News

    Liberians Cautiously Optimistic About Oil Prospects

    Liberian-flagged tanker Yuri Senkevich, Lufeng oil field, South China Sea, May 2006 (file photo).
    Liberian-flagged tanker Yuri Senkevich, Lufeng oil field, South China Sea, May 2006 (file photo).
    Anne Look

    Liberia is still years away from tapping what African Petroleum calls a significant oil deposit off the country's coast. But as the company assesses deposits for commercial viability, some Liberians are meeting the recent discovery with cautious enthusiasm, wondering if their fragile West African nation can avoid the so-called resource curse.

    Randolph McClain heads Liberia's national oil company, known by its acronym NOCAL, which is also involved in the project.  He says it will be months before they know whether the quality and quantity of the discovery is commercially viable.

    "I'm sure you will share our hope and confidence that this could be the first step in a flourishing oil sector for Liberia," he says.

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the potential is there. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana, the organization says, are sitting on as much as 3.2 billion barrels of offshore crude.

    A rush on natural resources

    After more than a decade of bloody conflicts, newfound stability has prompted a rush on not only oil, but also other regional natural resources like gold and iron ore.

    Ghana pumped its first barrels of crude oil for the world market in late 2010, three years after its discovery. Government officials in Accra say Jubilee Oil Field earned almost $450 million in the first year, and experts say annual revenues could reach as much as $1 billion per year, which, managed wisely, could fuel development and greatly reduce dependence on foreign aid.

    But Liberians like Monrovia resident Jerry Lamie remain apprehensive of oil wealth.

    "A lot of times people take advantage of the fact that whatever revenue is generated from the oil industry is not being decentralized," he says. "So you have few getting richer and the rest of the country suffers."

    Liberia's state-owned oil company, NOCAL, is at the heart of debate.

    Global Witness, an international watchdog group, has recommended outfit be disbanded.

    "The biggest concern probably is a series of bribes that were paid," says Jonathan Gant, the organization's Liberia policy adviser. "The Liberian government has referred to them as lobbying fees, but they were monies paid mostly by the national company itself to the Liberian legislature to facilitate the passage of different oil contracts. We don't have any evidence that this sort of behavior has occurred in the last several years, but until there are obvious reforms - both of the law by which the contracts are administered and of these financial processes - it's pretty unclear to see why the same thing couldn't happen again."

    Current laws make NOCAL both a commercial, profit-driven enterprise, as well as the regulatory body in charge of the oil sector.

    Director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Monrovia, Thomas Nah, says the situation constitutes a serious conflict of interest.

    "If you look at some of the laws, they are both player and referee at the same time," says Nah. "They are playing and refereeing at the same time because they are supposed to be participating and, at the same time, they are supposed to be regulating and then, to some extent, involved in policy-making."

    For their part, NOCAL officials say urgently-needed reforms to existing oil legislation are under way and that the company supports greater transparency with regards to how revenue is to be managed.

    Security concerns

    In Nigeria, a regional petroleum giant, militants demanding a more equitable distribution of oil wealth have recently resumed attacks, a red flag to Monrovia resident George Moore, who says security is another key concern about the prospect of an oil-rich Liberia.

    "We talk about countries that are responsible to produce oil and we find a lot of conflict there," says Moore. "Oil fighters are responsible for this. These conflicts are the result of the production of oil in these countries. Because of this we find that things have been destabilized in a country when it comes to infrastructure and development."

    Liberia itself emerged from a brutal 14-year civil war in 2003 that was funded in part by natural-resource revenues; warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor traded logging concessions for guns and paid his soldiers in timber money.

    Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pledged to establish polices that would ensure oil revenues are for the "good of the country and the good of all people."

    Liberians, however, say they will wait and see.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora