Nocal: The Common Denominator

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Mr. Greaves & Mr. Allison.jpg

“The chickens, it would seem, are coming home to roost and with what vengeance!” Harry Greaves wrote in the June 23, 2015 edition of his weekly column, Let’s Lecture.

Published every Wednesday in the Daily Observer, Greaves’ column took the Sirleaf administration to task on a number of issues ranging from the country’s electricity problem to its dual currency regime, to the citizenship issue. But particularly poignant were his exposés regarding the dealings of National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). The above quote was taken from a piece on NOCAL’s bankruptcy.

“Overall, NOCAL is now spending $25 million of your and my money every year, mostly on itself,” Greaves wrote. How does a company which is not producing any product (because we have not yet discovered oil) spend that kind of money?” he asked.

He admitted that he had been writing NOCAL, requesting copies of its budget and other information relevant to how it spends its money.

“One of the questions I asked NOCAL’s management (that they never responded to) was how much money the company’s board of directors was spending,” Greaves wrote. “I asked this question because there were rumors that its illustrious former chairman, the Honorable Rob Sirleaf, scion of our fearless leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was spending NOCAL’s money like it was going out of style. The board reputedly was operating a budget of US$1.5 million a year. How does the board of a state-owned enterprise spend that kind of money?”

The reader comments under his columns were, as expected, mixed. Readers made no bones about the fact that he hadn’t the moral wherewithal to judge NOCAL’s executives, given his past at the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC). By the same token, however, they thanked him for shedding light on the controversial oil company whose dealings were rife with suspicions of corruption involving large dollar amounts. Indeed, some readers insulted and thanked him in the same breath.

But how did Harry Greaves get on a collision course with this administration?

According to a U.S. intelligence cable dated February 13, 2009, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her closed-doortestimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on February 12 [2009], “admitted being an early sympathizer of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and of visiting Taylor’s rebel headquarters in Gborplay, Nimba County during the conflict… but denied ever being a member of the NPFL or dressing in fatigues to support Taylor…

“Sirleaf said she met Charles Taylor for the first time in Paris in 1987, and that she was a founding member of the Association of Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), a group that believed an armed rebellion against Samuel Doe’s government was necessary. She admitted contributing to ACDL’s $10,000 fundraiser, led by her friend Harry Greaves, currently Managing Director of Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation, and believed the funds were to provide relief for people in Taylor’s NPFL-held territory.”

Yes, Greaves and Sirleaf go back at least 30 years. He led the fundraiser that raised the infamous US$10,000 to support the Taylor-led NPFL.

Upon her ascendency to the presidency in 2006, Greaves was rewarded with the posh position of Managing Director of the petroleum refinery. Three years later, in 2009, Greaves lost his job.

“President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf dismissed the head of the state-owned Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC) on September 5, [2009]” a U.S. intelligence cable read, “following a Ministry of Justice probe into the alleged acceptance of bribes in exchange for a USD 24.8 million concession.

“Sirleaf’s sacking of a long-time advisor and confidant,” it continued, “illustrates the pressure she feels to demonstrate zero-tolerance toward corruption. The action also signals that the checks and balances introduced to the concessions process since 2006 do indeed leave would-be crooks less opportunity to cut side deals for their personal enrichment.”

Liberia was at the time under the GEMAP program as a pre-condition for debt relief and was walking a tight political and economic rope. Since then, of course, would-be crooks have had plenty of opportunity to cut side deals for their personal enrichment. And although Greaves was never prosecuted, perhaps he felt betrayed when corruption went on to reach record levels in the Sirleaf administration, and with impunity. The most egregious instances of it surrounded a little known state-owned enterprise established in April 2000, named NOCAL.

According to Greaves, “NOCAL in 2006 was a small-knit unit. They had no money. I remember because as managing director of LPRC I lent them $30,000 at one point to pay their payroll and I financed a trip by their CEO to an oil conference in Texas that we jointly attended. They occupied just one floor of the Episcopal Church Building on Ashmun Street at the time. Today, they are on three floors and counting. They reputedly have in excess of 200 people on their payroll. Doing what? God in heaven knows.”

It is not clear what trajectory the friendship took in the eight years between 2006 and 2014. But by 2014, NOCAL had indeed grown into an elephant, having sold all but four of its 17 oil blocks, which were now up for sale. Liberia had put its four remaining offshore oil blocks (LB-6, LB-7, LB-16 and LB-17), up for bidding at the height of Liberia’s Ebola outbreak, which killed thousands of people. The government of Liberia stood to cash in on a US$120 million dollar signing bonus with the sale of the four blocks.

Greaves vowed to fight it. The businessman and certified public accountant, along with his lawyer, filed a writ of prohibition at the Supreme Court to restrain and prohibit NOCAL from further proceeding with the awarding of oil blocks.

But on November 27, 2014, the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, denied Greaves’ petition on the grounds that “Greaves’ request does not show sufficient basis to stop NOCAL from selling the remaining four offshore oil blocks.” Greaves had argued that “the process was done secretly and it was not given sufficient publicity inside the country to allow local business people the opportunity to participate in the bidding.”

In April 2015, Greaves began publishing his weekly column, Let’s Lecture, in the Daily Observer.

In the June 30, edition, Greaves took the President to task over NOCAL’s bankruptcy predicament, arguing that the first mistake she had made was to appoint its Managing Directors independently, instead of allowing its board of directors, who are more familiar with the operations of the entity, to perform that function. The second problem with NOCAL, he said, was that it had too many politicians and presidential cronies on its board, instead of businessmen.

“The language of business is financial statements – balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements,” Greaves argued. “That is how businesses keep score. To be able to exercise proper oversight, directors need to be able to read and interpret financial statements. If they cannot, then what are they doing on the board?”

Thirdly, he said, board members should have the strength of character “to say No, even to a president”. That is where Greaves, while he praised their credentials and intelligence, openly rebuked the two captains at NOCAL – by name.

“How could Randolph McClain allow the shenanigans that went on at NOCAL to go on? Those things would never have been tolerated at DuPont,” be asserted.

Greaves then took on Cllr. Seward Cooper, the President’s lawyer, and current Chair of the board of NOCAL. “In the 1970s,” Greaves said, “he was a student leader of no mean proportions. He was upright and strong. He too spent decades working for a marquee organization, the African Development Bank. Why did he not take a stand?”

On September 9, 2015, Greaves took on Robert Sirleaf, former board chair of NOCAL and the President’s son.

“The debacle that we now see at NOCAL did not happen overnight. The seeds of disaster were sown some time ago. And much of the present mess has to be laid at the feet of President Sirleaf’s favorite son, Rob Sirleaf, the Wall Street savant. My information is that Rob worked for Wachovia Bank. Someone needs to tell me when Wachovia migrated to Wall Street.

“Rob was chairman of NOCAL’s board from early 2012 till his resignation in August 2013. Before that, he was on NOCAL’s board, directing traffic from the back benches. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that, even though he is no longer on the company’s board, he is still calling the shots there.”

Then on September 16, 2015, Greaves dropped a bombshell. “Reliable sources,” he said, had informed him that in March 2015, NOCAL had US$80 million in its bank account. Three months later, he said, the money was all but gone, save US$500,000. He called for an audit of the company.
The following Monday, the Observer reiterated Greaves’ call for an audit, expressing shock at the revelation.

“Do the people who spent that money know what even one fourth of that amount, US$20 million, could have done for Education and Health in our country? With this kind of financial recklessness, even thievery, with what conscience do our leaders stand before the donors in Europe, America, Asia and Africa and plead for aid?” this paper’s editorial asked.

NOCAL’S leadership was undoubtedly offended, as was the President, and all those who stood to lose (face, fortune or both), as they saw it, from an exposé and/or change in the status quo – from a possible audit of the corporation.

Was that the straw that broke the camel’s back? That set into motion the events that led to the night of Saturday, January 30, 2016?

Michael Allison was a petroleum lawyer and member of the Liberian Bar Association. He had worked for the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) under Mary Broh and was employed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Allison was hired as a Petroleum Law expert to offer legal advice on the drafting of the new petroleum bill that would govern the operations of NOCAL. Allegedly, he was bribed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to cover up irregularities in the oil consultation process. Specifically, the House had said it needed a budget of US$1 million to carry out the consultations. In that budget were provisions for three experts – two Liberians and one Ghanaian. The allotment for his services in the budget was US$25,000. When the Speaker attempted to pay him only a fraction of what was agreed upon, he blew the whistle to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission about irregularities in the process, adding that he was prepared to go to court.

On Thursday, February 12, Allison’s body was discovered on a Sinkor beach. The government of Liberia through the Justice Ministry under Cllr. Benedict Sannoh attempted to call into question Allison’s credibility with the LACC by alleging that he had several different identities. The GoL even went as far as requiring the family of the late Allison to produce DNA evidence in order to claim the body.

On March 30, 2015, Human Rights lawyer Atty. Kofi Woods published a recounting of his last conversation with Allison and a stinging rebuke at the GoL. According to Woods, Allison had a foreknowing that foul play was afoot. He did not feel safe.

“I had an encounter with Allison on the morning of January 29th this year, at which time he expressed fears about his safety, and even intimated that such trepidation had precipitated his action to temporarily relocate to Ghana,” Woods recalled. “Due to the fact that he had received several threats relative to his involvement in the corruption saga with the Speaker and other members of the Legislature, the decision stood to reason.

“Subsequently, Allison telephoned me on Monday, February 10, 2015 the same week of his death, to convey his request for my intervention in the matter involving the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), and I accordingly consented. News of his death was therefore inexplicably shocking. I informed the police of my encounter with Allison but no one sought to document my encounter.

“The Minister of Justice revealed that the conduct of the Police was reckless and negligent in the handling of the body. He also admitted that the Police arrived on the scene about 7:45 p.m., but decided to leave the body of the late Attorney until the next morning, “due to the Ebola Protocol!” Strangely, he did not give any concrete reason for this decision,” the human rights lawyer pointed out.

After two separate autopsies, the Justice Ministry announced that Allison had drowned, and that no, foul play, was not a factor in his death.

The modus operandi in the deaths of both Greaves and Allison were identical. Both murders took place at night, appeared to have drowned and were found lying on the Monrovia coastline stark naked the following morning. Their crime? Blowing the whistle on the dealings of NOCAL?

Of course, with all of the money that has changed hands, houses built and lives taken, Liberia has reportedly not produced one bottle of marketable oil.

A prophetic message reaching the Daily Observer Thursday afternoon said that Greaves’ death took place according to the instructions of a chain of command. Three specific agencies of government were named, as were two specific individuals.

“His killers will die feet up, tied with ropes, head down. Thus saith the Lord,” it concluded.

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