Pres. Weah ‘Ignores’ Special Task Force Recommendation, Appoints New Team to NOCAL
Monrovia – It appears that President George Mannah Weah has turned a blind eye and paying a deaf ear to a cardinal recommendation of the Special Presidential Committee he set up to probe NOCAL’s suspicious negotiations in selling oil Block-13.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
Amongst other recommendations, the committee suggested a detailed forensic audit of the entity to be commissioned before a new leadership is appointed, but President Weah latest appointments contradict possible means of correcting the wrongs at the once flourishing state-owned oil company.
The new leadership appointed at the company comprises Saifuah Mai Gray, President/CEO; Dr. Lester Tenny, Vice President for Technical Services and Carmena C. Yeke as General Counsel. Cllr. Charles Gibson has been named as chairman of the Board.
Other members include Christine Hoff Williams, Dr. Moses C. T. Jarbo, Minister of Finance & Development Planning, Minister of Mines & Energy, Minister of Justice and the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation.
The Special Presidential Taskforce recommendation for a forensic audit emanates from gross mismanagement that ruined the once-booming entity and series of corruption allegations that engulfed the entity.
In March, NOCAL became a subject of interrogation again when Global Witness released its stunning report, Catch Me If You Can, that alleged that several Board members and members of the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee received bribes to the sign off on Block-13 to ExxonMobil.
In response to the report, President Weah constituted the Special Presidential Taskforce to further investigate the report and make recommendations.
“Immediate and detailed forensic auditing of NOCAL be commissioned and executed before a new leadership is appointed to the Corporation. The said audit should not be limited to simple accounting of the corporation’s finances, but must also include an audit of the stewardship of the leadership of NOCAL since its inception,” the committee advised among several other recommendations.
From the Committee’s investigation, there exists a systematic design within NOCAL to conceal records from other government agencies and constituted government authorities for the sole purpose of frustrating any effort to audit or examine the operational and managerial conduct of the Corporation.
At a cabinet retreat in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County last month, President Weah thanked the Special Committee and assured the country that he would ensure that the recommendations are implemented.
However, this vital recommendation that seeks to bring sanctity to the National Oil Company of Liberia appears to have been ignored by the President.
Sticky amid the appointment is Cllr. Charles Gibson’s preferment as Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company.
Cllr. Gibson was initially preferred as Minister of Justice, but shortly after his nomination, he found himself entrapped in series of issues bordering on ethical transgression but did little to clear his name.
He’s on record for misappropriating US$25,322.00 from a client, which led to his two-month suspension from the direct and indirect practice of law by the Supreme Court in the bailiwick of Liberia. However, his suspension lasted for a year due to his failure to restitute the amount until shortly before his appointment.
FrontPageAfrica also discovered that Gibson lost his job at the United Nations Mission in Liberia for allegedly shortchanging one of his clients in a land deal.
“Oppong Weah (President Weah) better shine his eyes. That man is crook. He’s a born crook. If he makes that man Justice Minister, Liberian people will say ‘if I was known’ [had I known]. We’re coming to cry. They have put a crook in the Justice Ministry,” Freda Mensah, a former Client of Cllr. Gibson told FrontPageAfrica back in February when he was nominated as Justice Minister-designate.
FPA’s reports were followed by several questions on President Weah’s seriousness to fight corruption and his premium on selecting officials with integrity.
The Senate dragged its feet in holding a confirmation hearing for him until his nomination was recalled by President Weah on February 7, 2018.
However, he surfaces at the National Oil Company at a time when the entity is facing financial constraints. NOCAL over the years has been rocked with series of allegations of corruption and unaccountability. The once-booming oil company collapsed in 2015. It was grossly mismanaged and oversized.
Senior executives, the board of directors and more than two-thirds of its workforce were laid off. An interim leadership, led by Cllr. Althea Sherman, was commissioned to revive the entity.
But the prospects of the NOCAL is not completely dumped, despite several explorations failed to discover oil in commercial quantity.
The history of the formation of the basin itself goes as far back as 600,000 years ago. According to geologists Africa and South America were once a large continent but drifted apart thousands of years ago, leaving the two continents with similar features, including fossils, the repository of hydrocarbon from which you get crude oil.
A reef that runs along the West Coast of Africa shares geological features with Brazil, which is a major oil-producing country. And this seems the case with discovery of oil in Ghana and off the shores of two of Liberia’s neighbors—Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.
Drilling in the Liberian offshore oil basin began in the 1940s in shelf wells, which showed traces of hydrocarbon but insufficient for commercial value. Exploration activities intensified after NOCAL’s formation in 2000, with an acquisition of 2D survey before licensing rounds began in 2003.
By the interim government period in 2003, Liberia had already begun signing PSCs with international oil companies that would later be revised and ratified by the government of President Sirleaf which came into office in January 2006.
Some Liberian experts are convinced oil will eventually be found in commercial quantities in Liberia. They say it’s just a matter of time.
“When it comes to offshore activities, there are prospects for discovery offshore in Liberia,” said Urias Taylor, a petroleum engineer who was employed with NOCAL from 2011 to 2015 told FrontPageAfrica in a 2016 interview.
“Some of the wells drilled in the shelf area and down the deep water have shown the presence of a working hydrocarbon system but is the matter of having a big field and limited players.”
Taylor said that the nature of the Liberian oil basin demands extensive drilling activities in order to discovery an offshore reserve, something he said must inform future PSCs. Liberia’s geology is different from Brazil’s in ways that will make finding the oil more challenging.
Taylor explained that the small size of the rivers emptying in the Atlantic Ocean from Liberia stops the drainage of the fossil sediment. Oil is formed from hydrocarbon which comes from fossils—the remains of plants and animals—and are trapped in sedimentary rocks for many, many years beneath the ocean.