Hiding A Wolf Among Sheep: The Pitfall In The Exxon Mobil–NOCAL’s Inquiry

SPECIAL EDITORIAL – By Jones Nhinson Williams

J. Nhinson Williams

Majority of Liberians, especially the vulnerable segment of the population that has been drained and subjugated to continuous poverty due to prolonged national mismanagement, poor governance, institutional failure and the prevalence of impunity, don’t like corruption. In addition, corruption in Liberia has and continues to be the sickening dragon that hunts the country and destroys its attempts to progress.

This is precisely why Liberians have made it clear that they want the rule of law and national reconciliation. In other words, they want justice, peace, and progress under President Weah.  In furtherance of these aspirations, they have requested and continue to demand the full auditing of past Liberian governments and the full implementation of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation’s Report as did senior members of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) -led administration in recent years.

All of the above considered, Liberians still have every reason to complain about the “bonuses” and board sitting fees given at most public corporations and agencies under successive Liberian administrations. However, it is important to put certain things honestly strict: the bonuses given at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) after the signing of an agreement with Exxon Mobil in no way reflect an act of corruption. Not yesterday, not today or even tomorrow.  This is why the current Liberian government and all Liberian political actors experienced in ruining the reputation of decent and professional Liberians must stop their unwarranted actions now!

Since the news broke out that the technicians or professionals who participated in Liberia–Exxon Mobil Block 13 oil exploration deal received a bonus payment, the evidence continues to be clear: President Sirleaf ordered and approved the “bonus” payment upon the recommendations of the then chairman of the board of directors for NOCAL. Plain and simple.

Even the palm wine tamper in Fish Town, River Gee County understands this fact. Yet, the current Liberian government and those associated with ruining the characters of their fellow Liberians do not seem to grasp this reality.  Some in the media tend to fall prey to this misleading entanglement too.

To unmask this, there are a couple of facts we must acknowledge head one:

Past Liberian administrations, including the most recent one under President Sirleaf, did not live up to the expectation of the Liberian people and to their own morality as leaders because of greed and corruption. This does not mean that previous presidents, including Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, did not do anything worthy of praise. Even my elderly mother in Liberia now appreciates President Sirleaf than ever before despite some failures during her reign.

NOCAL was bankrupt due to corruption. And like NOCAL, corruption consumed the fabric of most agencies in Liberia during the past decades. The people who corrupted these agencies are today celebrated as Liberia’s wealthiest.

The past Liberian administration under President Sirleaf had in its ranks and file some credible and internationally respected public servants such as Dr. Antonette Sayeh, Counselors Christiana Tah, Tiawon Gongloe, and Kofi Woods among others.

Considering the facts above, we should not hide a wolf among several sheep. The fact that NOCAL was grossly mismanaged and driven into reverse by its leadership and senior management gives us no moral and perhaps legal standing to judge, point figures and/or conclude that all of the Liberian technocrats and officials who received “bonuses” based on the decision, order and approval of President Sirleaf after the ExxonMobil – Liberia oil exploration agreement was reached did something terribly illegal, even though the amount received may appear morally incomprehensible in view of the wave of poverty in the country.

I have had serious policy differences with Madam Sirleaf when she served as president. These differences were based on a simple fact: my background, training, and values from my time pursuing the Catholic priesthood.  These differences did not mean I didn’t like nor respect Madam Sirleaf. They just meant that we had two different value systems that clashed when she was Liberia’s president.  In her retirement and as a private citizen, I have the highest respect for her because she is no longer officially making decisions, as president that impact lives disproportionately.  Despite our past differences, I recognized that the executive decisions that Madam Sirleaf made as president were at the time bidding and considered legitimate once those decisions did not contravene the Liberian constitution more broadly such that they would have created a constitutional crisis with the involvement of the legislature and judiciary.

That said, the current Liberian administration and all those who want to wrongly continue to ruin the characters of some credible Liberians based on a Global Witness’s sensational and misleading reporting need an introspection because there is a certain factual and common sense consideration here.

In the first place, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the president of Liberia when the “bonuses” were paid out. As president, Madam Sirleaf is said to have ordered and approved of the payments.  To date, Madam Sirleaf has not refuted such allegation.  In these circumstances, and assuming such act was or is wrong or illegal, the question and whatever follows should be addressed to former President Sirleaf instead of the ongoing misplaced aggression and calculated attempts to taint the characters and reputations of some decent Liberians who benefited from the goodwill of the Liberian president at the time.

Secondly, every available information and facts from the ongoing investigations and narratives unleashed thus far revealed that most of the recipients of the “bonus” paid out did not make any request for payment in any form, shape, and manner. Global Witness failed to reveal these facts, including the deliberate failure to mention that the “bonus” payment was ordered and approved by the sitting head of state of Liberia.

While many of us Liberians and Africans in general welcome and appreciate Global Witness’s investigative reporting and advocacy on behalf of Africa and the African people, we also demand factual analysis and reporting detached from the desire to obtain funding from donors in the West by making African nations appear irresponsible and ungovernable. These kinds of unwarranted reporting would subject Global Witness to a litany of multiple lawsuits in western nations that is why it never reports on western countries the way it is hell-bent on African states.

Based on recent history, this seems to be the third time that Global Witness is reporting on Liberia in an attempt to falsely ruin the reputation of some credible Liberians by blending people of distinguished integrity with those with questionable characters just to make their report believable. Moreover, while it is true that Globe Witness’s relentless work in Africa has provided some reasons to question certain practices on the continent, the organization has reported erroneously in a number of respects in certain African nations including Liberia.

In one of its reports on the Liberian government in December 2017, Global Witness allegedly accused the Liberian administration under President Sirleaf that the “investment program which aimed at engendering value addition and sustainability in forest management was one that, according to the watchdog group, “puts back efforts to halt climate change” and “shortchanges the Liberian people.”  According to several local Liberian dailies including the country’s forefront newspaper FrontPage Africa, the Liberian government under President Sirleaf debunked the sensational reporting of the western-based global watchdog group in this news headlines: Liberian Government Debunks Global Witness Publication of Forestry .

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Information, Culture & Tourism in Monrovia, the Liberian administration as quoted by FrontPage Africa, said:

“The government admonishes Global Witness and others with interest in the proper management of the forest resources to eschew uninformed rhetoric and focus on facts and data: Sustainable commercial tropical forest management in collaboration with the local people is the best way to protect the forests – this happens only when the industry becomes profitable; today, illegal logging does not take place in the commercial concessions and efforts to tackle it in open public forests are yielding positive results.” 

Global Witness has developed an untrusted and dimmed reputation in Liberia based on the fact that even the Liberian government does not trust its reporting. The watchdog group is known in Liberia and distrusted by the Liberian government for miss-stating facts and spreading sensationalized inaccuracies.

Yet, the same Liberian government would select to act on Global Witness’ repeated inaccuracies to persecute and destroy the reputation of dignified Liberians including internationally known and well-regarded personalities like Counselor Christiana Tah who has cultivated a reputation for honesty, integrity, and professionalism as a legal practitioner.

Today, it is the reputation of some innocent and principle-minded Liberians who are being persecuted for a presidential directive. So tomorrow, are going to be forced to defend some other decent Liberians in the current Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)–led administration for adhering to a presidential directive and instruction from President Weah when he leaves office? Tomorrow, are we going to punish people who may be receiving funds or appropriations from the national budget based on President Weah’s directive as chief executive of Liberia?

If the current Liberian administration really wants to prove a point of honesty and integrity then let it accept former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s challenge to conduct a comprehensive audit of the past administration––all agencies including the Executive Mansion.  If the current Liberian administration really wants to prove a point of honesty and integrity then let it accept the Liberian people demand to implement the Truth and Reconciliation’s Report.  If these cannot take place, we urge the government to stop ruining the integrity of credible and respected Liberians by blending sheep and wolves.

As a government, the administration needs to be consistent in policy and pronouncements.  If it protects one, it must protect all! If it prosecutes some, it must prosecute all! No cherry picking!

About the Author:

Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian citizen and a U.S.–based public policy professional, former Maryland (USA) State Government Labor Market Information Manager, and a former head of Jewish Family Services Refugee Resettlement and Integration Program in the United States.

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About Cholo Brooks 7278 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists.