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The bickering over Liberia’s newly discovered oil resource, in which President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has placed her son at its helm, has deepened with an angry legislator strongly warning the President against behaving like other leaders who allow their children to run the affairs of state.
Saying that he has been “humiliated and deeply saddened” by the way the entire oil transactions are taking place, Montserrado County Representative Edwin Snowe said he has realized that the oil and gas business in Liberia was at the threat of being a family affair.
Snowe returned home Tuesday from Ghana where he and other members of a cartel of legislative lobbyists allegedly met to discuss the allocation of oil blocks.
In May last year, he said, he was approached by a giant Russian oil and gas company, Gazprom, to explore the possibility of exploring oil in Liberia with specific reference to Block 13. Gazprom was one of the few preferred bidders recommended by Peppercoast, the owner of block 13 on a mandate sale of the block by former National Oil Company chief executive Christopher Neor.
According to Snowe, the Russian company had made an offer of $100 million for the block where the government’s take would have been given $2327 million and $15 million to NOCAL as transaction fee. “But while it was obvious that the Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited (COPL) did not meet the three qualification criteria set by NOCAL and Gazprom did,” he said “NOCAL delayed any approval as requested and required under the Peppercoast Petroleum Sharing Agreement. This was when Gazprom approached me to find out what was going on.” He said the Russians also offered to come in with expanded electricity in Monrovia within few months.
It was then that, he said, he requested the President about the Russians’ request. But the President told him, among other things, that because of the location of block 13, which is situated between blocks 12 and 13, which are owned by Chevron, an American company, it was impossible to have the Russians situated between the two blocks.
However, after months of discussion, he said, the President along with her son, Robert A. Sirleaf, agreed to meet with Gazprom. The chief executive officer of the company arrived in the country at their invitation.
At a meeting held with the Russian at the President’s residence, attended by President Johnson Sirleaf, her son and Mr Neor, Rep Snowe said he was asked to stay outside in the palava hut. That was when I realized that the oil and gas sector of Liberia was at the threat of being a family affair.”
Snowe said Mr Robert Sirleaf, who absolutely has no knowledge about international oil and gas business, wanted to force NOCAL to give block 13 to Chevron at half the amount offered by Gazprom even when Chevron had not participated in the bid for the block. He said it was the National Legislature with its budgetary and oversight power that mandated Block 13 be disposed of with no less than $27 million to the government’s treasury. “This is how ExxonMobil made a counter offer that may now bring $45 million to our government,” he said.
He denied ever requesting an oil block from the President or her son. “I don’t know of any discussion with the President or her son regarding any oil block which would lead to blackmailing … I hereby openly in this public manner challenge anyone to prove the contrary.”
Snowe disclosed plans by NOCAL to dish out thousands of dollars to the media as a campaign designed to discredit Robert Sirleaf’s “so-called pro bono” activities at NOCAL, describing Robert as a “taxpayer citizens of the United States of America with US passport number 2181983813 issued on June 7, 2006.
He said Robert “receives thousands of dollars representing per diem, first class air ticket, five star hotel bills inclusive of entertainment and incidental payments for each and every trip made in the name of NOCAL.” He attached copies of supporting documents to justify his claims.
“Most of these payments are not determined by any set policy at NOCAL. After these trips, Mr Sirleaf gives instructions those reimbursement payments for his ‘pro bono services’ be made to his Wells Fargo account number 4000823640, in the United States.”
He frowned on Liberians with dual citizenship, saying Liberian laws do not grant dual citizenship, and calling on President Johnson Sirleaf to discharge her son from all activities of the government.
“The danger in this situation with Mr Sirleaf, a US citizen, serving as Senior Advisor to the President of the Republic of Liberia, and so-called pro bono chairman of the Board of NOCAL is that, it is possible that in the event of any dubious or adverse issue against the interest of the Republic … the government will lack the authority to prosecute Mr Sirleaf because he will take off to his country of citizenship, the United States of America.
The Montserrado County lawmaker went on to accuse Mr Sirleaf of masterminding the removal of Dr. Foday Kromah and Mr. Christopher Neor from NOCAL “because he could not push them around.”
“We are informed of cases where Mr Sirleaf told a Cabinet Minister during negotiations with Chevron that the Minister has his ‘marching orders” and that the Minister should proceed in doing what he (Robert Sirleaf) wanted done against the professional advice of that Minister. There have been other instances where cabinet ministers have been subjected to thorough security searches as well as leaving their cell phones and pens outside before entering Mr Sirleaf’s public office.”
“Mr. Sirleaf drives two bullet proof Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles with private plates and is escorted by armed EPS personnel in an EPS vehicle. Other than the President, neither the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice nor the President Pro Temp of the Senate rides in a bullet proof vehicle. It leaves one to wonder if the safety of Mr Sirleaf is more important than the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia and those others mentioned.”
Snowe then said it was important for the President to retrospect the cases of Saddam Hussein and the involvement of his sons in the running of Iraq; Col. Muammar Gaddafi and the involvement of his sons in the running of Libya; Hussein Mubarak and sons in the running of Egypt; and Abdoulaye Wade and his sons in the running of Senegal.
“We saw the official photo from Japan where the President and her son and another family member were at the head table at an official meeting whilst senior ministers of government were in the back. Liberia is not the newly formed monarchy of West Africa nor is Liberia the next Equatorial Guinea where the son of the President is also his vice president with oversight of the oil sector.”