Pro Tempore Gbehzongar Findley told journalists at his weekly press briefing yesterday at the Capitol Building that the Senate is still committed in the reviewing process of the oil sector.
“The Senate will work alone. The Senate will not work with the House of Representatives, and that is the position of the Senate.”
He said the Senate withdrew from joint committee because it felt it could be more effective in carrying out its responsibility.
The Senate earlier this month recalled its committee, which had been constituted to work along with that of the House of Representatives to jointly review issues and contracts regarding the oil sector.
The action then, according to the Senate, was to reach agreement with the House committee as to how to proceed.
The House, in an apparent reaction to the Senate’s decision, announced that it was proceeding with the reviewing process with or without the joint committee.
Sen. Findley yesterday maintained that the Senate will review the laws in the oil sector, look at the contracts and work in the interest of the people of Liberia.
The Grand Bassa County Senior Senator said the committee that will work on the oil sector will be formed, and it will comprise members from the Judiciary, Lands, Mines and Energy.
He furthered that a committee will be set to look into the petroleum law of the gas and oil sector, and that said committee will determine the way forward.
Sen. Findley also disclosed that there will be public hearings on matters relative to the review of the oil sector, and the Senate is committed to that.
At its Executive session yesterday, he said, the Senate took a decision on four letters purportedly written by the joint committee that was reviewing the oil sector, in which that joint committee allegedly cited the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) to face it.
Sen. Findley recalled that the Senate took a decision and subsequently communicated with the House of Representatives on May 4, that it was withdrawing its committee from the joint team, and that communications still going out on behalf on that committee must be an error that needs to be thoroughly investigated, though he noted such might have been a cut and paste error which, he noted, could be a harmless one.
He did not rule out, however, action being taken against anyone found to be involved in those communications with the intention of bringing the Senate into public disrepute.
Pro Tempore Findley clarified that the Senate and the House are not rivals, and neither are they at war with each other, noting that Article 29 of the Constitution says that there are two Houses of the Legislature, and that they can either act jointly or separately on matters such as the oil sector review case.
“This Senate will make sure that the Liberian people get the maximum benefit from the oil sector. There is question or doubt about that.”
On the issue of contracts, he said he was fortunate to have read all the contracts signed by the 52nd Legislature. “...And my position has always been that when you talk about a law that the legislature legislates, Article 54b of the Constitution says it is clothed with the authority for fiscal regime and fiscal governance, meaning it can levy taxes and waive taxes, and that is why those in agreement must go to the legislature for ratification.”
On the question of whether the there had been a violation in the 2002 Petroleum Law, Pro Tempore said the law of recent takes precedent. “If you have two laws and there is conflict, the recent law is the law that takes precedent. Therefore, those contracts signed and ratified are legal and binding, and the Liberian Government must respect them.”
The contracts in the petroleum sector are also laws. The Petroleum Law of Liberia was passed in 2002, while the contracts that are now facing review were passed in 2007. He said for the sake of term recent, the 2007 law takes precedent, though he emphasized that there there was absolutely nothing wrong in reviewing a law.
He further clarified that the legislature was not a part of the negotiations on the oil contracts, so those two parties, the Executive and contractors, will have to sit down and negotiate for the kinds of changes that need to be included in the reform. “And there was no fight about this, because it will be done. But there was a major problem; we have the Petroleum Law, the NOCAL Act, LPRC Act, the Revenue Code, PPCC Act and laws in the oil sector that are not on our books that need to be there to protect the interest of Liberians.
Meanwhile, the Pro Tempore yesterday disclosed that the Senate is also working on the Decent Work Bill, and in two weeks the committee responsible for that Bill will report to the Plenary.