Monrovia – Mr. Robert A. Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has kept a low profile since his defeat in the 2014 Senatorial elections in which he lost to football legend George Weah.
Report by: Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
“NOCAL is a public entity. Its financial reports are open to the public. A responsible newspaper/journalist would make an effort to acquire and analyse the records to determine the actual financial standing of NOCAL over the periods in question. “
Mr. Sirleaf, prior to those elections, stepped down in September 2013, as the Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and his role as an Advisor to the President.
Mr. Sirleaf’s departure from the Sirleaf administration came on the heels of mounting criticisms from some quarters that Sirleaf who had frowned on practice of nepotism in previous administrations had adopted the practice with key members of her families in her administration.
President Sirleaf has no numerous occasions defended appointment of her family in government, insisting that they have been based on merit. “
I have to put [people] in certain places where I get the best results based upon talent, based upon competence and based upon integrity, and that’s what I do. I stand the test and I challenge anyone who says there are other motives. I stand by my record and stand by the record of my family very firmly.”
In recent weeks however, several publications have resurrected a new report that the former NOCAL board chair is still working in the administration, recently drawing the House of Representatives into the matter.
The lower house in fact, recently launched an investigation into what it says is the appointment of President Sirleaf’s son, Robert as Counsellor for Commercial Affairs at the Embassy of Liberia in Brussels.
House Clerk Mildred Sayon told reporters recently that the investigation will also include the commercial and investment profits that have been accrued or are accruing between Liberia and Belgium.
The House’s Plenary mandated two of its leadership committees, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary, on Tuesday, June 28, during the 40th Day Sitting to undertake a thorough probe and advise the August Body about why the President’s son should not be held in contempt as to whether his appointment is/or isn’t supportive and convenient to the country’s economy.
The call was prompted by a letter from Rep. Dr. Bhofal Chambers, (Maryland Co. District #2), who urged his colleagues to invite Mr. Sirleaf and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to explain the commercial benefits that have been accrued to Liberia as Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the Liberian Embassy in Brussels.
Dr. Chambers is also Chairman on National Defense. He argued that Mr. Sirleaf was appointed as Counselor on Commercial Affairs on February 6, 2012, while he was serving as the Senior Advisor to President Sirleaf and the Chairman on the Board of Directors of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).
The Daily Observer citing a copy of Mr. Sirleaf’s letter of appointment, reported this week that the letter was written by the then Acting Foreign Affairs Minister, Sylvester M. Grisgsby to Comfort Swengbe, Chargé d’Affaires of the Liberian Embassy in Brussels.
“Mr. Sirleaf’s appointment reflects Government’s desire to intensify and deepen commercial and investment relations between Liberia and Belgium in particular and the European Union in general. “
“Although the appointment was made nearly a year ago, it is now being effected especially after the inauguration as an indication of the thrust of the new Administration to engage the private sector of Belgium and the EU in Liberia’s reconstruction and economic development,” Minister Grigsby’s letter said.
FrontPageAfrica on Tuesday reached out to Mr. Sirleaf to address the controversy demanding answers as to whether or not he was in fact working as a counsellor on Commercial Affairs.
Responding via email, Mr. Sirleaf dismissed the report as lacking balance and short on facts.
Mr. Sirleaf said the reports have presented the false impression that he is being appointed in 2016. Mr. Sirleaf says he has never requested or perform any duty in the capacity as Commercial Counsellor.
Said Mr. Sirleaf: “The June 29 publication of the Daily Observer is the first time I have seen or heard of the letter appointing me to a position in Brussels. I have never requested to be appointed to any position in Brussels.”
“I have never presented myself as a Counselor on Commercial Affairs affiliated with any Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, whether in Brussels or anywhere else in the world, either in person or by use of a business card or business stationery identifying me as a Counselor on Commercial Affairs for the Republic of Liberia.”
Mr. Sirleaf went on to say that he has travelled to Brussels proper, including transits, only once in the past 6 years, insisting that he has “neither received nor accrued any benefit as a result of the appointment contained in the 2012 letter.”
Mr. Sirleaf added: “I know of no investment made either in Liberia or on behalf of the Republic of Liberia which involves me acting as a Counselor for Commercial Affairs for the Republic of Liberia.”
The former NOCAL boss went on to say that if the position requires confirmation, he never in fact attended nor had he been called to attend any confirmation proceeding, declaring: “I will be more than happy to provide/confirm these statements to the House, and provide any additional information it may need concerning this matter.”
Defending NOCAL Tenure
Mr. Sirleaf also went to great lengths to defend his time at NOCAL and slammed critics who have suggested that he left the oil company bankrupt.
“Of course there is no factual basis for this conclusion. Indeed, in spite of the number of times this claim has been repeated, there is yet to be any respectable journalistic effort to thoroughly investigate and adequately inform the public about the facts and circumstances surrounding NOCAL including the period of my chairmanship.”
“Actually, during my stint as Chairman of the Board of NOCAL, the company remained in strong financial position, something any audit will confirm.”
Continued Mr. Sirleaf: “NOCAL is a public entity. Its financial reports are open to the public. A responsible newspaper/journalist would make an effort to acquire and analyse the records to determine the actual financial standing of NOCAL over the periods in question. “
“But if the real problem is the lack of capacity to interpret the financials, there are many including private firms who might be willing to do this as a public service. Not only will the Daily Observer find intelligibility, but also better accurately position to inform the public; which should be a civic responsibility from a news organization. “
‘Proud of My Tenure’
Mr. Sirleaf says he remains proud of the work he and his team perform at NOCAL. “Suffice to say, during my tenure, of which I am proud, I responded to all 5 legislative probes (2012-2015). At least 3 audits (2 local and 1 international) were completed.”
All of the records are available. To date, no one has pointed to a specific wrongdoing except the usual broad political strokes which are unsupported by evidence and the available records”.
“Again, working with many others, I am very proud of what we achieved at NOCAL. Liberia, a petroleum frontier country; we successfully negotiated and contracted oil exploration contracts with Chevron and Exxon Mobil, the biggest in the world not only in terms of exploration and production but also in respect of commitment to high standards of transparency and accountability. We presented the country a new draft petroleum law which, according to many experienced international opinions, is fair both to Liberia and to the investors.”
‘Never Misappropriated Funds’
Mr. Sirleaf added that neither Chevron nor Exxon has left the country.
“Exxon is due to drill in the 4th Quarter of 2016 or the 1st Quarter of 2017. Again, NOCAL can give you these facts, if the interest is to report and inform the public truthfully. “
“And so for the record, at no time during my chairmanship of the Board of Directors of NOCAL did I misappropriate, misapply, misdirect or direct NOCAL funds to personal use.”
Mr. Sirleaf added that he received no compensation from NOCAL for his service as a member of or as the Chairperson of its Board of Directors, other than reimbursement of out-of-pocket travel expenses.
“I always have been very open and cooperative with the GAC and the LACC on all of the above. It might also interest the Observer to know that it was I who engaged the representative of Global Witness, Mr. Jonathan Gant, with an invite to come to Liberia as we responded and opened lines of communication with them. “
“NOCAL had never done that before my chairmanship. My intention was to improve transparency and accountability in the management of NOCAL at home, working with local integrity institutions, as well as abroad through organizations such as Global Witness.”
Mr. Sirleaf says he continues to be focused on meaningfully and positively changing lives in Liberia.
“I am especially proud of some of the unmatched differences we have made in the lives of many young people, in some cases affording them a new lease on life – a renewed sense of hope in the future. I am also proud of some of the impacts my office has made and is determined to make especially in economically challenged communities.”