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NOCAL's metro Atlanta petroleum forum offers hope for the future

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh      

 

Metro Atlanta is again the destination for Liberian government officials who arrived here this month to promote another government program, which officials believe needs the input of Liberians in the Diaspora before it can be successfully implemented as the nation’s petroleum policy.

The national petroleum policy consultation forum sponsored by the independent state-owned National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), took place on the evening of August 19 amid mounting concerns about NOCAL’s credibility, the genuine implementation of its policies and four core values, and also concerns about whether the latest efforts by the Liberian government is sincere enough to bring Liberians onboard.

The program that evening went on without any visible hitches, and like sweet music to their ears the message sounded too good to be true, even as Liberians gathered patiently to listen to this latest development from their government about the possibility of Liberia becoming an oil producing nation.

If Liberians in metro Atlanta heard anything impressive that evening regarding NOCAL’s oil policy, credit has to be given to Sam Jackson; yes, Sam P. Jackson – that guy, the guy whom we love to hate for his perceived baggage, chameleon politics and incredible smarts, dazzled his audience with a flawless presentation that put nearly everyone at ease that evening.

Even though Liberians were at ease with Sam Jackson, the presenter, others squirmed at the presence of Sam Jackson, the economist and NOCAL consultant, and Israel Akinsanya, former chairman of Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party, who’s the current Vice President for Public Affairs of the organization, and a member of the delegation.

Sam Jackson and Israel Akinsanya are key players in this potentially moneymaking “state-owned enterprise” which could change lives and transform the nation. And their presence at the event magnified the important roles the duo continues to play as inffluential policy wonks and leaders in the organization.

Such visible role certainly increases pressure to put enforceable rules or laws in place to discourage and punish would-be violators. With an increased focused on transparency as one of its four core values, any appearance of corruption and nepotism could affect the credibility of NOCAL, if it hasn’t happened yet.

However, the appointment of presidential son Robert Sirleaf, by his mother as Chairman of the Board, which clearly is nepotism, has incensed some Liberians who wants to come onboard but are unenthusiastic to do just that.

The evening’s program went on as planned, and Liberians politely participated in a remarkable way. They asked pointed questions, engaged Sam and Israel and others on the tour, and were divided into groups to deliberate key issues in the policy draft.

The exploration of oil, according to the petroleum policy draft could start in 5-7 years; that is, “if after the analysis later this year it is proved to be commercial.” Because it ‘takes time,’ the legal framework and institutional oversight has to be put in place to benefit all Liberians to “avoid the resource curse” that affected many oil producing countries over the years.

Those words are encouraging and uplifting. And if NOCAL leaders, future political leaders and policymakers successfully implement their own written petroleum policies, could radically change the perceived negative impression of Liberian leaders as corrupt, clueless and without a vision to effect change in a dying nation.

Liberia is a small country with a population of a little over three million people. Even though it is a small country, Liberia is rich in natural resources (rubber, iron ore, gold, diamond, etc) which should have helped to developed the country, create jobs and change lives.

However, over a century since the country was founded, successive Liberian presidents have neglected their people and the nation’s interests by signing one-sided contracts and agreements with multinational companies that favored the leaders and the companies.

The agreements with those multinational companies did not only benefit the companies and the Liberian leader, it exploited workers and created economic disparity, abject poverty, underdevelopment, environmental disaster, and chaos that continues today. Hopefully, NOCAL will not repeat the mistakes of the past that kept Liberia poor and undeveloped.

NOCAL’s draft petroleum policy rightly states that oil has the potential of generating huge revenues, high risk of corruption, inequality and environmental degradation.

The same report added that for a country and its people to benefit from its oil wealth, the oil must be “produced and regulated properly, and revenues spent transparently on development.”

The Liberian people in the past never benefitted from their own natural resources, and never had the opportunity to negotiate deals to improve their lives. This is a first. And it must be done the right way!

 

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