The interim management team at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) has told the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment, chaired by Albert Chie, that each of the entity’s 37 workers (3 employees and 34 contractors) is paid US$63,000 as salaries and benefits.
The disclosure was made Tuesday when three members of the interim management team, including chief executive officer (CEO) Madam Althea Sherman; Karmo Ville, vice president for finance; and Rufus Tarnue, vice president for technical affairs, appeared before the powerful Chie Committee in the Chambers of the Senate for the first of many scheduled public hearings.
The public hearings are necessitated by a communication from Senator Dallas A.V. Gueh of River Cess County, in which he quoted a media report alleging a financially-bloated payroll at NOCAL where an interim management team of 37 employees is receiving annual salaries totaling US$1 million in spite of the financial difficulties the entity is reportedly experiencing.
Sen. Gueh also quoted reports that the interim management team continues to make “very expensive, very frequent and often very unnecessary foreign travels, sometimes to visit families in the United States in the name of going for official business.”
The management team, however, denied making the number of trips as alleged in Senator Gueh’s letter, saying only one trip was made to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; and even that, according to them, was a rewarding trip.
In order to adequately dispel the allegations, the team decided to do a power-point presentation on the state of NOCAL before the interim management team that included the number of employees, salaries and cash inflows.
But River Gee County Senator Conmany B. Wesseh argued that the team must address the concerns raised in the letter, because the Senate cannot serve as auditors and as such, there was no need to explain things for which they were not cited. This did not go down well with some of his colleagues, who countered his logic and said the committee was performing its oversight responsibility and as such, was on track.
Asked to fast forward and dwell on the issues raised in Senator Gueh’s letter, for which the hearing was called, members of the committee became alarmed when the team informed them that the salary payment was for three employees and 34 contractors.
“How can 37 employees receive that amount of money from an entity that was declared virtually bankrupt, (for which) their duty was to help keep it intact. I think that money is too much,” Senator Joseph Nagbe of Sinoe County, who appeared enraged, warned.
For his part, Senator Gbleh-Bo Brown of Maryland County asked where the management got its authority from other than the Legislature when it negotiated a US$1.4 million package for their salaries, further recalling that the Legislature did not even make appropriations for NOCAL in the current national budget.
From the grilling by committee members like Senators Nagbe, Morris Saytumah and Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence thus far, the interim management team is likely to be in for a long haul trying to be convincing.