Former Justice Minister Tah Speaks Out on Global Witness Report on the Exxon-Liberia Contract

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A Report cleverly crafted to merge bonuses and bribes to confuse the public

Former Justice Minister Christiana P. Tah has issued a statement detailing her role and the processes that went through the Exxon-Mobil Liberia Oil Deal and the deliberate selection of reports that she claims Global Witness cleverly crafted to merge with bonuses and bribes to confuse the general public. The following is her statement as sent to the Daily Observer yesterday:

Early one morning in mid-March 2018, I received a letter from an international watchdog organization called Global Witness, alleging that I had received a bribe to award a contract to Exxon Mobil (“Exxon”) for Liberian oil block #13. I then learned that a couple of other Liberian officials who participated in the negotiations had also received a similar letter. I was flabbergasted. “Bribery,” I murmured. Nothing could be more ludicrous. I found myself laughing out loud as I recalled what a friend used to say when we were in college: “Sometimes you have to take the most serious things in life with a sense of humor.”

Two weeks later, Global Witness released a Report entitled “Catch Me If You Can” in which the organization reaffirmed its allegations of bribery in spite of the fact that I had responded to their letter vehemently denying the allegation. As I began to read the Report, I quickly realized that there were a few critical misrepresentations of the facts. For instance, the assertion of Global Witness on page 18 of its report that the Minister of Justice and others gave assurances that the Peppercoast agreement was valid is false. If Global Witness had not acted with reckless disregard for the truth, it would have easily discovered that officials on the Hydrocarbon Technical Committee (HTC, a.k.a Negotiation Team) had to decide on whether the Peppercoast contract should be cancelled for breach or whether the Company should be divested of its rights in oil block #13 and be allowed to find its own buyer. The Ministry of Justice recommended cancellation of the contract and even suggested that NOCAL seeks a second opinion from an external counsel, which it did.

We began serious discussions with Exxon around mid-2012. The Exxon contract was the second oil contract I would help to negotiate for the Liberian Government. The first had been with Chevron 2011. These were not new contracts. Both Chevron and Exxon were buying interests in existing oil companies holding Liberian contracts. The problem with the existing oil contracts was that NOCAL had waived most of the benefits provided under the 2002 Petroleum Law for the Liberian people. For instance, although the Petroleum law provided for State Participation, Citizens’ Participation, and payment of Royalties, all of those benefits had been waived by previous officials in the production sharing contracts. Therefore, we saw it as our duty to renegotiate all of the existing oil contracts so that the Liberian people would enjoy the benefits intended by the drafters of the law.

We also persuaded Exxon to agree to a modification of the arbitration clause so that for the first time in our history anyone enforcing an arbitration award against Liberia would enforce only against the government entity with which it contracted. As it was at the time, if a foreign investor prevailed against the Government of Liberia in an arbitration proceeding, it could enforce its judgment against any assets of the Liberian Government, regardless of whether or not the entity was involved in the arbitration proceedings.

In a very complex, but not unusual, international business transactions arrangement, the Canadian Overseas Petroleum, Limited bought the assets from Peppercoast, which ExxonMobil, in turn, procured a majority interest.

Several weeks after the HTC concluded its work on the Exxon contract, I was in the President’s office on another matter when she intimated to me that she would instruct NOCAL to pay bonuses to all those who participated in the negotiation of the Exxon contract. “I am very pleased with the performance of the team”, she said. She went on to say that had we done the same work for the government as lawyers in private practice, we “would have made millions.” She did not give specific figures for bonuses, but that did not matter. What mattered to me was the fact that the President had acknowledged that we did a good job. It was not a good job just because Exxon had paid 50 million dollars at the signing of the contract. It was a good job because it was better than any other existing oil contract in the country. We had done our best.

So it should come as no surprise that President Sirleaf followed up on her statement to me by communicating her instructions to the Board of Directors chaired by her son, Robert A. Sirleaf. Therefore when the NOCAL Board passed a resolution to pay bonuses, it specifically referred to the “approval of the President of Liberia.” Either it was an intentional lie, or reckless disregard for the truth for Global Witness to have omitted any reference in its report to this very key document that was common knowledge to many, especially those with whom it communicated during its inquiry? Global Witness intentionally created a tabloid-style false story to draw publicity to its Report, by deliberately portraying a legal and ethical transaction as a criminal act. I have attached to this publication a copy of the referenced NOCAL Board Resolution.

When the CEO knew that a bonus would be forthcoming, he called an HTC meeting and asked if the Minister of Justice and the Legal Advisor to the President would advise on whether acceptance of the bonuses would violate the law. We spent an extensive amount of time in the room discussing the legality of the bonus because we were concerned about not breaking the law.

We discussed Article 90 (b) of the Liberian Constitution which states that “No person holding public office shall demand and receive any other prerequisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of a duty required by Government.” [Bold added for emphasis] Everyone in the room asserted, almost in unison, that they had not “demanded” anything for the negotiation of the Exxon contract. With that said, I advised the Chairman of the HTC that payment of bonuses to members of the HTC, under the circumstances, would not be a violation of the law. I did not speak to others who might have received bonuses, as the question posed to me specifically referred to members of the HTC.

A couple of weeks after that, I received a check of $35,000 and deposited it in the bank. I doubt whether there is anyone out there who accepts a bribe using a check. I doubt whether the worst crooks would accept a bribe of $35,000 to award an oil contract, which will potentially bring millions or billions at commercial production. What disturbs me most is the fact that Global Witness is not as interested in what happened to the rest of the 50 million dollars realized from the Exxon deal as it is in the less than $300,000 paid to the HTC in unsolicited bonuses for exceptional work on the contract.

So, how then did Global Witness determine that the 2007 bribery scandal alleging that officials asked to be paid to ratify an agreement is the same as the payments of unsolicited bonuses ordered by the President weeks after an agreement was concluded?

I understand that my successor in office and his Deputy were asked by NOCAL to submit a written opinion on whether the bonuses, as well as Board fees, paid to officials of the Liberian Government, violated the law. Neither one opined that there was any illegality in such payments. The position of these two officials was supported by a subsequent report from the General Auditing Commission asserting that it did not find anything untoward concerning the bonus payments.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has not yet come out publicly to confirm that she instructed the Board of Directors to pay out bonuses for work done on the Exxon contract. But when there was a public outcry in 2015 about the financial and managerial difficulties at NOCAL, she came out publicly and claimed responsibility.

When I saw the Global Witness Report, I did not think of myself as collateral damage to the Rex Tillerson story (Rex Tillerson is the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and was also mentioned in the Global Witness Report). Instead, I saw this as a story designed to create the perception that I was also part of the corrupt organization that milked, plundered, and mismanaged the resources of Liberia. It is a cheap shot! The Liberian people know better.

As regards the Global Witness Report, it is not likely that it would alleviate corruption in Liberia. What it is likely to accomplish are the following: 1) Raise some funds for Global Witness; 2) Damage reputation of innocent people; and, 3) Create a diversion from the real problem of corruption in Liberia. The Report was cleverly crafted to merge the issues of bonuses and bribes to confuse the public, creating the perception that those who received unsolicited bonuses for doing a good job for Liberia are among the crooks who have ripped off the oil company.

Notwithstanding the sensational reports published by Global Witness over the past decade, corruption has continued to be a problem in Liberia. To fight corruption, we need partners who will not only expose the wrongdoers and further divide the country but also ensure that the country is prepared to follow up with proper investigation and prosecution. We need partners who will, in earnest, assist us with strengthening the social institutions in the country so that we can restore the values that underpin good governance.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Madam Tah may be saying the truth. However, it seems she knows more than Global Witness. I would like her to please open up and call names.

  2. I get the part about unsolicited bonuses. What I did not get is the part about the rest of the $50m and the persistence of corruption. Clearly the former justice minister must have known something about the persistence of corruption during her time as justice minister. And while Global Witness may have misrepresented some facts, she concedes they are right about corruption in Liberia. And what did the justice minister do about corruption while she was in office? I think the Liberian people would like to know.

    • Am not a fan but would say she didn’t do anything. Because she was part of the organization that that ran the country (Cartels)-they all are. I agree that she knows a lot more. But once again,when you part of Cartels, you don’t go against the rhythm. I know you thinking-resigning. Only she can answer that question. From part of her communication,she feels being put under the bus by the former president. It’s all part of it. Sorry Christiana

  3. Thanks Madam Tah for the clarity about the bonuses. The President of Liberia is represents the shareholders in all SOEs, that is representing the Liberian people. If representative of the shareholders can give a nod for the distribution of bonuses to the HTC, I do not see any thing wrong with that; she had the authority to do so.At least I have a little understanding of the matter.
    This whole oil business came to light in Liberia(for the population) to understand, was when the past administration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf came to power; other administrations(CHARLES Taylor and Gyude Bryant) were dealing in this oil matters; they sold most of these oil blocks, especially, when now Minister of Justice(F.MUSA Dean) and Dr. Fodee Kromah were CEOs, at that time who knew about oil blocks in Liberia? It was at that time, that our oil blocks were sold cheaply; especially, when we have no expert to advise us better on how to proceed or not, etc. So if these group of Liberians did an excellent Job that brought in Millions, why don’t we appreciate them and concentrate on how to better structure the entity, and stop tearing down these professionals.
    Thanks.

    • Thanks, Madam Minister for your clarity. I only hope that our former President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,who I think save the civil liberties of our country these past twelve years, addresses the findings/reports of Global Witness. How do we protect the integrity of our best and educated citizens who make the ultimate sacrifice to go home and serve? And to President Weah’s investigative committee and Chairwoman, Pearl Brown Bud, where is the violation of the constitution by these individuals?

  4. Madam Minister, I appreciate your response to the Global Witness Report. Thanks for enlightening us.

    “Article 90 (b) of the Liberian Constitution which states that “No person holding public office shall demand and receive any other prerequisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of a duty required by Government.”

    Madam Minister, I am not a lawyer, but the article did clearly say “and receive any other prerequisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of a duty required by Government.” You and the HTC delebrately left out the word “receive” and only concentrated on “demand” to avoid being caught. Though you and the HTC did not “demand”, you all did “receive
    ” emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of a duty required by Government.
    Was the law “Article 90 (b) not violated because you did receive. At times we may not demand a bribe, but we may receive a bribe through other sources (EJS et al).

    Madam Minister, though you did not demand a bonus, you did receive bride under the disguised of bonus. THIS IS CORRUPTION. You rob the people of Liberia of $35,000.00.

    We now see how and why NOCAL failed. It was Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cookies jar. We now know why she took full responsibility for the failure of NOCAL. Should she and members of the Board of Director and the HTC be booked for corruption?

    • I hope you look-up the word bride in your Wester Dictionary. By the order of the President these funds were distributed. Was this a poor judgement by the President to authorize such funds distribution? That is left to be debated. Thank!

      • JES, II,

        Here is the defination of Bribe: persuade (someone) to act in one’s favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement.

        The point here is she did receive money that was not her salary. She works for the government and paid for the work she does.

        Go back and read Article 90 (B) again.

    • Oldman Nagbe of West Point,

      Of course, it is the natural right of anyone, and in no violation of article 90 B of the constitution, including you Oldman Nagbe to receive a bonus. What would be a violation of article 90 B is if, when, or should, you demand that bonus. And this is what the former minister is pointing out.

      Global Witness at times behaves as an irresponsible individual who obsessed in getting public attention or notice, shouts in the theater “FIRE”!!! when there is actually no fire.

      They did the same nonesense in their big boy no 1 and no. 2 case; only to be unable to produce evidence, while wanting the state to abuse its powers by arbitrarily denying the accused their constitutional rights to confront their accusers.

  5. I have been following this lady for awhile now and love her bravery and astuteness to the truth. Honestly, she is one of Liberia’s most honest female ministers that had ever served our country. Amelia Ward is another female patriot I truly respect. Your narration is clear and to the point. Bravo Christina Tah. You are as clean and beautiful as your work with the past government. Liberia needs more principle minded individuals like you who will resign because of your disagreement with your boss on issues. I know some and will not publicly discuss that for now. I respect you boss and salute you!

  6. “We discussed Article 90 (b) of the Liberian Constitution which states that “No person holding public office shall demand and receive any other prerequisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of a duty required by Government.” [Bold added for emphasis] Everyone in the room asserted, almost in unison, that they had not “demanded” anything for the negotiation of the Exxon contract. With that said, I advised the Chairman of the HTC that payment of bonuses to members of the HTC, under the circumstances, would not be a violation of the law.” Former Justice Minister Christiana P. Tah

    And this is the truth and nothing but the truth! Former Minister Tah, you people need to take a legal action against this so called Global Witness, for their recklessness and total disregard for the law, and the reputation of others. As for that so called committee which wrongly believes that they were primarily formulated to seek prosecution and conviction, and not the respect of the law, justice, or truth, the President needs to dissolve it, trash it, and reconstitute a new committee COMPRISING SOUND MINDS!

    A committee of such should inter alia be well balanced when it comes to the knowledge of the art of understanding and interpreting the law.

  7. No matter how much spin you guys put o this Exxon deal, the US government is too saying the you all colluded to defraud the Liberian people. as it stands, the company’s NOCAL is no more

  8. Global Witness report. Former Justice Minister Christiana Tah has tried brilliantly to extricate the HTC (negotiatig team) from the alleged bribery and bonus scandal at NOCAL. She asserts that the HTC members reviewed article (90)b of the Liberian constitution which remonstrates against the decision to which the recipients of the bribes and bonuses, claiming that it was unsolicited. A 300000 dollar decision that literally asked the recipients , did you ask for $35000.00 each , no they replied in unison, and automatically it became legal. This preposterous, falsehoods, white lies, and corruption in high places. The law is the law, and the recipients of 35000 each abrogated the law. Former Justice Minister also talked about the signing 50million fee which President Sirleaf and her son Robert Sirleaf never reference and has gone into thin air. Christiana Tah during her tenure did not prosecute any corruption case to date, but is alluding to same as an afterthought today. Christiana Tah and HTC officials should return the 300,000 to government coffers. The CDC led government of President George Manneh Weah should seize the opportunity an audit the past government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the ghost 50 million dollar signing fee. The first oil money from block 13 should not vanish into thin air. I remain.

  9. Without a doubt, I had always believed that GW is not only looking for financial support through the many lies they carry around the world but in the case of Liberia, they’ve secured a suitable place to divide the country, the fact that corruption is our major problem in public service.

    Unfortunately for GB, Cllr. Tah knows better to deal with their deceptive behavior. Surely, Liberians are NOT that stupid to just accept every reports are Law and Gospel.

  10. “Give honor to whom honor is due.” The former Minister of Justice has said it all. She has clarified what transpired during the entire process. We commend her for her honesty and for this we must applaud her patriotism.
    The onus is now in the lap of the former President of Liberia to live up to or answer the all encompassing question. Did she or did she not instruct the Board of Directors to pay out bonuses for work done on the Exxon contract? If she did she must now speak up publicly taking the responsibility as she did in the case of her son when there was a public outcry in 2015 about financial and managerial mismanagement at Nocal, when she came out publicly and claimed responsibility. “What is good for Peter, is also good for Paul.”

  11. Wow! I do not have a Master degree, but I have never received such a letter. God does not like ugly,and cares very little for pretty. You never paid me for the work I did at MOJ when you were there. “Forgiveness is a funnything.It warms the heart and cool the sting”. By William Arthur Ward.

  12. WAS THE FORMER MINISTER OF JUSTICE GETTING PAY AS JUSTICE MINISTER IF YES THEN SHE SHOULD HAVE NOT GOTTEN BONUSES WHEN SHE WAS CLEARLY GETTING SALARY AND OTHER IMMUNITY AS JUSTICE MINISTER.

  13. The former President at the time ordered the payment. If this is so, you cannot hold the former Justice Minister responsible. The onus is on the former president to admit or deny whether or not she ordered said payment and upon what legal grounds. Leave the former Justice Minister alone.

    • Mr. T. Max Beer Jr!……”CORRUPTION” is a two way street….The Giver and the Receiver are both at fault. If she took the money, she was Corrupted by the President……She was at fault….

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