Global Witness’ Concerns about NOCAL’S Block 16 Sale

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The British-based environmental watchdog, Global Witness (GW), commented recently on the sale in London late last year of offshore block 16 to a coalition of three companies. 

One of them, says GW, lacks the financial capacity to operate the oil block.  Another “has close links with some of Liberia’s tax dodgers.  The main company, Liberty Petroleum, owned by Republican US Congressman Trent Franks, holds 90% of the shares.  But the company has only seven employees and last year turned over only US$3 million, GW says.  Can it raise the US$53 million needed to operate the oil block?

Moreover, according to GW, “New Millennium, which holds a five% stake in Block 16, is linked to logging companies owing tax arrears in Liberia’s forestry sector”— US$11 million (2009).  The logging companies, Geblo Logging and International Consultants Capital, are partially owned by McDonald Wento.  The Daily Observer called him late Sunday afternoon, but he could not respond to these allegations because he said he was in a meeting and promised to call us back but did not.  Subsequent attempts to contact him by phone failed.

NOCAL is reputed to be a financially well endowed company; so it should have in its employ some of the nation’s best trained personnel.  How is it that despite this advantage, the company was not able to undertake thorough research into the companies it engages for investment in the oil sector?

Besides, what kind of portfolio did the bidders in the Block 16 oil deal, Liberty Petroleum, New Millennium and Glebo Logging, present to NOCAL’S top professional team?  Was a thorough background check done on each of the bidding companies?  When NOCAL discovered that Glebo Logging and International Consultants Capital had links with the Liberian forestry sector, did NOCAL call Harrison Karnwea, Forestry Development Authority head, to determine these companies’ standing in the sector?  Surely Karnwea was only a phone call away.

And what did the Dallas and Houston Chambers of Commerce in Texas have to say about Liberty Petroleum?  Did NOCAL bother to ask?

Having examined, over several months last year, these oil bids in London, NOCAL must have known that they were under GW’s keen scrutiny, since London is its base.  

It was economist Byron Tarr who recently gathered some astute Liberians in Monrovia to brainstorm on developing a think tank in Liberia, to help change the way we do business.  NOCAL’S recent experience is a clear indication of the dire need for such a think tank, comprising scholars and thinkers that would make it their business to study carefully and deeply how Liberians do business and closely monitor, advise, even warn various public and private institutions and the country as a whole about how they are doing and what and where they could do better in the interest of accountability, transparency, national efficiency, security, improvement and productivity.

Yes, we need not just one but several think tanks; and they need not be composed of people only here, but conscientious, smart and wise Liberians wherever they can be found.

With such institutions of our own, we would be the first to blow the whistle on ourselves, rather than wait for others like GW to do it for us.

There is only one problem—one with which we in the media are all too familiar—Liberian officials in both the public and private sectors  prefer to answer the questions of foreigners rather than those of their own fellow Liberians. 

But that, too, is part of our national nemesis (fate) that we MUST deal with, and the sooner, the better.  It is based on the fundamental issue of self-love—or lack of it.  This is one of the things we MUST fix in this country—love for ourselves and love for our country.  It must start in the home, the church, the mosque, the school and ultimately in the government.  Government must use the nation’s resources in the highest interest of the people, to convince them that government is there for them.  This is the sine qua non (main thing, requirement) of patriotism.

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