LEITI Alleges, NOCAL Denies: Where Is The Third Side?

By Atty.  Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

One of the stories that made major headlines in the Liberian media yesterday was  a reaction  by the National Oil Company Liberia (NOCAL) regarding a recent allegation by the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiatives (LEITI . The LEITI recently alleged in one of its reports, as published by the DAILY OBSERVER Newspaper that“US$330K ‘Unaccounted for” in oil sector. The report stated that “analyzing total payment and differences per sector, LEITI found that within the oil sector, the companies paid US$49,911,073.86 but only US$49,681, 073.86 was paid in the government’s coffers. The report , according to media reports, shows that a difference of US$230,000 remains unaccounted for in the oil sector reported by companies as paid to the government but the government agencies did not report receiving.”

In its reaction, NOCAL dismissed the LEITI’s claim and described it as misleading. According to NOCAL, the account was for the period July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, which stated, “Analyzing total payment and differences per sector, LEITI found that within the oil sector, the company paid US$ 49,911,073.86 but only US$ 49,681, 073.86 was paid in the government’s coffers.  “A difference of US$ 230,000 remains unaccounted for in the oil sector, reported by companies as paid to the government but the government agencies did not report receiving.” With the total amounts taken into account, there can be no other difference therefore, only US$ 230,000 is in question, not US$320K” as reported misleadingly.”

The oil company said details of the report revealed that the variance is due to a previous recording error. It  said, “The reason for the difference of US 230k is that the University of Liberia received US $850K from NOCAL for the period being reported, but mistakenly reported that it received US$620K which it had received for the previous reporting period (2009/2010) therefore, the US230K is fully accounted for. The company added that the reason for the difference of US$230,000 is that the UL (University of Liberia) received US$850,000.00 from NOCAL for the period being reported, but mistakenly reported that it received US$620,000.00, which it had received for the previous reporting period (2009/2010). The company is therefore, requesting the LEITI to corroborate with UL to correct this misinformation.

Because of the sensitivity of the oil sector, and the perception people have about those in charge regarding sincerity and honesty in the financial operations of the company, I take interest in this matter, with the view that the truth will emerge. The LEITI has alleged some discrepancies, but NOCAL has rejected this and termed it as misleading, meaning that LEITI has provided false and wrong information to the public, after viewing the financial records of NOCAL.

I am not an authority in financial matters. But isn’t it prudent in such matter in the preparation of a final report to contact the entity concerned about any alleged  discrepancy before releasing the final report?  In these kinds of situation or exercises, it is always investigatory, meaning one has to check, counter check and seek further information, clarification or explanation on any doubts. In this case, wasn’t NOCAL informed about this discrepancy for further explanation before the final report?  However, this is not the focus of this article. My focus relates to getting the actual fact or truth in this matter.

The fact of the matter is that LEITI has made an allegation that NOCAL has challenged the entity to ‘correct’ this misleading information. What matters now is the third side of the story, which is the truth. In journalism, some stories have a third side, which is the independent side or the actual fact and truth of that particular story. Are we to rely on LEITI’s allegation and accept what it said to be true, or rely on NOCAL’s reaction that it is not true?  I say a big NO. It now behooves the media to ferret the truth in this matter to know who is telling the truth. It is not just about reporting. Journalists are investigators too. Therefore, their function is not just reporting what people or institutions say. We, as journalists, have to transcend what is known as “Stenographic Journalism,” a kind of journalism in which journalists report what they are told without cross-checking or finding the truth. This is an antithesis of investigative journalism.

In this matter at bar, it would be a disservice to the Liberian people knowing the controversies surrounding the oil industry, to let this go to rest, thus leaving the public in doubt and also being unable to know whether or not it is true or not true on the issue of discrepancy, as raised by the LEITI, which in this matter must substantiate its claim by cooperating with the press, as under our legal system, ‘he who alleges, must prove.” In other words we say the onus rests on LEITI.

In the next few days, let the public know the truth of this matter, as the nation strives for transparency, accountability and financial probity. This is a challenge to the press, as half truth is detrimental. These kinds of activities might be seen as a Liberian thing. Frankly, this is not the case because these kinds of reports are used by the international community to make sure that the people benefit from resources of the extractive industry.

I say this because I, along with Cyrus Badio, former Press Secretary to President Johnson-Sirleaf was among some world journalists few years ago in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East where there was a conference on the extractive industry. During that gathering, the Liberian delegation led by President Sirleaf was in a state of ecstasy when the country was recognized for compliance. Cllr. Nagbalee Warner, who was then head of the LEITI, attended that conference. So, these kinds of reports are no joking matter as a country can be judged based on them.

Again, considering the importance of the LEITI in the fight against corruption, the truth must be established, as to whether it was due to a recording error as claimed by NOCAL or something else. I rest my case by asking, “Where is the third side or the plain truth in this matter?”