Seward Cooper’s Challenges

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We think the President has made a fine appointment of Seward Cooper as Chair of the National Oil Company (NOCAL).

He is well-educated, well-mannered and highly experienced as a corporate lawyer and international public servant. He is patriotic and hails from one of Monrovia’s most distinguished families. He has vast experience in public service and knows a lot about governance and statesmanship.

We think we can say with certainty that Seward’s is not a confrontational character. He is more an establishmentarian (someone who believes in working within the system, not against it; an advocate of the state).  One could see that in Seward as he served President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Legal Advisor. There were many decisions made that caused people to wonder what the President was thinking.  As a good lawyer, Seward had to raise eyebrows at some of these decisions; but being the perfect gentleman, one could imagine him flashing his characteristic smile and offering a few cultured, diplomatic questions and perhaps carefully conceived comments, but not more. He was not the type to balk (draw back) or resign if things did not go his way—no!  He would live to serve another day.

But we suspect that Counselor Cooper will soon discover on his new job the need to shun some of that mild-mannered disposition as he increasingly confronts the sharks in the petroleum business. Who are they? The oil companies—the Chevrons and Exxon Mobiles of this world; the goods and services providers who will insist on their way or no way; who will not understand initially that this man is not one that will be bullied by money or other gifts. Not honest, straightforward and selfless Seward Cooper.

He will need his diplomatic and legal skills and principles nerve in his confrontation with the Legislature, whose members in both Houses are accustomed to making selfish and unreasonable demands in the grasping pursuit of power, influence and ah! the big one: money.

There is where the man will have to shed some of his Cooper aristocracy and quickly learn to fight, if indeed he must ensure that the nation’s newly found petroleum resource will benefit not a few foreigners and a handful of locals, but THE PEOPLE OF LIBERIA.

What do we mean?  Look at the new Oil Bill currently before the Legislature.  We are told that this bill, which the former NOCAL Chair Robert Sirleaf, the President’s son, takes credit in crafting, has nothing in it for the average Liberian, or for any serious Liberian participation. Chairman Cooper will need to carefully examine the oil blocks to find out how many Liberians have a stake in any of them.  He must reflect upon all the other concessions that this administration has allowed to gobble up our natural resources lock, stock and barrel—the iron ore, the gold, diamond and now the petroleum, WITHOUT ANY LIBERIAN PARTICIPATION.  Chairman Cooper, the lawyer, the patriot who loves his country and people, the man of principle, must revisit that Bill, refashion it and make SURE that this God-given resource, petroleum, will make Liberians rich too; not just the foreign concessionaires and a handful of others.

This is definitely not a scenario at which Mr. Cooper will deem it enough to flash a smile. No! He must know that the people are watching very closely and expectantly, and that every single Liberian is asking THE QUESTION of the hour: “What is in it for Liberia and Liberians?

Seward Cooper must seriously consider what legacy he plans to help President Sirleaf—and himself—leave behind. Surely it cannot be a Liberia Mining Company, a LAMCO, a Bong Mine, a China Union, a Western Cluster legacy, where there was no Liberian participation; concessions that allowed foreigners to walk away with billions of United States dollars, leaving Liberia and Liberians impoverished and powerless in their own country.

Chairman Cooper, along with  NOCAL President, Dr. Randolph K. McClain, are called to work their hardest to ensure that this newly found resource, petroleum, will this time be, far  from the case in so many African countries, a blessing, not a curse.

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