“Moral and Constitutional”: President of Liberia Bar Association Supports Call to Restore Citizens 5% Equity Rights
The President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, has informed the Coalition for the Restoration of Liberians 5% Equity Rights in Petroleum Contracts (CORLE) of his decision to bring to the attention of the Executive Committee of LNBA the amendment made by the 54th Legislature to Liberia’s 2014 Petroleum Law and its impact on Liberians.
Cllr. Gongloe, in a communication to CORLE, said after a careful review of the original 2014 oil law, the 2019 amendment, and other documents associated with the 5% equity for Citizens Fund, he is convinced and has concluded that the CORLE’s advocacy is legal, moral, constitutional, and consistent with the general desire of all well-meaning Liberians to elevate all Liberians from poverty. “The advocacy of your organization is moral, constitutional, and consistent with the general desire of all well-meaning Liberians to elevate all Liberians from poverty- a desire which many Liberians thought the current government was committed to when it launched its pro-poor agenda”, Gongloe noted in his communication and promised to elevate the CORLE’s campaign to the Executive Committee of the LNBA.
The support for the Citizens 5% equity coming- from one of Liberia’s best legal minds- comes after Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie insists that the 5% equity for Citizens Fund is still active in the law. “From our records all the five provisions in the amendment approved by the Liberian Senate are very progressive and the added provisions in article 36 gives additional benefits to Liberians”, Chie stated in a press conference on Tuesday. The entire section 36 of the approved 2019 amendment- which legally replaces section 36 of the original 2014 law – has no percentage for Citizens Fund and the Pro-Tempore, Albert Chie, could not point to any specific part of the law that host the 5% when he insisted during the press conference that the 5% was not removed from the law.
CORLE Chairman- Ambulah Mamey- says the statement from Cllr. Gongloe has further motivated his group to keep fighting and will help clear the doubts of other lawmakers who are convinced that the 2019 amendment is a bad law but been waiting for independent expert opinion. “The communication from Cllr. Gongloe- a renowned Human Rights lawyer who is rightly celebrated as a moral compass for Liberia- has reignited our courage and we will keep us fighting until the 2019 amendment is reversed so that every Liberian- not only a few with oil & gas companies- can benefit directly from Liberia’s oil wealth”.
Recently, the United States Government- through the United States Embassy near Monrovia- promised to engage the Government of Liberia on circumstances leading to the 2019 amendment and the consequences of the amendment on other ordinary Liberians. In a letter addressed to the Head of CORLE- Ambassador McCarthy assured CORLE that concerns about the citizens 5% equity participation right will inform his engagement with the Government of Liberia. “We regularly engage with the government of Liberia on issues involving petroleum exploration and development and I assure you that the concern you have raised will inform this engagement moving forward”, Ambassador McCarthy assured CORE.
Since August 10, the Judiciary Committee of the Senate has been investigating how the 2014 law was amended and the impact of the amendment on the Citizens 5% participation right. The communications from Cllr. Gongloe and the US Ambassador are likely to pressure the Committee to release its report.
Since 2019, CORLE has been campaigning for the Senate to undo the 2019 amendment. The group has been particular about the changes made to section 36 that addresses citizen’s participation. According to CORLE, the amendment to section 36 transferred potential billions of future oil profit from a Citizens Fund Mechanism- which would have benefited every Liberian- to a Business Ownership Mechanism that will benefit only a few politically connected Liberians with Oil & Gas businesses. The specific amendment to section 36 that CORLE is contesting reads:” each petroleum agreement shall contain a provision of least 5% total equity stake FOR COMPANIES owned by persons of natural born Liberian Citizenship”. Before the amendment, section 36 required a 5% share FOR THE BENEFIT OF A CITIZEN FUND and layout clear procedures how the equity must be acquired and managed for every Liberian to benefit.
President George Weah’s longtime friend and political partner– McDonald A. Wento, prominent Liberian businessmen including Floyd Tomah, Siaka Toure, and Sidikie Musa Bility- the son of businessman Musa Bility- are among the nine elite Liberians selected by the government to receive free 5% equity each in oil concessions that the government is expected to sign.
As part of efforts to explain how the 2019 amendment will deny all Liberians and benefit only those with oil and gas companies if the 2019 amendment is not reversed, CORLE released the below table which compares the original version of the law on citizens participation with the 2019 amendment.