2013 in Review: The House of Representatives

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2013 was an interesting but difficult one for Members of the House of Representatives, especially in performing their three cardinal responsibilities of law-making, representation and oversight.

Law-making

In terms of law-making, the 73-member House executed the passage of 83 instruments, which included bills, resolutions, international protocols and most importantly, ratification of concession agreements.

The 83 legislations were dominated by acts creating circuit courts, districts headquarters, community colleges and cities and townships, among others.

This yearly review would go unnoticed if we failed to remind our audience of the controversial Oil Block 13, a concession agreement that was renegotiated by the Executive and forwarded to the Legislature for ratification.

Block 13 Ratified

The Legislature ignored scepticisms and concerns pointed out by civil society actors and the general public and ratified the controversial Oil Block 13 without any amendment.

National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) presented the renegotiated Production Sharing Contract (PSC) of oil block 13 between the Liberian Government and ExxonMobile/PLC, a Canadian oil and gas company.

On March 26, 2013, 58 members of the House of Representatives voted to pass the agreement while four declined to participate;

The four who surprisingly voted against the legislation included Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Representatives Bhofal Chambers, Acarous M. Gray and Muna Pelham-Youngblood and Liberty Party Gabriel B. Smith.

Their action bought them some sympathy from the public, which considered their colleagues as “selfish and greedy.”

According to Representative Chambers at the time, House Speaker Alex Tyler, during debate on the floor “Refused to recognize any of those lawmakers he (Tyler) believed had an opposing view on the subject.”

“The Speaker failed to let me speak because of reasons best known to him. Perhaps our opposing view would have shifted the views of other colleagues that were indecisive on which way to proceed.

“I thought we would have done justice to the contract after entertaining the views of experts and those of the civil society. Without any amendment, the contract was ratified, I think it’s sad for us as a country,” Dr. Chambers asserted.

Walking away in apparent disbelieve, Representative Gray intoned that there was no need to invite experts on the matter if the way forward had been decided long before the ratification.

Interestingly, Chairman of CDC Legislative Caucus, Rep. Thomas Fallah, earlier had communicated with his party indicating that none of its members would support the agreement; surprisingly, Fallah and Rep. Julius Berrien were seen sliding in their seats and quietly raising their hands in favour of the motion.

Royalty for Liberia under the Contract

According to the PSC, royalty rate provided is 5-10 percent for the Liberian government.

Accordingly, ExxonMobil/COPL receives a sum of 486,000 barrels multiply by $130, which is $63,180,000 monthly, against Liberia’s interest, one of the experts told the Legislature.

Former Labor Minister, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, was among several personalities invited to give opinion on the contract. He described the agreement as a “big risk”.

“Considering that the payment of royalty is on total production, the reduction of the royalty in the contract is a waiver of revenue to the tune of probably billions of dollars.

“Therefore, I considered it a big risk for you to accept the royalty rate suggested by the contract before you. Even a reduction of the signing bonus in favour of maintaining the royalty rate provided in the new Petroleum Law will be in the interest of Liberia, in the long-term.

National discussions should not be made purely on the satisfaction of short-term interest,” Cllr. Gongloe explained.

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