LIBERIA: EJS Authorized US$500K Bonus Payments, NOCAL Board Minutes Reveals
Monrovia – Board resolution minutes of the National Oil Company of Liberia dated April 27, 2013 obtained by FrontPageAfrica suggest that former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf gave the approval for the payment of US$500,000 in bonuses to senior and junior executive members of the oil company involved in the controversial Production Sharing Contract negotiations for Liberia’s offshore Block LB-13 with the petroleum giant, ExxonMobil.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
According to the minutes, signed by former NOCAL CEO Dr. Randolph McClain who was secretary to the board and Board Chair Mr. Robert Sirleaf, the proposal for the bonuses was approved by the former President.
The minutes noted: “Regarding the proposal that was approved by the President of the Republic of Liberia to use approximately ten percent of the income that NOCAL generated from the LB-13 transaction(which amounts to approximately Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) for the payment of bonuses to the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee and Support Team, the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of NOCAL for their hard work and dedication to ensuring the successful completion of the project.”
At the April 27th 2013 meeting, the board resolved that payments be made to not exceed US$500,000 USD.
The minutes note: “The Board of Directors hereby authorizes the President/CEO to disburse bonus payments in an amount not to exceed Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars($500,000 USD) in order to pay bonuses to the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee and Support Team, the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of NOCAL for their hard work in accordance with the payment listing that was approved by the Board and is attached to this Resolution. The undersigned, acting by consent of the Board of Directors(the “Board”) of the National Oil Company of Liberia(NOCAL), a company duly organized and existing under the laws of the Republic of Liberia(herein referred to as the “company”), do hereby certified that during an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors was present, the following resolution was unanimously adopted in full force and effect as the date hereof.”
The board minutes added: “Whereas the Government of Liberia, led by NOCAL, successfully concluded negotiations with Exxon/Mobil and Canadian Overseas Petroleum Ltd. (COPL) and signed a Revised Production Sharing Contract(PSC) for Liberia offshore block LB-13, which garnered an income of Fifty Million United States Dollars($50,000,000.00) for the nation. The agreement will provide immense benefits to the nation and its people, including immediate and long-term financial benefits, strong social and environmental protections, a high royalty rate, state and citizen participation, as well as provisions to promote local content and job creation in Liberia.”
In March, the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness released a report showing that Exxon’s 2013 purchase of Liberia’s Block 13 oil license likely enriched former government officials who may have illegally owned the block. The report also alleged that the oil agency, NOCAL also made unusual, large payments to senior government officials who authorized the 2013 deal.
In calling on the government of Liberia to investigate the matter, Global Witness wrote that Exxon was aware that Block 13 was originally awarded through bribery and that its purchase of the oil block could enrich former officials who might have been behind BCP.
The watchdog group citing a PowerPoint presentation obtained, explained that Exxon wrote that it was interested in purchasing the oil block despite its “concern over issues regarding US anti-corruption laws.”
The report added: “Undeterred by the corruption red flags, Exxon went ahead with the deal anyway. Global Witness’ evidence shows that it structured the transaction in a way to skirt US anti-corruption laws by using a Canadian company – Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) – as a go-between to buy the block.”
“Regarding the proposal that was approved by the President of the Republic of Liberia to use approximately ten percent of the income that NOCAL generated from the LB-13 transaction(which amounts to approximately Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) for the payment of bonuses to the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee and Support Team, the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of NOCAL for their hard work and dedication to ensuring the successful completion of the project.”
– Excerpts from Board resolution minutes of the National Oil Company of Liberia dated April 27, 2013 obtained by FrontPageAfrica
The report noted that Global Witness had seen evidence that shortly following the authorization of the 2013 Exxon deal senior Liberian officials were paid “bonuses” of: NOCAL CEO Randolph McClain, National Investment Chairman Natty Davis, Finance Minister Amara Konneh and Mining Minister Patrick Sendolo, NOCAL Board Chair Robert Sirleaf. Sirleaf, who is the son of then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was reportedly working pro-bono at the time. And former Justice Minister Christiana Tah
The report said Robert Sirleaf was reportedly working pro-bono at the time. However, he too received a payment of US$35,000.
The Global Witness’s evidence showed that the payments were associated with the Exxon deal. The payments were probably made from the same bank account into which Exxon had recently deposited part of its bonus to NOCAL, although there is no evidence that Exxon knew about them.
All officials have denied that these payments were bribes, stating that they were authorized by NOCAL’s Board of Directors as bonuses for negotiating a good deal with Exxon.
In a statement last week, Mr. Robert A. Sirleaf, the son of the former President, said that the payment of bonuses is not unique to NOCAL but one practice at all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) of the Government of Liberia.
Mr. Sirleaf said all SOEs pay bonuses including the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC), National Port Authority (NPA), Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA), Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA).
In a separate communication in possession of FrontPageAfrica, former Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh opined to the NOCAL board that the receipt of sitting fees by Board Members does not measure up to receiving double salary or emulation as prohibited in Section 9.10 of the National Code of Conduct for Public Officials.
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 on August 12, 2015, 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.”
According to a stash of communication in FPA’s possession, NOCAL board members were reportedly in the know about the potential breach of the code of conduct as far back as 2014.
On July 16, 2014, former Finance Minister Amara Konneh in a letter to the NOCAL CEO raised concerns about the breach and returned a number of board fee checks while citing Section 9.10 of the Code of Conduct.
“I am pleased to present my compliments and refer to my letter of July 16, 2016 in which I cited Section 9.10 of the National Code of Conduct Law as a basis for me not to accept board fees effective April 1, 2014.
In view of the above, I am herewith forwarding cheque No. A00007000 representing fuel benefit for the month of May in the amount of two thousand, seven hundred twenty-three United States Dollars and Fifty-Seven Cents)US$2,723.57) dated May 22, 2014; cheque No. A00007247 representing quarterly fee in the amount of Four Thousand Five Hundred United States Dollars(US$4,500.00 dated June 27, 2014 and; cheque No. A00007239 representing fuel benefit for the month of June in the amount of Two Thousand Seven Hundred Twenty Four United States Dollars and Seventy-One Cents(US$2,724.71) dated June 27, 2014.”
In response, NOCAL COO, Althea E. Sherman wrote:
Dear Hon. Konneh,
I wish to present my compliments and on behalf of the President / CEO, Dr. Randolph A.K.W. McClain, acknowledge receipt your letters received on July 17 and 18, 2014 respectively. In the first letter, you informed NOCAL that consistent with Section 9.10 of the National Code of Conduct law signed by the President on March 31, 2014, you will no longer accept board fees, sitting fees and other board related benefits from the National Oil Company of Liberia effective as of April 1, 2014, and that your name should be removed from NOCAL’s list for board benefits.
In the second letter, you made reference to your first letter in which you cited Section 9.10 of the National Code of Conduct Law and on the basis of that, you did return three cheques representing fuel benefit for May in the amount of US$2.723.57, quarterly fee in the amount of US$4,500.00 and fuel benefit for the month of June in the amount of US$2,724.71.
Honorable Konneh, we thank you for the information provided and the cheques that were returned. However, our legal team will review your communications and advice on the way forward.
A Special Committee set up President Sirleaf’s successor, President George Manneh Weah recently recommended prosecution and restitution for those named as having received payments from the bonuses.
President Weah has pledged to hold accountable anyone found to have broken the law during the 2013 approval of the sale of oil Block 13 to Exxon.
Speaking a Cabinet retreat last month, the President declared: “Anyone held accountable, such person will be dealt with according to the law.”
The Special committee – comprising – Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike – Chairman, Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull; Cllr. C. Alexander Zoe, Rev. Joseph Gardea Johnson, III, and Mrs. Frances Greeves – recommended that officials who were mentioned to have received monies in the form of bonus/honorarium for signing the sale of Oil Block-13 be made to restitute the amounts into government’s coffers.
The report stated that “Receipt of such payment be published in a recognized daily newspaper within 15 days from the date this report is made a matter of public record. Failure to make said payment or restitution as recommended, they, the members, should be charged and prosecuted for receiving unlawful reward under section 12.51 and 12.12 of the New Penal Law.”