News / Economy

Liberia Considers Reforms Before Oil Flows

Liberia's state oil company has been thrust into the spotlight with the resignation of its director and the introduction of two new draft laws aimed at reforming the oil sector.  Watchdog groups say the laws could mean the difference between an oil sector that contributes to the country's development or one that cements Liberia's reputation for corruption. 
Last month, Liberian lawmakers began considering two new oil bills -- one that would apply to the National Oil Company of Liberia, or NOCAL, and another that would regulate future oil exploration and production.
The draft law on NOCAL operations is partly aimed at reducing the company's powers, by removing its policymaking duties so that it becomes simply a commercial oil company operating on behalf of the state.  A separate body would be created to be responsible for policy issues, such as how to manage bidding.
The Senate quickly passed the bills.  But as the House of Representatives took up consideration of the drafts, Liberian civil society groups strongly protested that the process needed to be more transparent.  They accused NOCAL officials of trying to push the laws through before their contents were publicly known.
Silas Siakor, head of the Sustainable Development Institute, said public consultation is essential for Liberians to have confidence in how the country’s oil will be managed.

“The process that was being pushed by Mr. Robert Sirleaf and his colleagues was totally opposed to the idea of any kind of citizen input to the law-making process, excluding the population from having every kind of input to the process,” Siakor said.
In the end, the House of Representatives voted to suspend debate.   
Then, in a surprise development one week later, the president’s son, Robert Sirleaf, resigned as head of NOCAL.  He said that his mandate had been to spearhead reform of the oil sector, something he had successfully accomplished now that the draft legislation is being considered.

But Chloe Fussell, campaigner for the watchdog group Global Witness, said there was an unacceptable push to rush these laws into effect so that NOCAL could begin auctions for offshore drilling rights.  The country is still years away from pumping oil, but exploration has yielded the discovery of significant deposits.
Fussell said Liberia is at a critical juncture and this legislation -- if handled correctly -- could reform the oil sector.  She said it could help Liberia avoid the problems it’s had in developing other natural resources, such as the forestry sector, which has been marred by the inappropriate allocation of permits to big companies.
“It could potentially make the Liberian oil sector one of the best-run and best-governed sectors on the continent, if not in the world, in terms of developing countries with new oil finds,” Fussell said.
Relevant NOCAL officials were not available to comment for this story.
The legislature is now on break until January, creating an opportunity for the type of public consultation sought by civil society groups.  Outside groups are now conducting a review of the legislation.

Fussell said she is encouraged by some aspects of the drafts, including a provision that would require companies to disclose who their ultimate owners are before allocating contracts.
“The country should really know who it’s dealing with.  You don’t get these front companies that are actually owned by high-level politicians, or somebody who shouldn’t be meddling in the sector," she said. "You should actually have transparency about who owns those companies, where they’re based, who ultimately makes the profit and controls the company.”
Global Witness has also argued for the need for an independent regulator to ensure that the laws are properly enforced.  It is unclear whether the laws in their current form provide for that.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.