‘Don’t Rush to Exploit Liberia’s Oil Wealth’: Jerome Verdier’s Letter to Liberia


Fellow Liberians:

Jerome Verdier

This public interest and public policy advocacy medium has been absent since it resumed in January 2012 due mainly to heavy engagement with school work at Cornell University Law School in New York where I was greatly blessed by GOD to earn the Masters of Law Degree (L.LM) on last Sunday, May 13, 2012 despite the oddities of enemies of progress and agents of death.

The purpose of pursuing higher education is to GLORIFY GOD by being a better person in contributing to humanity and understanding our world to make me useful to society and improve human development. I therefore dedicate this achievement in worth, knowledge and power to GOD ALMIGHTY, my Country and the people of Liberia. As a lawyer in the “best sense” the knowledge gained and skills acquired will be utilized for the uplifting of humanity every where.

During the past four months there were four major issues of public policy interest that claimed my attention that will, in summary, be addressed in this February to May 2012 letter. They are: 1) The high prospect of oil discovery in Liberia 2) The head of state Executive Order No. 38 (Code of Conduct) and 3) The Independent Human Rights Commission (INHRCL) and the TRC Recommended Palava Hut Program 4) Land grabbing by the Ellen Regime of poor people’s land.

Oil in Liberia

The high prospect for oil discovery in Liberia is great relief for poverty-stricken Liberia which is already endowed with enormous natural resources capable of undoing or relieving the burdens of poverty, ignorance, and disease suppressing the nation  and its people’s god-giving potentials. Lest we plan well and be scrupulous in managing future resources, this will be another opportunity for the corrupt generation of bad leaders to plunder and waste and steal our oil wealth and sow the seeds for further division of our people, future violent conflicts and war.

Lest we are mindful and vigilant, our oil wealth will be sold in advance by the greedy, wicked,heartless, and corrupt  government of the day and a  mortgaged future will be our inheritance. Already we are seeing signs of callous disregard for propriety and accountability in the sector when mother and son represent the Country at international conference on the sector as if the oil resource is a family property and the estimated US$20 million contribution of Chevron remains unaccounted for. The Ellen regime and its extensive family linkages are cashing in on third party contractual arrangement and getting rich overnight at the expense and integrity of public service in Liberia. Companies like Oranto, Broadway, Elinito, BRE, AMLIB for example and others without any capacity or experience in the natural resource sector are given Government of Liberia concession only for them to sell over to a third party for enormous amounts that go into private pockets. This is precisely the reason there is no publication of Chevron or AMLIB contracts for example, because Chevron does not have any agreement with the government of Liberia even though it  holds exploration and exploitation rights to Liberia’s natural minerals – OIL!

Before a single drop of oil is exploited, drilled or exported from Liberia (which I pray will never happen during Ellen Sirleaf’s Regime) all measures of best practices, natural resource governance and accountability in the sector will be put in place to protect posterity and guarantee that the people of Liberia is the major stakeholder and beneficiary of the oil wealth. To this end, the following must be instituted:

1. Not a single drop of oil should be drilled or exported until there is a National Conference on Natural Resources and Oil to adopt sound natural resource management and use policies that will define development priorities towards which natural resources will be applied directly and specifically. Primarily for quality and free education (as part of reparation for the sufferings of the people of Liberia) with the goal of eliminating illiteracy; primary health care with the goal of guaranteeing affordable and quality health care to all people of Liberia, and definitely a national road network that will connect all people and regions of the country, create long term employment, economic spinoffs, and promote national unity and integration amongst other national priorities the conference will identify.

2. Not a single drop of oil should be drilled or exported until there is a national economic conference that will redefine Liberia’s economic paradigm that must shift from the plantation mentality of the 60s that benefits, even today, a handful of less than 5% of the population to one of people-centered economy that harnesses the resourceful potentials of the people towards empowerment and self actualization of the vast majority of the 95% who are at a risk of dying in poverty and leaving behind for their children just what they inherited – poverty! The current Ellen Regime is a product of the sieged mentality of slavery and therefore married to the archaic plantation mentality it cannot unshackle itself from;

3. Not a single drop of oil should be drilled or exported until there is public vetting of all oil contracts and concessions for propriety, profit-commercial/economic benefit sharing schemes that determines Liberia is an equitable, fair and major beneficiary of oil deals; Any future government of Liberia is obliged to uphold the sanctity of contract and respect the business of government as a going concern but it is worth noting this caveat that all such contracts or concession not meeting the standards of probity and legality in keeping with the controlling laws of Liberia and international best practices on procurement, concession, etc will be dishonored and not binding on the people of Liberia.

4. Not a single drop of oil should be drilled or exported until there is a feasible and practicable plan for training and building Liberian capacity for management, resourcing, and servicing the very vast oil sector over a reasonable period not to exceed ten (10) years so that in a single decade Liberia can supply the human resource capacity needs of the sector and control their own natural resource and economy.

There should be no rush to exploiting our oil wealth. The outgoing generation of corrupt leaders have robbed the Country sufficiently of its natural resources so it is high time we prioritize, highlight and protect the equity interest of future generation.  In this view, it is very necessary to sound out yet another caveat that this government, as corrupt in nature and character as it is, has no authority, right or moral duty to leverage potential future oil revenues as collateral to secure or contract new national debt. The Liberian people will not be so bound in the future and it will not only be premature but immoral and unwitting for any lending institution to so oblige or ignorantly support any ill-conceived welfare gimmick of the current rulers of the land.

At the moment the sector is heavily managed by a cartel of privileged relations to the Head of State including some who claim to be “working free for the Liberian people” when there are enough resources to render equal pay for equal work and the Liberian people have not solicited “free labor” to manage the sector. The only people history attest of who worked free for government in Liberia are the slaves and plantation laborers and civil servants who work hard without equal pay for work done but had no choice because of thee stringent living conditions established by their government and occasionally forced to work as slaves or plantation laborers.

Under corrupt regimes, the term pro bono (free service) is employed to disguise the regime’s predatory nature and hide its predisposition to nepotism and corruption. There is nothing like pro bono or free service in capitalist corporate settings. Pro bono services are needed in the social services and advocacy sectors and not in the profitable corporate sectors without accountability where the propensity for corruption is highest. In capitalist corporate settings, it is only inherently corrupt and highly unethical people of privilege will declare they are working for a viable entity or oil  corporation without pay. This was possible under dictatorships like that of Saddam Hussein or M. Gaddafi (again the Gaddafi factor and link resurfaces) that their sons work for the people of Iraq and Libya without pay, and were yet billionaires. I believe Liberia (and another African country I decline to name) is the only other Country where people work in the oil sector free- the free worker is imposed! He is a volunteer whose service  is compulsory with no prior history of public service or public interest volunteerism in Liberia prior to “mother dear” becoming ruler.

History and experience has proved that these pro bono corporate executives most certainly claim millions in bonuses and reimbursement for “expenses made on behalf of the corporation” or “in doing work for the corporation”. The average claim is usually US$1,000 (ONE THOUSAND PER DAY) per day. If an audit is done at the oil company today it will confirm that the head of state son in Liberia is claiming in excess or approximation of US$30,000 monthly from the oil company as reimbursement which I believe is more than the salary or benefits of his predecessor(s). I will be very happy my people were I to be proved wrong.

In due time I will draft a policy (position) paper on the oil sector in Liberia for the consideration of the National Legislature.

Executive Order No. 38 (Code of Conduct, January 2012)

The executive order is a sham and yet another self-serving, vainglorious act of the the head of state to “play to the gallery”. It is much desired but doesn’t go far enough to be of any meaningful contribution or advancement of the cause against graft, corruption, integrity and unethical behavior in public service. Because it does not comprehensively deal with the key issues of public interest and conduct in Liberia, it can in no wise be of any impact. The document is no milestone.

The head of state wants to leave the public with the impression that of the three branches of government, it is only her executive branch that is concerned about probity in public service when in reality all three branches led by the executive are culpable for improper conduct and corruption in public service. There is a concerted effort by the three branches not to be accountable and the regime is doing the bidding for all three. This is no excuse for failing to act appropriately.

A code of conduct (by executive order or legislation) is a national prerogative which must cover the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government and embrace those issues that weigh heavy on public integrity and interest.

The Executive Order is meaningless.

Rather then complimenting prior policy instruments, it violates and in fact undermines several including the so-called “freedom of information act” and other provisions of the Constitution that guarantees citizens’ participation in government and right to access to information. The strength of EO 38  is the restriction it reinforces on public access to public information.

It is vague in national context, expression and meanings. It makes bad reading of a foreign legislation. It fails to  mention or contextualize any of the key issues most relevant to probity in public service – corruption, fundamental human rights, compulsory submission to audit, abuse of power and abuse of public office; rule of law, justice or impunity.

The EO 38 confuses transparency with openness and did not once employ the use of the terminology “good governance”. What good is a code of conduct if its objective is not good governance.

In due time I will do a critique of EO 38 for the benefit of the head of state who signed EO 38

The Human Rights Commission and (Palava Hut) Reconciliation

The Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRCL) seems to have lost both is independence and focus and is therefore grasping for straws to save itself. As a human rights commission it has enormous work to do but because it has compromised both independence and goals, it sees no human rights violations, it hears no human rights violations and so it does nothing about the mounting human rights violations and issues of grave national concerns. It is a situation of see no evil, hear no evil and do no good.

At the formation of the INHRCL we alarmed that the process of formation was faulty and would eventually lead to faulty outcomes we are witnessing today. What we have is the product of patronage which serves a parochial rather than a national public interest. The Chairman of the INHRCL is on record calling for the trashing of the TRC Report, describing the TRC as a “hate commission” whose report and recommendation will divide the people of Liberia; he spoke on behalf of the IHRCL and all its commissioners agreed with him, apparently. With that mentality, it has prejudiced its interest in matters of the TRC, is therefore driven by partisan interest and has lost its voice on matters of the TRC.

Notwithstanding, and very unfortunately, The INHRCL sees the TRC Palava Hut Recommendation as a way out of infamy. Implementing the Palava Hut recommendation of the TRC is a peace building and justice mechanism forming part of a series of processes and recommendations of the TRC intended to foster genuine national reconciliation and peace; it is not a program of or for the INHRCL. The INHRCL has neither the capacity nor the authority to implement the Palava Hut Program of the TRC. It is the responsibility of the Government, more specifically the executive branch led by the head of state which cannot be properly delegated.

The role of the INHRCL is to partner with others in “campaigning for the scrupulous implementation of all the recommendations of the TRC” and not to implement it. When called upon, the TRC recommended that the INHRCL be employed to assist with the “coordination of the work of the Palava Hut” and not to implement it.

The INHRCL cannot implement its own statutory mandates so just how can it implement an extensive and all-engaging national program specifically designed for, an especially complicit,  the head of state.

The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Regime sole motive for pretending that the INHRCL can implement the Palava Hut program is two-fold: to “find something” for them to do (other then the human rights business they were organized for until their five (5) year tenure expires) and to corrupt and bastardize the Palava Hut process to suit the taste of the head of state who has no pedigree of reconciliation or peace.

Land Grabbing

Land grabbing is the forceful (or unfair) taking of people’s land for non-agricultural ( or non-food) commercial purposes. This is a dangerous practice that must be resisted and the Liberian people should not give up their lands. As we have noticed in Grand Cape Mount County, people are deprived of their fertile land, which if allowed to continue, will undermine the capacity and ability of Liberians to grow food  for survival or commerce; leading eventually to suppression and slavery.

I will do a more extensive write up subsequently, but suffice to say that the Ellen  Regime is continuing to mortgage and sell off the Country in a manner and form that benefit only she and her family and their cronies. THE SAME OLD LIBERIAN STORY CONTINUES, A NEW CHAPTER WITH NEW ACTORS UNFOLDS… BUT THE OLD THEME, SETTINGS AND PLOT REMAINS…

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