Amended Petroleum Law Benefits only Weah, Cronies? -Aggrieved Citizens Claim

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The recent prequalification of seven Liberian companies by the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority (LPRA) to participate in the country’s ongoing Offshore License Round for the Harper Basin has brought about rancorous clamor among disenchanted citizens over what they say is a well calculated ploy by the Weah administration to deprive the general populace of their just benefits from the country’s petroleum resources. The citizens claim that President Weah secretly changed the 2016 New Petroleum Law to benefit himself and his cronies, leaving 4.5 million Liberians deprived of the country’s petroleum resources.

According to Italy-resident postgraduate Liberian scholar, Matthew Nyanplu, “the Weah administration has stolen our petroleum birthright from us. On October 19, 2019, the Weah administration secretly amended the Petroleum Law. The only public statement was issued from the Executive Mansion website that the law had been amended. Before 2016, only NOCAL was managing Liberia’s oil and hydrocarbon sector. Liberia spent about $1 million to do petroleum consultations to have a liberalized sector that is managed adequately for Liberians. The death of Cllr. Allison is tied to this when Alex Tyler and Rep. Adolph Lawrence were entangled in the ratification scandal,” Nyanplu claimed.

Nyanplu said by 2016, Liberia had two entities managing Liberia’s oil sector, NOCAL as the manager of Liberia’s interest in all petroleum agreements, and the LPRA, as the overseer of the sector regulating the actors.

“In the 2016 New Petroleum Law, Section 36 provides for Liberian citizens to benefit directly through the creation of a citizen participation fund amounting to 5% shares in every petroleum agreement. It is for Liberian citizens, not for the state. Such fund is not to be managed by the state,”  Mr. Nyeplu stated emphatically via a podcast Saturday evening.

He said the Weah administration changed the petroleum law with the 2019 amendment. “They have taken the 5% Liberian shares and given it to Liberian companies. The 2016 law does not say anything about Liberian-owned petroleum companies. We know that the people who have petroleum companies in Liberia are the government people and their cronies,” Nyeplu said.

What the 2016 New Petroleum Law Says regarding Citizens Participation

According to Section 36.1 of the 2016 New Petroleum Law, in addition to the State participation provided in Section 35 of this Act, the State shall have the right to acquire a five percent (5%) participation in the rights and interests of a contractor under a petroleum agreement for the benefit of a citizen fund which shall be established and managed in accordance with the following provisions of this Section 36.

Also, in Section 36.4, it is stated that any citizen participation acquired pursuant to this Section 36 shall be managed by NOCAL which shall become a party to the petroleum agreement under the terms of a joint operating agreement between NOCAL and the other entity or entities comprising the contractor.

Section 36.5 too stipulates that the citizen participation shall be managed by a trustee which shall be a responsible international trust company selected by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in consultation with the Central Bank of Liberia, under a trust agreement that provides for the administration of the fund in accordance with the administration of this Section, and is otherwise subject to the approval of the President after consultation with the Legislature.

“The citizen participation fund shall be used in accordance with a plan that shall make the benefits broadly available as widely as practicable to all citizens from both urban and rural within the Republic, through one or more mechanisms that will ensure that the benefits are extended to the most needy and vulnerable groups of citizens,” maintains Section 36.6 of the 2016 New Petroleum Law.

But Mr. Nyeplu and others say the Weah administration has amended the 2019 New Petroleum Law to benefit only themselves.

“Just last week, LPRA issued a press release saying they’ve pre-qualified seven Liberian companies in accordance with the new petroleum law, and that those petroleum companies were owned by Liberian-natural persons. So the government has stripped 4.5 million Liberians from benefiting from the oil resources of Liberia and has given them to few companies. This is how the Weah administration has gang-raped and stolen our birthright in Liberian petroleum resources. They changed section 36 of the petroleum law,” Nyeplu fumed.

According to Section 36 of the October 2019 amended Petroleum Law, in addition to local contents provisions in the Exploration and Production Act, each Petroleum Agreement shall contain a provision of at least five percent (5%) total equity stake for companies owned by natural persons of Liberian Citizenship. Such interest may be limited to and may not carry interest. The citizen participation fund shall be used in accordance with a plan that will make the benefits broadly available as widely as practicable to all citizens from both urban and rural within the Republic, through one or more mechanisms that will ensure that the benefits are extended to the neediest and vulnerable groups of citizens.

NOCAL ex-official Smells the Rat

Ambulah Mameh once worked with NOCAL. As former head of public relations, Mameh led the Petroleum Law Reform consultation across Liberia and co-authored the report that informed changes to the law in 2015/2016. Mr. Mameh is not happy at all over the 2019 amendment that deprives Liberians of their benefits from the 5% equity shares.

“Yes, the people’s rights in petroleum must be restored. What they are doing has happened before. Few Liberians gained and most Liberians lost in the name of promoting Liberian owned companies. Adolph Lawrence (RIP), Jonathan Mason, et al established an “Indigenous Liberian Companies”. They took equity in oil blocks, sold the equity to ExxonMobil and made millions. How many ordinary Liberians benefited from the money Adolph, Mason and others made?” Mr. Mameh wondered.

“You see what Albert Chie, Nathaniel McGill and Samuel Tweah are quietly plotting here against the majority of Liberians for a few hurriedly established Liberian “Oil Companies? They have taken the 5% equity protected for ALL Liberians in each oil concession and delivered it to a few elite connected companies. New Millennium is owned by McDonald Wento and Tyler- two business and political partners to President Weah. DEMUS is co-owned by Michael Johnson, a partner to Representative Fonati Koffa. Michael Johnson resigned from NOCAL about six months ago and established DEMUS purposely for this operation. Green Petroleum is a new subsidiary of Srimex Oil & Gas, and it is owned by Musa Bility’s son. Mcgill and others have used Kalasco’s relationship with Srimex, the company he worked with before 2018, to establish Green Petroleum and subsequently awarded it a potential 5% equity. How does the ordinary Liberian benefit from the wealth to be generated by the owners of these companies?” lamented Mr. Mameh.

An investigation by this paper shows Michael Johnson listed on the DEMUS website as Managing Partner. The website came up two days ago.

The Analyst has also uncovered that New Millennium is owned by Mr. Wento, with Tyler having undercover interest because NOCAL signed a Petroleum agreement with New Millennium once. The agreement went mute or was canceled a few months after signing because New Millennium could not meet the initial financial terms of the agreement. Tyler, then as Speaker, insisted that NOCAL give the license to Mr. Wento or the Legislature would not pass any legislation from the Executive. Ellen subsequently removed him.

As for Green Energy, it is common knowledge that President Weah’s special aide, Kalasco Damaro, worked with Layee Bility and Srimex up to January 2018. They could not use Srimex probably because of Bility’s current sour relationship with President Weah. So they established Green Energy.

Meanwhile, a press release from the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority says, following a vigorous evaluation of Liberian companies who applied to be pre-qualified for the country’s ongoing Offshore License Round for the Harper Basin, the LPRA has pre-qualified Seven Liberian Companies. Nine companies expressed interest to be pre-qualified but the evaluation panel denied two companies for lack of legal and financial competence.

“The evaluation team which comprised of representatives from the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Ministry of Finance the Liberia Revenue Authority, Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and LPRA pre-qualified the following companies: DEMUS Exploration and Production, Jungle Energy Power INC, New Millennium Oil and Gas, Africa Oil and Gas Inc, Green Petroleum (Liberia) Limited, MAC-Africa Petroleum Inc and the TSC Global Inc,” the LPRA release stated.

“The pre-qualification of Liberian companies is in line with the New Petroleum Law of Liberia which sets aside a mandatory minimum 5% equity interest in all petroleum agreements to companies owned by natural persons of Liberian citizenship. The list of Liberian companies that have been pre-qualified by the LPRA will be submitted to qualified international bidders for possible partnership in fulfillment of the amended petroleum law. Nine oil offshore blocks which have been unexplored and undrilled in the Harper Basin are being offered for bidding. The Bid Round runs from April 2020-February 2021,” the release said.

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