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The contest in the control of oil revenues, yet to be actualized, has taken a new trend, with House members threatening to disrupt existing contracts and stall all progress until the next government comes in 2017.
Drawing the battle lines in plenary Tuesday in a rancorous proceeding, the Representatives demanded the renegotiation of 10 existing contracts.
There is yet no certainty as to the quantity of oil available or whether the deposits are in fact in commercial quantity. But where there is smoke, there must be fire, even if the fire is minimal.
The battle lines over believable oil and the imaginary wealth it brings have been drawn, pitting the President, as usual, against all, since she is the custodian of the public coffers.
This week, members of the House of Representatives pulled their guns against senators in the new oil scramble, announcing that the battles have been drawn since the Upper House sees no point in re-negotiating the oil deals. Soon, a conspiracy theory emerged, with one member of the House claiming that the President has frightened some senators of facing challenges in their countries in the coming mid-term elections. Afraid of losing, they decided to cooperate with the President.
In pressing their demands at a plenary Tuesday, the House cited the cases of Accelor Mittal and Firestone during the first term of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when agreements for both companies were renegotiated on grounds they “did not provide adequate benefits for Liberia”.
“Because of the renegotiation of these agreements, the lives of our people in Firestone have changed. Today, we are confronted with the same situation where the production sharing contract grossly and flagrantly violate our petroleum law…so we are calling on our President to ensure that the terms of production contracts are re-negotiated,” said Rep. Stephen S. Kafia, Sr.
“The Liberian people we represent are the biggest decision making body. The constitution provides for that. And the people are now speaking that those contracts that have been signed in the oil sector must be reviewed. Nobody can overrule that…we are serious about it. If they can not be reviewed, let us put a halt to the oil sector until a subsequent government can come and review it,” said Rep. Jeremiah Koun (Nimba).
But the Senate and the Executive are resisting demands of the Representatives, saying such renegotiation of oil sector contracts would be counterproductive.
The Representatives consolidated their decision after the Senate announced withdrawal from a joint-committee both Houses earlier formed to review existing oil contracts.
Rep. Emmanuel Nuquay, chair of the House Ways, Means and Finance Committee sparked the debate after urging his colleagues “not to draw back” despite withdrawal of the Senate from the oil sector review process.
“The action by the Senate should solidify our position and by that I can see the sector being engulfed with power struggle for the next six years. The battle lines are drawn and there can be no turning back,” he said.
Rep. Nuquay suggested that the Senate’s withdrawal was one of NOCAL’s strategies intended to undermine leadership at the legislature, and therefore urged his colleagues “not to renege on our fight for reform in the oil and gas sector.”
After a marathon debate, House members agreed in a unanimous vote to communicate their concern to the President mandating her to re-negotiate the ten production contracts in the oil sector.