An oil spill into the Mesurado River from the LPRC tank farm has not only polluted the river and seriously endangered marine life, it has also polluted drinking sources in communities living around the area, leaving residents distressed. Fortunately, local residents may not be so hard-pressed for drinking water owing to the presence of the rain season.
More than that, the spillage has questions about safety control measures at the LPRC tank farm. Was such a spillage avoidable? In the opinion of this newspaper this unfortunate development could have been avoided only if the LPRC management had exercised adequate due diligence to ensure that, save acts of God, products stored at that facility were protected from theft, fire and other related incidents.
What the public needs to understand is that the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) is not involved in the refining of petroleum products as it once did several years ago. It is in other words a glorified gas station where customers have to pay to store their products. Its sole responsibility is to ensure that products are safely stored at its facility for delivery to customers on demand. However, those entrusted with the management of the facility have illegally clothed themselves with the authority to dispose of customers’ products as they see fit. And this practice has been going on for a long time.
Back in the day the LPRC, through the National Housing and Savings Bank, now defunct, had an oil facility with the Lombardi Oil and Gas with headquarters at 16 Perry Way, Newburyport, MA 01950, U.S.A. In the wake of the 1980 coup, this oil lifting facility arrangement was suspended, owing to the imprisonment of NHSB president Hillary Dennis. Lombardi insisted that it would not continue to supply crude oil to the LPRC if Dennis was not released from prison.
The new government at the time, led by Samuel Doe, relented and Dennis was released and the oil facility restored. However this relationship was not to last because the LPRC defaulted on payments. A new facility ensued with an Oklahoma based facility but the arrangement soon collapsed as LPRC defaulted. The National Housing and Savings Bank, which had guaranteed the arrangement thru the then National Bank, was unable to make payment.
Then enter Emmanuel Shaw who, according to sources, organized what he called the Liberia National Petroleum Corporation (LNPC). This Shaw contrivance inherited all the LPRC’s assets but left its liabilities. That was the scheme of things until the civil war broke out and brought operations to a halt as Shaw fled the country where he was yet to contrive another scheme to sell Liberia’s assets abroad, including a plane. Still not being satisfied, Shaw filed a lawsuit against the Sawyer led Interim Government of National Unity to seize income generated by the then Bureau of Maritime.
The LPRC had before then closed all refining activities and its facility on Bushrod Island became a veritable glorified gas station, storing at a cost, petroleum products for various importers. During the various transitional governments, the institution became a virtual cash cow for government officials. It is Just about everyone of those who served as head came to office virtual poor but left office rich. And this continued through the reign of President Sirleaf.
The gasoline shortage, which hit Monrovia before the outbreak of the COVID-19, was according to sources traced to a ponzi scheme run by officials involved in the outright theft of petroleum products brought into the country by importers. This prompted the Daily Observer’s January 28, 2020 editorial headlined, “Government Must Act to End The Gasoline Ponzi Scheme Now”.
LPRC officials were falsely claiming that according to their books, petroleum products were available in the storage tanks when the opposite was true. Faced with mounting public pressure,
Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh was forced to admit the loss of fuel shortage which, according to him, would have been explained later. Months after the explanation is yet to be made to the public.
Under current circumstances, there is little reason to believe that local communities affected by the oil spill will receive any significant relief assistance. The LPRC has yet to present to the public a coherent intervention strategy. To the best of available information, the LPRC has yet to address the concerns of importers whose products were lost in the spill.
Reliable sources say, threats of expulsion and withdrawal of business licenses await those who protest and demand compensation for their losses. Were such a scenario to obtain, the public will have to brace itself for serious fuel shortages in the near future. Government officials should be sensitive to such concerns because shortages of basic commodities will induce hardships that will spur public protest action.
Finance Minster Samuel Tweah should not lose sight of the fact that his open public dishing out of large amounts of money will, more likely than not, arouse the ire of those affected communities and spur them into public protest action.
Moreover, it appears that officials are also oblivious to the implications of having such large amounts of newly printed banknotes in circulation. According to a financial expert (name withheld), this is likely to send inflation soaring through the roof.
Additionally, it is indeed difficult to understand why officials of this government seem not to understand that they cannot make payouts to the entire country in order to get them to vote in their favor. Of course, people being people will demand more and they will keep lining up with outstretched hands to receive some free money.
The spillage could not have come at a more sensitive time with elections just around the corner. Perhaps some of the energy and resources spent on defeating Darius Dillon at the polls could be spent on those affected by the oil spill. Government must act to address concerns of importers and avoid a possible crippling shortage of petroleum products on the local market. This is a matter of urgent concern that should not be taken lightly.