 11,000 feet, that has been rehabilitated making it suitable for more international airlines to resume flights to the country.
2019 LOWS: When the escalator at the newly-renovated US$50 million gets damaged after only a few weeks – and stench from the restrooms starts forcing passengers to hold their nose, it spells trouble. This was the case for the LAA during the year under review.
After a FrontPageAfrica investigative report, the LAA management confirmed the malfunctioning of one of its escalators in the arrival terminal and had it repaired. The management has also been working to fix the issues relating to the stench.
The China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) which was awarded the contract to construct the new terminal is still in charge of repairing operational and technical glitches for a period of one year, as indicated in the construction agreement.
2020 OUTLOOK: Maintenance remains a key concern for the new terminal. Eagle eyes are watching
LIBERIA CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY
Since 2005, the LCAA has been tasked with regulating the aviation sector in Liberia. The LCAA, in keeping with the aviation act of 2006, is charged with the regulatory oversight of the sector. In the absence of a national carrier, the LCAA is left with a few chartered companies offering their services internally and regionally. With the United Nations Mission in Liberia no longer in the country, workload for the LCAA has slowed a bit although the pending arrival of Air France in the new year should improve business.
The LCAA’s woes were evident during the course of the year under review when Managing Director Emmanuel Nuquay appealed for more allocation in the national budget.
For Nuquay, the lack of adequate budgetary support is keeping management from ensuring stringent implementation of high cable standards and recommended practices in terms of executions of critical elements of safety oversight system and aviation security oversight system, which is very cardinal to its operations.
2019 HIGHS: The LAA, during the course of the year collaborated with the Roberts Flight Information Region (RFI) to host a follow-up conference on the establishment of a National Search and Rescue committee for Liberia with the goal of reviewing the Gap – Analysis, create draft legislation for enactment into law, and establish and working committee. The first conference was held on May 13, 2019, as a kick up initiative from ICAO as per mandate and requirement for all member states to establish a National Search and Rescue Committee.
The year also witnessed the signing between Liberia and the Kingdom of Belgium an Air Transport Agreement aimed at strengthening aviation services between both countries.
2019 LOWS: During the course of the year, FrontPageAfrica gathered the LCAA received caution from the European Council of Aviation over the potential risks involved in permitting a Boeing 737-800 MAX use of Liberia’s airspace. The alert was issued recently following the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 MAX.
Although the LCAA was tight-lipped on inquiries pertaining to the alert, the LCAA raised eyebrows as neither Ethiopian Airlines or Boeing 737-800 MAX fly to Liberia. However, older versions of 737 are among regular flights landing at the Roberts International Airport.
2020 OUTLOOK: Will it be a return to the legislature for Nuquay? Upcoming Senatorial by-elections looking increasingly likely.
CENTRAL BANK OF LIBERIA
The independence of the CBL has been rattled with question marks since the Weah-led government came to office last January. By July this year, even three nominees – Richard A. Dorley, Timothy Thomas and James B. Dennis – confirmed by the Liberian Senate as members of the CBL Board of Governors took the Oath, knew the perceptions of the bank had hit new highs as they pledged to work to restore the Bank’s independence and credibility. Much of the CBL’s frailties were owed to its own doing and failure to adequately provide the necessary information to the public.
A case in point? The sudden appearance of freshly-minted LD banknotes toward the tail-end of the year in review. As mind-boggling as it seemed, Liberians endured more than a year of hardships, pains and suffering after being told there were simply no LD notes in the country. They whined about mutilated Liberian dollar banknotes from commercial banks as many institutions simply told their customers there was no LD notes available.
Suddenly, in the dog days of the Christmas holidays, new banknotes appear.
The new banknotes, according to the Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, had been in the vaults of the CBL all along and that the bank routinely disburses money whenever it sees it fit to do so. “The Central Bank of Liberia has issued out to commercial banks, unused Liberian dollar banknotes that have been in its custody, in the vaults. The bank puts out banknotes, used and unused, from time-to-time as a routine exercise to meet the liquidity needs of commercial banks. For the record, this administration has not printed any new banknotes,” Minister Nagbe said.
The explanation is turning out to be a tough sell to a skeptical public unsure what to make of it, especially coming 24 hours after Montserrado County District 10 Representative, Yekeh Kolubah blew the alarm that new banknotes had been printed.
The saga sums up how strange a year it has been for the CBL. Much of the year under review was dominated over the resignation of former Governor Nathaniel Patray.
The President, looking to overhaul of the CBL’s leadership and restore confidence in an institution beset by scandals, announced in May that Patray would retire in three months. It took five months, for Patray to finally take his bow when the President accepted the resignation on October 24, 2019.
2019 HIGHS: Looking to take attention from a bad year, the bank turned to a number of economic forums aptly: “Financial Inclusion in Liberia: How far we have come and where are we headed?”, highlighting the status of financial inclusion in Liberia, strengthening the broader goal of digitizing the Liberian economy and the role of key stakeholders.
The bank also during the course of the year under review, launched the National Financial Inclusion Strategy of Liberia (NFISL) which was recently endorsed by the Cabinet. The Strategy was developed with technical support of the World Bank, seeks to drive the financial inclusion agenda of Pillars I and II under the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) as part of the Government’s objective.
The strategy also aims to promote access to financial services through digital channels in Liberia in a coordinated and focused manner. From the perspective of monetary authorities, evidence shows that financial inclusion is crucial for promoting not only financial stability, in terms of efficient funding sources, but also relevant for supporting private sector development and monetary stability.
Toward the last quarter of the year under review, FrontPageAfrica reported that a serious conversation was taking place between the Liberian government and international stakeholders in a bid to establish the facts surrounding the outstanding issues from both the Presidential Investigative Team(PIT) and the Kroll Report over the missing LD16 billion and the US$25 million mop up money, which could pave the way for the printing of new local currencies as the George Weah-led government race against time to solve issues surrounding the dismal economy ahead of the festive holiday season. That effort led to representatives from the Swedish money maker, Crane Currency coming to Monrovia for meetings with officials of government including the Central Bank of Liberia and members of the national legislature in a bid to resolve some unresolved issues.
2019 LOWS: Governor Patray’s hiring of nearly 400 new employees proved to have dealt the most devastating blow to the CBL during the course of the year under review. But it was the findings of both the USAID-backed Kroll and Presidential Investigative Team(PIT) report that sunk the bank even further.
Kroll, in its redacted findings, raised concerns regarding the overall accuracy and completeness of the CBL’s internal records. “The Report identified systemic and procedural weaknesses at the CBL, and identified shortcomings in Liberia’s fiscal and monetary management processes that are longstanding and continue to the present day,” according to the statement.
Both reports—the Kroll Associates Incorporated report and The Presidential Investigative Team (PIT) report pointed to major lapses in the CBL’s systems and controls mechanism because of its handling of the US24 million-mop-up exercise.
The PIT report in particular, concluded that given the many discrepancies as to the total and actual amount of new Liberian banknotes printed, shipped and received by CBL, thereby creating doubts as to the total amount of Liberian dollar banknotes in circulation; as well as, the negative impact said discrepancies are having on the economy, recommended the demonetization of the current Liberian dollar banknotes(new and legacy).
2020 OUTLOOK: To print or not to print new LD banknotes? That is the question that could linger in the coming year.
NATIONAL OIL COMPANY OF LIBERIA
With the amended Petroleum Act of 2019 signed into law by President Weah, Liberia’s once promising oil company appears to be emboldened to develop Liberia’s hydrocarbon potential for national self-sufficiency and sustainable development. A key part of Atty. Saifuah-Mai Gray, President/CEO’s mandate has been to delineate, establish, and issue licenses for particular areas, fields, and blocks in order to effectively undertake and/or facilitate the exploration and establishment of the country’s liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons deposits, both on land and in our sovereign waters.
Gray says NOCAL has embarked on a vigorous seismic data promotion and marketing campaign to encourage new exploration for our customers and to play a very important role in achieving Liberia’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development by managing Liberia’s petroleum potential in a responsible, transparent, and ethical manner.
Management hopes that the strategic setting-up of an Operational Shorebase at the Buchanan Port will give an economic boost for the economy and better turn-around time on operational activities for companies coming into the basins. It is also hopeful that improving Liberia’s seismic data sets and seismic-well tie following the Well Data Study with Core Lab, will present a better story for Liberia’s offshore blocks in upcoming exploration activities. Additionally, a focus on health and education CSR programs once revenue from production sharing contracts and petroleum activities begin.
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, NOCAL championed the amendment of key provisions in the New Petroleum Law of 2014 to increase block size from 2,000 km2 to not more than 3,500 km2 and allow for petroleum rights to be granted through International Competitive Bidding, Direct Negotiation and through Executive Allocation (to NOCAL).
The oil company also re-demarcated the blocks layout and sizes to conform to the Global Grid System in adherence of an ECOWAS mandate to all member States.
In August 2019, NOCAL signed a contract with a leading reservoir optimization company called “Core Laboratories Sales BV” to identify new leads and prospects
Following the signing of the Transitional Plan between NOCAL and Liberian Petroleum Regulatory Authority (LPRA) in 2018, the Joint Technical Committee made up of members from NOCAL and LPRA was setup to plan and execute the road map and schedule for Liberia’s next Bid Round in early 2020
NOCAL worked significantly with the National Secretariats of the EITI to get Liberia’s 10th and 11th Reports out in time before the deadline of December 31, 2019
NOCAL has established a subsidiary company which is a partnership between the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and EPC Limited (Business Registration #: 052175674) to supply the construction market with bitumen, one of the active products in road construction
NOCAL worked on an inter-agency committee to define Liberia’s maritime boundaries on both sides of the boarders (Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leon) and subsequently and do a draft law delimiting the maritime zones of the Republic of Liberia.
2019 LOWS: During the course of the year under review, Seismic Data sales was at a record minimum in 2019 due to cancellation of bid rounds and Simba Energy failed to fulfill its required work program and live up to other financial obligations and therefor resulting in legal actions.
NOCAL was also requested by LPRA to administer a Reconnaissance License (No. LPR – 001) for DEECO Limited, but DEECO did not satisfy the requisite conditions (e.g. pre-qualifications, submission of ESIA, Technical Work Program, etc.) for the license to be administered. Rumors of a rift between NOCAL and LPRA has not helped the situation for what was once a promising entity.
2020 OUTLOOK: With the signing into law the amendments of some provisions of the New Petroleum E & P Law of 2014, International Oil Companies are considering coming back into Liberia’s basins for exploration and reconnaissance activities. There’s also chatters about possible Joint Venture (JV) partners for NOCAL as companies can now come into Liberia’s basin through Executive Allocations to NOCAL. Management also anticipates an increase in data sales as a result of Liberia’s upcoming Bid Round Announcement and increase in data sales from Seismic Data and Well Data.
LIBERIA TELECOMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY
The regulatory and competition authority charged with the statutory responsibility to ensure a vibrant telecommunications sector in Liberia found itself on the receiving end of criticisms amid a bread-and-butter issue close pocket of most cellular subscribers: The termination of the Liberians darling three-day ‘free’ call.
Although the LTA claimed that the decision was based on a request from the mobile networks operators to stop “price war” in the sector, industry observers continue to point blame at the regulatory body for failing to control the situation.
The request, according to the LTA, necessitated its order, 0016-02-25-19 to introduce new floor prices that would compensate for the lack of market mechanism and ensure market stability.
Despite assuring the public that it would do all it can to continuously serve the public interest and remain engaged with operators by not interfere with promotions that will support the sustainability of the sector, many are not buying.
2019 HIGHS: During the year under review, the LTA, through the Universal Access Fund (UAF) signed a memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with K-NET Limited, Ghana (with a subsidiary in Liberia) for the implementation of a ‘Proof of Concept’ for the LIBERIA RURAL TELEPHONY PROJECTS to be deployed in Parluken, Forpoh District in Grand Kru County and in Gbankagboquiota, Belle District, Gbarpolu County.
According to the tentative project milestones, the ‘Proof of Concept’ is expected to commence in December 2019. Commissioner Akinsanya described the signing of the MOU as a dawn of a new day in the lives of the disadvantaged Liberians living in rural areas who find themselves on the negative side of the Digital Divide. He further asserted that ‘the ICT sector is a sector which cuts across every facet of our country, and this intervention seeks to accomplish amongst other things the expansion of the mobile communications sector and the provision of ICT platforms in the unserved and underserved areas particularly in rural Liberia.’
2019 LOWS: During the year under review, the Plenary of the House of Representatives designated its committee on Post and Telecommunications to review a communication citing the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) to give reasons for shutting down the internet on June 7.
The shutdown came into effect, in the early morning hours of June 7, prior to the “Save the State Protest,” when internet users began experiencing disruption in their connection that stopped them from accessing various social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, among others throughout the day.
The action sparked ‘huge’ debate as supporters of the protest termed it as an attempt by the government to suppress the anti-government demonstration and clamp down on free speech; while supporters of the government welcomed the move they believe was a ‘smart’ security measure aimed at curtailing the dissemination of hate messages and false information. In his communication to plenary, Rep. Thomas A. Goshua (Grand Bassa District #5) noted that without prior notice to the citizens, the government, through the LTA, took a deliberate decision to shut down the internet; thus, providing inconvenience for the people and keeping families and friends at a serious disconnect.
During the year, BuddeComm’s Telecoms Maturity Index raised some red flags regarding operations of the sector in Liberia. BuddeComm’s Telecoms Maturity Index analyses the broadband, mobile & fixed line markets of a country on top of a range of economic parameters to rank it on a scale of 1 to 100 and compare it to its region. The 2019 market leaders: Mauritius remains the top-ranking country in Africa with a Telecoms Maturity Index score of 49, followed by Algeria (43) and South Africa (34). In Liberia, the report says the market is ineffectively monitored by the telecom regulator, which lacks the resources, technical expertise and documentation to enforce its orders. “As a result, a number of operators are able to avoid paying fees to the government and have continued to operate despite the regulator’s rulings that they must close down their services.”
2020 OUTLOOK: The court of public opinion will continue to gauge the LTA’s declaration that new floor pricing set by the government is going to change the way Liberians have been communicating via mobile phones.
LIBERIA MARITIME AUTHORITY
LIMA’s main task is to build a vibrant domestic maritime program that is financially self-sustaining, internationally compliant and effective in protecting our Maritime Domain.
Currently recognized as the second largest ship registry in the world, LIMA is also mandated to regulate all foreign and domestic waterborne commerce, enforce maritime treaties, including Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL); the Standards for Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
During the course of the year under review, LIMA continued to explore the coastal resources and vast biodiversity that exists within our domestic maritime domain.
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the authority, in a bid to continues to deliver on its statutory mandates resulting in a strong and vibrant program that enjoys enormous international respect, procured and installed brand new monitoring equipment for the Monrovia Rescue Coordination Center (MRMRCC). This new equipment gives the Center full operational capability that enables the Center to coordinate search and rescue operations in Liberia and the sub-region.
The Liberian international maritime program remains the second largest shipping registry in the world with well over 170 million gross registered tons (GRT), representing 12% of the world’s oceangoing fleet. Liberia has earned international respect and admiration for its dedication to flagging the world’s safest and most secured vessels. Liberia is the largest white-listed flag state and sits atop of every port whitelist, including those of the International Maritime Organization and all major Port State Control authorities.
As Designated Authority (DA) for Liberia’s ISPS program, the Liberia Maritime Authority developed procedures and policies that conform to ISPS best practices and worked with various port facility owners and users in the implementation of the ISPS program. Based on the supervision and regular audits of the program, Liberia was able to pass the US Coast Guard audit that will ensure that the country transitions from the International Port Security “Advisory List” to the “White List”.
Having completed an extensive physical renovation and overhaul of its curriculum, the Liberia Maritime Training Institute (LMTI) awarded its first Associate Degrees (AA) in Marine Engineering to 24 cadets, including four females, which hailed from all 15 counties of Liberia. Nine (9) of the 24 cadets are being placed on vessels from one of our ship owners; seven (7) were placed with APM Terminals; and eight (8) were awarded scholarships to continue their studies at the Regional Maritime University in Ghana.
The Authority has awarded a total of sixteen (16) scholarships to young deserving Liberian students to study for BSC degrees at the Regional Maritime University in Ghana.
The Authority succeeded in securing accreditation with the Regional Maritime University in Ghana for the program at the LMTI. This will ensure that students who graduate from the LMTI can have their credits transferred to the RMU in Ghana.
The Authority secured scholarships for two (2) employees to pursue master’s degree programs at the World Maritime University in Sweden and one (1) employee to obtain a master’s degree in Holland.
The Authority secured three (3) scholarships from the Ministry of Transport of the People’s Republic of China for master’s degrees in various maritime disciplines.
The Liberia Maritime Authority in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NOCAL submitted and defended Liberia’s claims to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under Article 76 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Authority has completed the drafting of the National Maritime Strategy and the National Oil Spilt Contingency Plan which are undergoing stakeholders’ validation.
2019 LOWS: Liberia failed to do its homework this year, losing its seat on the International Maritime Organization. This means, the second ship registry in the world would no longer be a major decision-maker at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the next two years, except at its general assembly after losing its seat at the IMO Council to Kuwait in the Council elections held on November 30 in London. Every two years, more than 170-member countries meet at the IMO assembly in London to elect members of its governing council. Losing a seat on IMO’s Council means Liberia, which has the second-largest ship registry in the world, is now rendered a floor member with no power to make decisions.
2020 OUTLOOK: LIMA is poised to submit two pieces of Legislation to the President for onward submission to the National Legislature for passage: To amend and Restate the Title 21 of the Executive Law so that it can reflect contemporary maritime instruments, conventions and protocols that need to be domesticated; To amend and restate the Business Associations Law so that it reflects the contemporary developments in corporate law to make our corporate registry program more internationally compliant and competitive.
The Authority also plans to complete the IMO Member State Audit in 2020 with an acceptable score and is working with its agent to ensure additional 24 students are enrolled into the LMTI thereby increasing the enrollment to 48 students which will ensure that 24 students are graduated every year rather than every 2 years. The authority is also working with the Liberia Shipowners Council (LSC) to ensure that more Liberians are placed on Liberian flag vessels and will complete and publish the National Maritime Strategy and National Oil Spill Contingency Plan.
NATIONAL INVESTMENT COMMISSION
Since the end of the civil war, the commission responsible for promoting and coordinating investment related activities in all sectors of the Liberian economy has had its hands full spotting investment opportunities for a sustainable, vibrant, and inclusive economy.
A year ago, the NIC reported more than 160 investment interests while facilitating the visits of 51 business delegations which came to Liberia and met with NIC and other relevant government institutions in order to further explore sectors of interest. While some expressed interests in nearly all sectors of the economy with energy, infrastructure, agriculture and financial projects receiving the most interests, very few came to fruition.
The commission also reported that three concession agreements recalled by the government were renegotiated with an investment size of USD 49.8M while direct jobs to be created are about 1,500.
An additional two new agreements were negotiated with an investment size of US$59M, and about 200 direct jobs are to be created in the short term with more expected as the projects progress.
A total of seven companies were granted 5-year short-term investment incentives with a total investment size of USD31.85M and approximately 700 direct jobs are to be created, while nine applications are pending with an investment size of USD 21M, and about 600 direct jobs are to be created.
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the government, represented by the NIC, Ministry of Finance & Development Planning, Ministry of Mines & Energy the Ministry of Justice, and Hummingbird Resources Inc (Hummingbird) signed a 25-year Mineral Development Agreement-Gold (MDA) for the development of the largest gold mine in the Southeastern Region, with an investment size of over US$250M.
At the time of the signing, Hummingbird acknowledged that it had successfully defined about 3.8Moz at 1.24g/t Au, making the project the largest gold discovery in Liberia’s history.
NIC Chair, Molewuleh B. Gray, hailed the signing as a critical and a highly positive development for the economy.
Also, during the course of the year under review, the NIC and GROW Liberia held a Stakeholders Forum in Monrovia in a bid to emphasize Liberia’s role as a leading natural rubber producing country in Africa with over 100,000 hectares of rubber plantations and functional technical colleges offering courses in rubber cultivation and processing, Liberia harnessing the potential to be a new hub for the supply of Ribbed Smoked Sheets (RSS) in West Africa. RSS represents an alternative, less capital and energy-intensive form of processing with the potential to involve more small and medium-sized enterprises and farmers in value addition.
The year under review also saw the the House of Representatives concurring with the Senate on the ratification of the Investment Incentive Agreement between Liberia and Golden SIFCA.
2019 LOWS: Liberia’s investment climate remains vulnerable to corruption, lack of due diligence and a toothless NIC which has stood by while great investment opportunities are sidestepped for shady deals or political interference. Ask Prista Port, the firm represented by Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was forced to write a letter to President Weah seeking his intervention due to an “apparent stasis in the House of Representatives.”
Prista Oil Holding is the mother company of Prista Port Buchanan LLC. It is a Liberian business entity, which was established by the European multinational company Prista Oil Holding EAD, in order to facilitate the recently concluded Concession Agreement with the Government of Liberia for the Port of Buchanan.
By virtue of the Concession Agreement dated 14th August 2019, approved by President Weah on September 12, 2019, and ratified by the Senate with Act No41 on September 30, 2019, Prista is expected to manage the Port of Buchanan for 25 years. They are set to invest a whopping US$277 million in the Liberian economy.
In Mrs. Blair’s letter, a copy which of is in FrontPageAfrica’s possession, she told President Weah that she has been instructed by her client in connection with their investment in the Port of Buchanan.
“As you will be aware, Prista has the concession to deliver a visionary transformation of the port and the surrounding area to create an exclusive economic zone of strategic national importance (“Port of Buchanan”). At least to me, it appears that Prista’s project is destined to play a vital role contributing to your legacy while driving Liberia’s economic growth and having a profound social impact.
When investors have to go this length to get through the cracks, Liberia is far from being open for business but rather clogged in a bottleneck of extremities no investor would want to show face.
2020 OUTLOOK: Liberia has been open for business since the guns of the civil war became silent and embarked on a democratic path. While millions of dollars in investment have come and gone, very little impact for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Will the new year be any different?
NATIONAL SOCIAL SECURITY AND WELFARE CORPORATION
NAASSCORP’s mandate is to provide financial security and sustain the quality of life of all workers by delivering convenient and exceptional service through innovative solutions in bridging income gaps and improving the quality of life for all beneficiaries.
A year after the corporation dedicated its multi-million-dollar Medical Diagnostic Center in Paynesville, question marks continue to surround the corporation’s emphasis on investment. For years, the Senate Committees on Judiciary and Autonomous Agencies have been delving into a US$1.4m allegedly invested into Cocopa Rubber Plantation Corporation by NASSCORP.
In 2017, Senator Sando Johnson (NPP, Bomi County) requested the body to invite Managing Director, Dewitt Von Ballmoos to provide a detailed explanation of the transaction carried out by NASSCORP. Senator Johnson in his communication stated that being aware that money within the custody of NASSCORP is collected from workers across the country with the intent of providing retirement and other social reimbursements to beneficiaries, it is significant to know the intent of the investment.
“NASSCORP needs to provide reasons to the plenary of the Liberian Senate as to why they are investing our people moneys at a time when the present government is phasing out. There is a tendency that accountability could be lax and people could carry on dubious acts,” he stated.
2019 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, NASSCORP reported that it enrolled more than 4,300 pensioners. The Coordinator for Public Sector and Claims Department, Madam Mahdea Belleka, said out of 17,541 beneficiaries, the entity has processed about 4,305 so far.
In March, Firestone Liberia, Inc. announced changes to its employee pension program, effective March 1, in accordance with the Decent Work Act, and per previous and ongoing communications with its employees and retirees. Moving Forward, Firestone Liberia will cease company-direct pension payments for retirees who qualify for, and are due, pension payments by National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) – in accordance with the law. In situations where current retirees do not qualify for a full 40% pension from NASSCORP (40% of the retiree’s final pay amount), Firestone Liberia will make up the balance, ensuring that retirees receive the maximum 40% pension amount.
The company’s transition to NASSCORP administered pensions is only for retirees who qualify for a NASSCORP pension. For current Firestone Liberia pensioners who do not qualify for a NASSCORP pension, Firestone Liberia will continue to honor its pension obligations, through company-direct pension payments, as in the past.
Also, during the year, DG vonBallmoos, was reappointed Chairperson of the Technical Commission (TC) on Investment of Social Security Funds of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) for another three-year term.
2019 LOWS: This year, like many previous years, NASSCORP this year was again at the center of controversies over delayed payment of pension benefits which led to a group of disenchanted pensioners planning to stage a protest. The protest was, however, called off.
2020 OUTLOOK: NASSCORP could play a critical role in helping the government achieve its Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development through increased investment in infrastructure and improving pension payment mechanisms.
LIBERIA NATIONAL LOTTERY
The statutory authority responsible for regulating lottery in Liberia and mandated to engage in lottery and other gaming or chance business to generate funds for the Government endured a rough spell during the course of the year under review. In April, President Weah suspended Mr. Martin S. Kollie, Managing Director of the National Lottery Authority (NLA), for time indefinite and further ordered to turn over all government properties in his possession and to cooperate with the investigation. His Deputy Managing Director for Operations at the NLA, Hon. Nevad Kortu, has been acting since.
The year before, the LNA was embroiled in another scandal when it went to the Supreme Court to complain that its account was frozen by the Ministry of Finance Development Planning (MFDP) despite previous order unfreeze. The court previously ordered Solicitor General Daku Mulbah to instruct MFDP to allow the agency operates like the way it used to prior to new appointments by President George Weah.
Cllr. Stanley Kparkillen told the court that the mandates given the MFDP were not adhered to as the ministry is currently allowing all vouchers and checks to be approved by the Minister of fiscal affairs, Samora Wolokolie.
Much of the problems with the LNA borders around political interference. A year ago, President Weah sparked controversy when he wrestled oversight responsibilities of the Lotteries from the office of the vice president, in what many insiders say is a last-ditch effort by the President to shift power and influence away from his vice president. Section 1: Amendment to Part III regarding the establishment of the Board immediately upon the passage of this act Part III, Section 15.2(a) reads: “The Board shall consist of Seven(7) Members; A senior policy staff of the Office of the Vice President of Liberia as Chairman, with the right to cast a deciding vote in addition to his/her regular vote; is hereby amended to read as follows: 15.2 – The board shall consists of seven(7)Members- A Chairman to be appointed by the President, with the right to cast a deciding vote. The act shall take effect immediately upon publication into handbill.”
A year later, the NLA found itself struggling to dismiss report that the vice president was influencing decision at the entity. The NLA in a statement distanced the Vice President from the controversy and speculations, stating that the Vice President as a legal luminary and a respecter of the law cannot be in violation of any constitutional instrument, including the laws governing the gambling sector of the country.
2019 HIGHS: A dysfunctional, disjointed and disorganized organization did very little during the year under review.
2019 LOWS: During the year under review, an audit by the General Auditing Commission found that $US 2.7M could not be accounted for. Up to the end of the year, it was unclear whether the NLA administration, headed by Mr. Martin S. Kollie would have expended huge amount of monies supposedly without any documentation and or proper authorization. Kollie has not taken the matter lying down and lawyers representing his legal interest are seeking legal redress at the Supreme Court of Liberia against what they called their client’s ‘illegal suspension.’
The NLA also came under fire during the course of the year when it shut down Doxxbet company for allegedly refusing to comply with government standing regulations regarding the betting industry, citing the regulation that betting company is allow to bring into the country more than twenty slots of betting machines at cost of US$20 million. The regulation, according to the NLA states that anything other than the twenty machines would lead to such company paying US$500.00 per each additional machine. Doxxbet took issue with the NLA, dismissing the accusations.
2020 OUTLOOK: Will the “Act to Amend Part III, Section 15.2(a) of An Act to Repeal the Act Incorporating the Liberia National Lotteries Corporation of 1993 see passage in the new year?
LIBERIA REGULATORY AUTHORITY
The Liberian Petroleum Regulatory Authority (LPRA) was created by the Exploration & Petroleum Law of 2014, separating NOCAL’s functions and creating LPRA as the country’s regulator. The 1st Director of LPRA was Edward Smith in early 2018 but later resigned by November of the same year.
Little is known professionally about Archie N. Donmo, who replaced Edward Smith, other than he was a banker for many years with Ecobank. LPRA being a newly minted entity, many on the ground believed that the person heading such an important regulatory role should have a background working in the oil sector.
According to Article 75.1 and 75.2 of the New Petroleum E & P Law of 2014, the LPRA is to make regulations for giving effect to the provisions of the Act. The law states that the regulations should be done in consultation with the relevant government agencies and public hearings discussing the drafting of each regulation. To date, no such exercises have been carried out by the Authority indicating that no regulations have been made for the sector in fulfilment of LPRA’s regulatory mandate. The question is if the anticipated bid round can take place without the regulations.
2019 HIGHS: The Government of Liberia, through the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority (LPRA), and the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), has taken steps toward rebuilding a vibrant and viable oil and gas program by improving governance, transparency, accountability and equity participation of all Liberians.
The move is in keeping with Section 78 of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Reform Act of 2014.
The Government, according to a release, wishes to inform the public and its international partners that the Transfer Plan, referred to and required in the Petroleum Law, has been completed.
This signals two major milestones: the full transfer of all regulatory functions from NOCAL to LPRA allowing NOCAL to focus on improving the commercial capabilities and promoting the government’s interest and citizen participation and this allows for LPRA to immediately commence key activities leading to the bid activities of offshore acreages.
The President of the Republic of Liberia, George M. Weah, challenged the CEO of NOCAL and the Director-General of LPRA to engage with international oil companies and other global partners in building an economically successful and sustainable oil and gas sector, one that will maximize government’s take, ensure environmental sustainability, and equitable participation of all Liberians.
2019 LOWS: Things have not been looking good at LPRA. Against the advice of those on the Board and a senior level advisor within LPRA as well as NOCAL and the upper echelon members of President Weah’s advisory team, Mr. Donmo signed a contract with TGS NOPEC that could potentially rob Liberia of millions of dollars in potential revenue. At Press time, FPA learned that despite the signing, LPRA had no authority to sign according to the Petroleum law and the contract is being deemed as invalid by the Ministry of Justice.
Most troubling, in 2019 LPRA issued a Reconnaissance License to DEECO Limited, similar to the license issued to Simba Energy, for data acquisition over an area in Bong County. The license given to DEECO Limited was never administered because the LPRA failed to do the necessary background investigation on DEECO.
2020 OUTLOOK: There are high hopes for Liberia’s petroleum sector and the announced bid round is a vital part of Liberia’s recovery. The anticipation is that LPRA begins the consultation process for the much-needed regulations.
LIBERIA BANK FOR DEVELOPMENT & INVESTMENT
The Liberia Bank for Development and Investment is a state-owned bank with a compelling task to provide incentives to simulate the flow of private investment capital an fuel the engine of national and international trade.
Foremost among the incentives which the Government of Liberia considered to be imperative in pursuance of this goal was the creation of LBDI include: facilitate the creation and expansion of small, medium, and large scale productive businesses such as Agro, Industrial and Service (including Tourism Enterprises) and provide increased goods and services for the rapidly growing consumption requirements of the economy.
2019 HIGHS: After 54 years of existence, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) finally come off age with a new five-year strategic plan designed to transition the Bank into the new banking world, the first of its kind in the country.
The new plan, according to the Bank’s president, Mr. John Davies, III, is designed to fit millennials into the banking system and revolutionize the way banking is done in Liberia. It is meant to bring banking at the doorsteps of customers.
“The first real fruits of that five-year strategic plan are going to come out by November of this year. The Bank has invested in a brand new state-of-the-art ultra-modern banking system. In fact, in West Africa we would probably be the third bank to move to that system,” Mr. Davies bragged in October this year.
The new system is designed to reduce banking bureaucracies, ensure customer convenience, amongst others. This means, customers would now have full control of activities relating to their accounts without having to queue to meet a teller of a customer service agent.
As part of its plan for an improved customer service the bank would be recruiting the first 500 agents across the country with special emphasis on where LBDI customers are based on the analysis of their data base and also where the bank does not have a presence, like Lofa County. The 500 agents would eventually be increased to over 3,000 over a three-year period.
2019 LOWS: LBDI was hard hit by the shortage of Liberian dollars leaving many of its customers stranded. The situation was, however, not unique to LBDI, but affected its ability to effectively carry out some of its key functions.
2020 OUTLOOK: Customers look forward to how the complete digitalization of the bank would impact the way they do business positively.
LIBERIA PETROLEUM REFINING COMPANY
The primary statutory obligation of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) is to ensure adequate and consistent supply of petroleum products on the Liberian market. Effectuating this task has always generated mixed reactions from the public – whether from owners or users of vehicles, manufacturers or consumers.
The prices of petroleum products are inseparable from the factors that drive transportation fares, which remain the engine of domestic trade and commerce in Liberia.
In 2019, the year under review, the prices of petroleum products fluctuated month-by-month. And when there were apparent shortages, retailers were accused of holding, thereby causing hike in the prices while the LPRC and other relevant government ministries and agency were condemned for not enforcing appropriate measures to avert fuel shortage and its ramifications.
Meanwhile, during the year under review, the LPRC experienced the appointment of two Managing Directors respectively. First, it was Ms. Nyemadi D. Pearson steering the wheel at the LPRC and by June, President George Weah opted for Ms. Marie Urey Coleman as Pearson’s successor.
2019 HIGHS: Although the LPRC faced some public backlashes for its periodic shortage of petroleum on the market thereby causing price hike, they had insistently argued that importation of petro was delayed by vessels transporting the products to the country.
There were also reductions in the prices of petroleum products. Gasoline was reduced by fifteen (0.15¢) United States cents while there was an increase of ten (0.10¢) United States cents in the pump prices of diesel fuel (AGO) on the Liberian market.
The LPRC also completed the Product Storage Terminal (PST) Rehabilitation & Expansion Project and the new operation building in 2019. Experts, at the time who toured the facilities, described them as a pre-defined quality assurance standard which meets best international standard.
The Operation Building now has several offices while the PST has an increased volumetric capacity of from 61,431MT to 91,422 MT representing 33% in addition to a new Bitumen storage tank with a capacity of 10,000 MT.
Also, a rehabilitation and expansion project of the Tecxico Tank Farm will be increased from 61,431MT to 91,422 MT representing 33% or 91,422MT, a 10,000 MT capacity Bitumen storage tank, the LPRC disclosed in the year under review.
2019 LOWS: Sporadic shortage or lack of petroleum on the market at certain time of the year made the LPRC unpopular amongst commercial motorists and passengers alike. Local businesses struggled to keep their generators on while prices of basic commodities in rural Liberia were doubled because transportation had also doubled or tripled.
Also, during the year, Mr. Ben Sanvee’s resignation as member of the board brought the LPRC under public scrutiny. Sanvee, following his resignation, appeared on the Costa Show to lambast the running of the LPRC. He asserted that the LPRC needed a complete overhaul.
And later during the year, the House of Representatives on Thursday, June 20, 2019 during the 40th day sitting expressed their disappointments and frustration because major petroleum dealers had refused to pay road fund levies.
That was after the companies had agreed to withdraw their case from the court. The delays by petroleum importers to pay road fund levy landed the management in hot water with the lawmakers. Representatives Clarence Massaquoi, Joseph Somwarbi, Edward Karfiah, Ben Fofana, Matthew Zarzar and Nathaniel Barway publically voiced their unhappiness and resentments over the “unwanted delay’ and said the LPRC was partially reasonable for the delays.
2020 OUTLOOK: With the stability in the price of gasoline at the end of the year, the LPRC is expected to stay the course and ensure importers and retailers are checkmated. There will also be scrutiny about the LPRC role in the collection of fuel levy for the National Road Fund, which is intended for the maintenance of roads and bridges in the country.
NATIONAL HOUSING AUTHORITY (NHA)
THE LOWDOWN:The National Housing Authority (NHA) was one of those Liberian Government’s agencies that were always in the news. They had some kind of activities either negative or positive in almost all of the last 12 months of 2019.
2019 LOWS: The NHA year began in January with the First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Court “C”, at the Temple of Justice, issuing a Writ of Arrest for their former bosses, including Duannah Siryon, for their alleged involvement with the bribery scandal.
According to the Writ, Siryon, Tugbeh C. Tugbeh (NHA), Isaac Roberts (NHA), Augustine Weah (Executive Director of Guss Group of Companies) and Emmanuel Tapsoda (Gelpaz-Immo Representative) were indicted for the crimes of Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Bribery, Misapplication of Entrusted Property and Criminal Conspiracy.
“The Grand Jury for Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia, upon their oath do hereby find, more probably than not, that the defendants, Duannah Siryon, Tugbeh C. Tugbeh, Isaac Roberts and Augustine Weah, to be identified, committed the crime of Economic Sabotage, a felony of the First Degree,” excerpt of the indictment read.
Based on the writ, it appeared damning for the NHA, which had begun on a somewhat good note at the inception of the George Weah-lead regime in 2018.
Few months further into the year, the very same Burkinabe construction company that Siryon and others had been accused of receiving bribes from to favor was again presented with a contract for the construction of housing units by the new NHA team, which had taken over from the Siryon-led team at the NHA.
This was a somewhat redux of the infamous Sable Mining exposé, the GELPAZ-National Housing Authority corruption saga that saw Siryon, his principal deputies and officials of GELPAZ land in jail for alleged bribery and solicitation of bribes took another trend, despite the case being in court for alleged bribery.
GELPAZ and the National Housing Authority (NHA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in October 2018 for the construction of 50,000 low-cost housing units throughout the 15 counties of Liberia. However, things went amiss between the NHA and the Burkina Faso-based real estate developer after a leaked secret recording alleging some big shots in government requested bribes as compensation for the consummation of the contract was exposed by FrontPageAfrica.
Pictures of the contract signing were posted to Facebook on July 10, 2019 by Madam Celia Cuffy-Brown, who was appointed two weeks earlier by the President as the new Managing Director of the NHA.
Sources closed to the developments at the NHA had informed this newspaper that Ms. Cuffy-Brown would have issued a press statement to announce the signing of the contract which she regarded as a big achievement for the short period of time she has headed the Housing Authority.
FrontPageAfrica was informed that the consummation of the contract was pushed by the Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill. It was the same McGill’s name, which was mentioned in the leaked audio to have made financial demands to the company for the signing of the contract.
In the audio which was published by this newspaper in November 2018, the former representative of GELPAZ in Liberia, Augustine Weah, who is also the vice president of the company, alleged that NHA Managing Director Mr. Duanah Siryon had requested kickback in the tone of US$160,000 for NHA, US$100,000 for Justice Minister, US$100,000 for Nathaniel McGill and US$100,000 for Finance Minister before the contract can be consummated.
According to Weah, he negotiated with Siryon that they (GELPAZ) did not have that amount of money on hand but had made some transfer via LBDI Bank and could produce US$80,000 to be split between Minister McGill, his team and the NHA.
“After that the US$80,000 was presented to Duanah Siryon, and he told me ‘I’ll give you US$20,000 to keep and I’ll take the US$60,000 to McGill to disburse,’” Weah was heard saying on the leaked audio.
Weah further alleged that the NHA Managing Director requested and was offered a percentage in the construction, but pleaded that such should be kept secret from his principal deputies.
The case dragged on throughout the year in the court until November when the Criminal Court ‘C’ Judge Blamo Dixon handed down on Friday, November 8, 2019, his ruling acquitting Siryon and all others from NHA of all charges brought against them by the State.
The men had been indicted on December 14, 2018.
“Whether or not the prosecution proved its case beyond all reasonable? The answer is ‘no’. The prosecution willfully failed to establish its prima facie against the defendants in the absence of Augustine Weah and Emmanuel Taosoba (officials of the Burkinabe firm who allegedly brought the money). There is no evidence at all to convict the defendants. There is no proven evidence because Emmanuel Taosoba and Augustine Weah, [also] defendants, escaped the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia,” Judge Blamo had said when he ruled.
As the case was ongoing, in October 2019, officers of the Liberia National Police flew in full swing to disperse a group of NHA workers, who had gathered to protest for 11-month salaries, which had not been paid them. The disenchanted employees of the Housing Authority had gathered in front the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest. The police arrested three of the peaceful protesters, who were seen holding placard.
The three persons arrested, according to their spokesman, were taken into police custody. The protesters then relocated to the Ministry of Education on Third Street, Sinkor and continued their protest.
The NHA aggrieved staffs held placards bearing inscriptions like “Our Children need to go to school. We need to take care of our families. We have waited for too long.”
Dixon N. Nebo, spokesperson of the protesters, told FrontPageAfrica that their concerns had been ignored on many occasions.
“Today is a sad day in Liberia and the National Housing Authority workers are still in the street because we have tried all efforts, used all the diplomatic means and our plights have not been adhered to and the best thing is to draw government attention,” Nebo said.
They and many other public agencies, are still dogged by this salary delay situation.
2019 HIGHS: Nevertheless, there were many high moments, too, in the year. Authorities at the NHA always had these ‘highs’ in the form of letting the public know that they were entering new agreements with construction companies for the building of low-cost housing units in parts of the country.
At least news of sort from the NHA appeared in January, February, March, May, July, August, September and October of the year under review.
2020 OUTLOOK: The year coming is going to be among the crucial years ahead for the National Housing Authority. Nearly all of that good news of agreements, being signed between the NHA and those construction companies, are yet to be seen coming to fruition. Hopefully, those projects might be jump-started in 2020.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the regulatory Institution of the Government of Liberia for the sustainable management of the environment and its natural resources. The Agency was established by an act of the Legislature November 26, 2002 and published into hand bill on April 30, 2003.
The Act creating the Agency provides the legal mandates and authority to manage coordinate, monitor and supervise in consultation with relevant line Ministries, Agencies and organization, and other relevant stakeholders for the protection of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources. The act details the functions of the EPA from the Policy Council to environmental inspectors. The Act also clearly explain the entire environmental impact assessment (EIA) process in its totality.
2019 HIGHS: The EPA has been in the limelight this year. At the just ended United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 25) in Madrid, Spain, EPA Executive Director, Dr. Nathaniel T. Blama Sr. signed an MOU for the establishment of ecovillages in Liberia.
The MOU was signed with the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). The deployment of ecovillages in Liberia is intended to work with communities that face severe ecological challenges. The programme will assist the government in achieving sustainable development goals considering the vulnerable groups such as women and children, youth, elders and most importantly, people with disabilities. This project will also bring to reality the ecotourism strategy developed by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).
In September this year, the EPA launched a rescue mission for West Point, the largest slum community in Monrovia, which is gradually sinking under water.
Due to the situation, the government has finally asked residents in ‘red zone’ to evacuate dangerous spots to avoid fatality. But the government says it needs US$40 million to secure the entire township from the rising sea levels.
Though the government faces financial constraint, EPA is soliciting funding to erect coastal defenses in West Point.
On Thursday, September 5, EPA and its partners, as well as other stakeholders, validated the Monrovia Metropolitan Coastal Resilience Project (MCRP), an initiative that would cost over US$28 million that seeks to address the issue of the violent rapid sea erosion taking place at the Township of West Point.
The violent waves from the sea, which have caused erosion, are now a perennial problem for the township that is home to about 75,000 people.
In August this year, more than 75 homes were washed away by the violent sea waves, but if the Coastal Resilience Project is completed, it will save the township from total collapse.
Over the year, the EPA has conducted pieces of training for various stakeholders including journalists, farmers and civil society organizations on the effects and impact of climate change and the climate actions they can take to avert climate change.
2019 LOWS: Not much has been visible on the EPA’s efforts to curtail illegal occupation of swamplands which is leading to the massive destruction of mangroves. Mangroves protect shorelines from damaging storm and hurricane winds, waves, and floods. Mangroves also help prevent erosion by stabilizing sediments with their tangled root systems. They maintain water quality and clarity, filtering pollutants and trapping sediments originating from land.
2020 OUTLOOK: With 100 people trained in environmental safeguarding, it is expected that the EPA’s robustness would be felt more in the coming year the enforcement of environmental laws throughout the country.