By James Butty
The international watchdog group Global Witness says corruption is rampant in Liberia’s oil sector, even before any oil has been discovered. In a report Monday, the group said government and business officials have been involved in bribery to get contracts approved.
Global Witness campaigner Natalie Ashworth said some government officials choose to “break their own laws.
“There were three findings which highlight the problems. First, we discussed evidence of the payment of lobbying fees. NOCAL, which is the National Oil Company, paid lobbying fees to the legislators to get oil contracts passed. The second is an inadequate legislative framework to protect communities and the environment and, thirdly, there is a lack of capacity by the National Oil Company and by the EPA, which is the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the environment sector,” she said.
Ashworth said the report calls on the government to investigate evidence of corruption in the oil sector.
“When it comes to the National Oil Company, we’re recommending a number of things. One, we’re recommending that all the allegations that are in the report and in the General Auditing Commission audit of the National Oil Company need to be investigated. We are also recommending that the power to regulate be taken away from the National Oil Company and given to a separate agency,” Ashworth said.
The report said the actions by some lawmakers to accept bribes are against Liberian laws.
“Liberia’s penal code makes specific reference to bribery, and the general auditor has deemed these lobbying fees to be bribes,” she said.
The report said Monrovia has made some promising improvements in the resource sector. But, Ashworth said these changes have been poorly managed.
Christopher Neyor, president and CEO of the National Oil Company of Liberia, questions the timing of the global witness report, especially as Liberia prepares for next month’s presidential elections.
He said the government was already implementing some of the recommendations contained in the global witness report.
“Our position on this Global Witness report is clear. We are delighted that they have acknowledged that the president has appointed someone with a reformist agenda and they had earlier spoken with us and we had given them the outline of our agenda. So, basically, while we appreciate the input of Global Witness, just about all what they are recommending are things that we initiated and, not only initiated, we [are] implementing at the National Oil Company,” Neyor said.
He said, in a sense, the government agrees with much of the findings in the Global Witness report.
Neyor said there is nothing new about NOCAL paying members of the Liberian legislature lobbying fees to ratify oil contracts between 2006 and 2008.
“That again is nothing new; it’s been around for a while in the media. It has been debated and the debate had centered on the definition of the lobbying fee, or facilitation fee, or what you may call it. There are some people who like to call it a bribe,” Neyor said.