The family of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seems determined to secure a hold on the nation’s emerging oil and gas sector.
NOCAL, the Cabinet and the National Legislature ended a week-long Round-table Consultation on the Draft Petroleum Law of 2013, a proposed legislation intended to safeguard the emerging economic powerhouse. The President’s Family was represented in three generations: Mrs. Jenny Bernard, the President’s elder sister, their brother, Mr. Carney Johnson, a mining executive; Mrs. Bernard’s son, Estrada Bernard, Jr. and wife; as well as their son, Estrada, III.
A staff of NOCAL, who begged anonymity, told this paper that the First Family was instrumental in selecting one of its members—Estrada Bernard, III—to make a presentation at the program, which was held at the Monrovia City Hall over the weekend. The first family came together to grace the roundtable discussion and cheer their young relative on as he made his presentation.
Estrada Bernard, III is the grandson of Jenny Bernard, the elder sister of President Sirleaf. Madam Bernard or ‘Aunt Jenny’, as she is affectionately called by many, is regarded as an “influential personality,” in the Unity Party-led government.
Flown in from Alaska, 17-year-old Bernard, III, admitted that although he is not a Liberian, he was asked by the organizer to make a presentation on oil and gas.
Young Bernard attempted to compare Liberia’s situation with the U.S. state of Alaska, but fell short of telling the audience how the oil and gas sector would be properly managed in order to benefit the Liberian masses.
His presentation focused on comparing Alaska and Liberia in terms of natural resources and population. He failed to show, however, how Liberians can actively participate in the oil and gas sector in order to avoid the bad experiences of other nations, especially African nations with oil deposits.
When asked about the significance of inviting a teenager of the first family to make a presentation on a critical sector in which he (Bernard) has no experience, Jacqueline Khoury, Director of the NOCAL Board responded; “We didn’t want to grab a kid in Liberia and have to school him on making a presentation.”
She noted that the President’s grandnephew has made over 200 presentations across the U.S, but failed to indicate whether those presentations were in any way connected to oil and gas, and their implications for Africa.
Responding to inquiries about who picks up the tab for Bernard’s travel and stay in Liberia, Khoury claimed “The Alaskan State government is responsible for him and for other experts invited to the forum.” No supporting documents were provided, even though a request was made for them.
Despite reluctantly accepting the resignation of her son Robert Sirleaf, as Board Chairman of NOCAL, President Sirleaf and family appear to signal by this action that the first family “has a firm grip on the oil and gas sector,” a participant at the Roundtable, who declined to be named told the Daily Observer.
“When Mr. Sirleaf left government,” our source explained, “he was reintroduced to government a short period afterward when he was appointed Ambassador to the Gulf State of Kuwait. His appointment brings a US$14 million loan agreement between Kuwait and Liberia, thereby increasing Liberia’s debts.”
In late February, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf transmitted a US$14 million loan agreement to the National Legislature for ratification.
The loan agreement, she said, is intended to facilitate the rehabilitation of the Greenville Port project under the watch of the National Port Authority (NPA).
NPA Managing Director Matilda Parker confirmed to a SKY FM phone-in talk show last week that the loan, provided by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, is intended to help boost the physical infrastructure of the seaport of Greenville. The loan agreement was consummated between the government of Liberia and the Kuwaiti Fund last year, but requires legislative ratification before implementation in line with the Liberian Constitution.
In spite of the US$4.6 billion debt canceled by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the last Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) 2011/2012 report announced that the country’s debt now stands at over half a billion dollars.