CORLE Fears Closed-door Direct Negotiation of Oil Blocks May Only Enrich Buddies of Pres. Weah

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MONROVIA – Coalition for the Restoration of Liberians Five Percent Equity Interest in Petroleum Products (CORLE) has alarmed over what it calls closed-door direct negotiation of oil concession, outside of an open and competitive bidding process.

The group expressed fear that it may deny Liberians needed benefits of their resources.

“CORLE, therefore, calls on President Weah to cancel ongoing direct negotiations, undo the 2019 amendment, and relaunch an international competitive bid process in ways that assure experienced operators that the bid process will be transparent/fair and that their participation will not cost them any future reputational damage,” the group stated in a press statement.

President George Weah recently has announced through the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority a decision to begin negotiating Petroleum Sharing Contracts (PSCs) with international oil through direct negotiations.

But the group through its Organizing Chairman, Ambulah Abutumaga Mamey said the ongoing closed-door direct negotiation may be denied Liberians their best to enrich the buddies of President Weah, as such it wants ongoing negotiation immediately canceled.

“Undo the 2019 amendment, and relaunch an international competitive bid process in ways that assure experienced operators that the bid process will be transparent/fair and that their participation will not cost them any future reputational damage,” CORLE stated.

Mamey stated that the President’s latest decision has not only denied Liberians of their needed benefits, but has also removed all initial doubts that surmised that there is a “desperate agenda to rob Liberians of their oil wealth and secure same for him, his allies within the Legislature, and outside the government.”

“When oil companies seek petroleum operation license, it is open competitive bidding process that gives them the confidence to compete and challenges them to offer their best set of financial, social welfare, environmental, and technical packages to host countries,” Mamey averred.

He maintained that the current direct negotiation method being preferred by President Weah has proven to be “non-competitive, non-transparent” and “always executed behind closed doors” and under what he termed as ‘dubious circumstances’ that leave those participating in the negotiation with more benefit than citizens it should benefit.

He recorded that in 2009, it was through direct negotiation that Liberia lost approximately 245 million to Oranto Petroleum– a Nigerian-owned oil company.

According to Mamey, who was employed with the National Oil Company of Liberia during the said era, Oranto acquired three blocks (block 11, 12, and 14) from Liberia for a total of approximately five-hundred thousand USD, and a year later in 2010 sold 70% interest in those blocks to Chevron for US$250 million; earning US$245 million more than what Liberia received in 2009.

On the other hand, the petroleum rights advocate explained that through open competitive bidding in 2013, Liberia- earned an unprecedented 50 million in upfront payments from the award of just one block (block-13) to Exxon Mobil, as such any procedure associated with an oil deed must be opened.

While he believes there remain concerns over the management of money generated from the oil sector, Mamey argued that competitive bidding, not direct negotiation, remains the best and most secure pathway for Liberia to attract qualified companies to its basin and generate the maximum financial and other benefits from its hydrocarbon sector.   

He fears that the negative experience Liberia had with direct negotiation, especially the loss of over 200 million, and the urge to avoid future reoccurrence was a major factor that led the country and its international partners including the United States Government- to reform Liberia’s oil sector in 2014.

He stated: “The 2014 reform included the adoption of a 2014 Petroleum Law which explicitly said in section 14: petroleum agreement may be awarded ONLY based on an INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIVE BIDDING PROCESS”.

“Sadly in 2019, President Weah and 54th Legislature secretly amended the 2014 Petroleum Law and included – among other detrimental changes- direct negotiation as an option to award petroleum operation license. Section 14 b (i) of the 2019 amendment also empowers the President to unilaterally decide when to use direct negotiation for the award of petroleum license.”

The group is also afraid that the 2019 amendment and the president’s latest decision to abandon competitive bidding if not urgently corrected will reverse all the gains Liberia has made to increase transparency and prevent or reduce chances of bribery in the award of petroleum operation license.

CORLE warned that the actions will also prevent Liberia from attracting credible and experienced operators to its basin, subsequently reducing what Liberia should benefit from its hydrocarbon resource substantially.

CORLE at the same time committed itself to remain strategically engaged with key natural resource watchdog organizations, Liberia’s development partners, and interested oil companies to expose the personal wealth accumulation agenda of President Weah and his allies that they desperately seek to achieve through the manipulations of laws governing the oil sector.

“As CORLE did during the just ended Liberia 2020 License Round which experienced the premature exit of bidders and the subsequent failure of the License Round to consummate agreement with any company, CORLE will remain engaged strategically with key natural resource watchdog organizations, Liberia’s development partners and interested oil companies to expose the personal wealth accumulation agenda of President Weah and his allies that they desperately seek to achieve through the manipulations of laws governing the oil sector,” Mamey stressed in the statement.

CORLE believes by doing so, will ensure that recently announced direct negotiation is abandoned so thus ensuring that Liberia’s petroleum operation licenses are awarded to experienced, financially, and technically qualified operators only after competitive bidding.

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