The Oil Confusion – Former Public Works Minister Kofi Woods, And Liberian Leader in War of Words

The bankruptcy of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) that led to the immediate dismissal of dozens of the entity’s workforce by authority at NOCAL, and the subsequent removal of many its senior staff by President Sirleaf; ordering that all those removed from their respective posts at NOCAL be given their just benefits has hit the Liberian media like wildfire.

This decision on the part of the Liberian leader did go down too well with some Liberians including the former Public Works Ministers, Samuel Kofi Woods who during a meeting with group of Liberian women expressed his disagreement with the Liberian leader, stressing that such pronouncement by the President should not be adhered to.

Attorney Woods speaking on the issue called on Liberians to “Pray the Devil to Hell”, call which received applauds from the women at the program, explained in detail the high level of corruption, and nepotism in the Ellen led Government.

He told the women, “President Sirleaf and her government should take full responsibility for the current crisis facing the National Oil Company of Liberia, where the company has gone badly to the extent of now carrying out a layoff of 110 of its total 160 employees,” Attorney Woods speaking further said.

"The leadership of this country is fully responsible and must take responsibility of what's happening at NOCAL, all the things they are talking about giving them severance pay is not correct,” stressing, “Giving those guys money is not adequate, it is sufficient and is limited you cannot talk about an oil company collapsing and you are talking about retiring the head of the entity and giving him severance pay, how can you give people money at an Oil Company that has collapsed?" Woods said.

“Well as the head of the country, I have to take responsibility even though you had a very able Board of Directors, a very able senior management whom I left to make the decisions on the management of the company; but as head of the country, anything that does not work the way we want, I ultimately will be responsible,” said President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf f when quizzed on the comments made by former Minister Woods. President Sirleaf as well wants Woods to take responsibility for what might have gone wrong at the Ministry of Public Works.

President Sirleaf “I suspect that former Minister Woods will be equally responsible for things that happened under his watch when it comes to the problems we had at public works, so the head person takes responsibility even though they may not be directly responsible. That is my response to that”, the Liberian leader told reporters.

The Ministry of Public Works after the departure of Minister Woods encountered numerous problems including several abandoned projects and huge financial commitments to many construction companies but Woods said he did not eat any money while in government and has denied any wrongdoing at the Ministry of Public Works.

One time friends

When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won Liberia’s first post war general and presidential elections in 2005, forming a new government meant bringing on board her closet allies and longtime friends as is the usual case with successive Liberian presidents. It was no doubt when the Liberian leader appointed human rights lawyer, Atty. Samuel K. Woods who was one of the strongest critics against human rights abuses committed under the regime of President Charles Taylor. During Woods’ work with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, he was very vocal against the Taylor regime just as Madam Sirleaf who spent much of the Taylor days in neighboring Ivory Coast, constantly commenting on trend of events in Liberia.

Sirleaf named Woods as the Minister of Labour which placed him in the position to face the task of ensuring respect for the rights of workers including those at the Firestone Rubber Plantations Company. Woods before his appointment had criticized the company for several years for allegedly violating the rights of workers. Woods’ tenure at the Labour Ministry was short-lived as President Sirleaf appointed him to another position with huge task at hand to revamp the infrastructure sector of Liberia, appointing him Minister of Public Works. Prior to Woods appointment, his predecessor, Public Works Minister Luseni Donzo had presided over numerous failed projects, including the Jallah Town Road project and delays in the implementation of other projects across the country.

During Woods time as Public Works Minister, he was one of the officials of government regularly recognized and singled out for praises and public recognition by President Sirleaf. While dedicating the Gbonota to Piata Road in Sanuyea District, Lower Bong County, President Sirleaf described Woods as a loyal lieutenant. President Sirleaf said Minister Woods and his team should be celebrated as “loyal lieutenants” for their commitment and support to the implementation of government programs and promises in the country.

The Liberian leader also described Woods as “loyal servant” at some public functions but things started going sour when the talk of Woods harboring a presidential ambition in 2017 increased. President Sirleaf, the onetime admirer of the work of Woods, began publicly expressing dissatisfaction over the quality of some of the construction work under the supervision of Minister Woods including the Tubman Boulevard Road in Paynesville.

The once cherished relationship was gradually fading and things going bad and Woods, in May 2013 during the signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding between the Liberian government and the China Henan International Cooperation Group (CHICO) to give Caldwell Township a new bridge, dropped hint of his desire to leave the Sirleaf government.

“This is an important act for me because at this moment I’m involved in a deep reflection as to where this journey of career will take me”, Woods said. He continued: “I still believe there is much more in Liberia to be done beyond this and as I think through these things I ponder; certainly I intend to make a clear decision on where I go from here and how we can continue to fulfill the dreams and ideals of Arch Bishop Michael Francis.”

Two months later, President Sirleaf confirmed the resignation of Woods from government, still praising him for his contribution to government. “Yes, Minister Woods resigned, we discussed it, he wants to be able to revive the justice and peace commission which as you know he worked with, with Bishop Francis and he did so when Bishop Francis died,” President Sirleaf said.

The Liberian leader disclosed at the time that she spoke to Minister Woods and accepted his resignation adding that he will continue to make his contribution to the development of the country in his new endeavor. The President was quick to rubbish critics’ assertion that Woods resignation was a controversial one. “People can say whatever they want; you know if he had not resigned they would be on his case too that he’s not doing those roads well; what’s happening to all the money and all of that. People here talk plenty. Minister Woods have served his country well.”

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