Former Liberian president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
WASHINGTON, DC —Liberia’s ex-president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf knew, ordered and approved of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL’s) “Bonus” Payments to several professionals and officials of her administration who worked on the Block #13 oil drilling deal with Exxon. Based on Globe Afrique’s research and analysis, here are the facts to support our conclusion regarding this matter:
- We understand that in 2011, Mr. Christopher Neyor was appointed CEO of the National Oil of Liberia (NOCAL) and Mr. Robert A. Sirleaf, son of retired President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was Chairman of the Board of Directors.
- Mr. Christopher Neyor informed the then Minister of Justice Christiana Tah that Pepper Coast (formerly Broadway), the Company that had the Production Sharing Contract for Block #13, was out of compliance.
- The Minister advised CEO Neyor to cancel the contract and put up Block #13 for bid.
- Mr. Neyor came back and informed the Minister and the entire Hydrocarbon Committee (HTC) that NOCAL prefers to “divest” Pepper Coast of Block #13. It is unclear whether that decision was made by the Board of NOCAL or by Mr. Christopher Neyor unilaterally. It is not unusual for Government Officials and Agencies to disregard the advice of the Attorney General (not just in Liberia, but in any country).
- Mr. Neyor was asked, “What do you mean by divest?” His response was: “We will not allow them to keep Block #13, but we will permit them to go out and find a buyer for the block. Apparently, no one wanted to oppose Mr. Neyor and Mr. Robert A. Sirleaf because of the political power they wield in the previous administration at the time.
- Many companies showed interest, including Gazprom, a Russian Company.
- Before the selection of a company was made, Mr. Neyor was dismissed by President Sirleaf and subsequently replaced by Dr. Randolph McCain, a highly respected and seasoned U.S. trained and experienced Liberian professional who had previously worked for DuPont in Delaware, in the USA at a senior operational management level.
- The HTC wanted to pursue two objectives: 1) select a traditional investor so as to improve the investment climate of the country; and 2) renegotiate the terms of the agreement so that existing contracts would be updated and conform more to the Petroleum Law of 2002. The Petroleum Law of 2002 provided, inter alia, that the government is paid royalties, the citizens are allowed to participate in all oil contracts, and that the state also acquires an interest in the investment in oil block. The contracts executed prior to 2006 waived all of that.
- Exxon expressed interest in Block #13 but stated that it did not want to purchase from Broadway/Pepper Coast. Since Broadway/Pepper Coast knew that only a traditional investor would be accepted, they went out to find a buyer whom they believed Exxon would be willing to engage.
- Exxon did not offer or pay any gifts or money to anyone.
- The negotiations were lengthy and grueling. They lasted for more than twelve months.
- At the signing of the contract, Exxon wrote a check for $50 million dollars, which included taxes, transfer fees, etc. It was the highest amount the government of Liberia had received at the signing of the contract under the Sirleaf administration.
- Weeks after the Exxon contract was ratified, President Sirleaf expressed to members of the HTC, in separate conversations, that she felt that the members of the HTC should receive bonuses for the work that had been done on the Exxon contract. She explained that for the numbers of hours spent and the complex nature of the transaction, it would have cost the government a lot of money if lawyers in the private sector had been hired to do the same job.
- Those who were involved in the Exxon negotiation who also received bonuses were:
- Randolph McClain, CEO of NOCAL $35,000
- Christiana Tah, Minister of Justice $35,000
- Seward M. Cooper, Legal Advisor to the President of Liberia $ 35,000
- Patrick Sendolo, Minister of Land, Mines, and Energy $35,000
- Amara Konneh, Minister of Finance $35,000
- Natty B. Davis, Chairman of the National Investment Commission $35,000
- James Kollie, Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, MFDP $35,000
- Kou Dorliae, Legal Consultant $15,000
- Jeff Wood, Legal Consultant $15,000
- Susan Maples, Legal Consultant $15,000
- Alpa Sha (Indian national), Financial Consultant to the HTC $15,000
- Idella Cooper, Executive Assistant to the CEO $15,000
We also understand that then Finance Minister Amara Konneh did not directly participate in the negotiations, even though he visited occasionally to monitor the work of the team. Minister Konneh and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning were represented at the negotiations by Dr. James Kollie, who was the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs. There is also no proof that Minister Konneh ever asked Exxon for any gift or bribe during the negotiations even though he acknowledged receiving similar “bonus” ordered paid by the President of Liberia.
We also know that President Sirleaf appointed almost all the principals on the HTC from various government agencies who she also recommended in receiving “bonuses” for doing a good job on behalf of the country. How can anyone now say what was known, ordered and approved by the president of Liberia is “bribery” or corruption? Even if public opinion today says otherwise, the decisions of the president in her capacity as president cannot easily be treated as a crime just because she is out of office, especially if she did so in her capacity as president.
As president from 2006 to 2018, President Sirleaf, our research revealed, made many important decisions for the good of Liberia. Some of those decisions were financial/economical and others were political. To have a full picture of the fiscal and economic decisions that the previous government made, President Weah and the current Liberian government must order a thorough and forensic audit of all government agencies and activities from 2006 to 2018. But to selectively pursue sensational investigative reports from any group, be it local or international watchdogs, and call for a prosecution and investigation do not tell the real story, neither does it provide the Liberian people and Liberia’s partners with the actual facts and truth.
Finally, Global Witness, at times, does a good job investigating and reporting important issues and events relating to wrongdoing around the world, especially in Africa. However, in the case of the so-called Exxon Block #13 alleged “bribery” scandal, there is no wrongdoing because a “bribery” never occurs.
It is also very ‘unusual’ for Globe Witness to leave out the names of certain people like the former President’s Legal Adviser Seward Cooper and others who also received similar “bonus” payment ordered by President Sirleaf. If anything, Global Witness needs to ask the former president of Liberia if she ordered the bonus payment, and if so, why she did.