By Tony Y. Davis
In recent weeks, the local media has been rife with headlines and news contents that described the former Board Chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia, Clemenceau B. Urey, Sr. as anything but honest. The headlines ran thus: “Urey booked,” “Urey Graft probe begins,” “Sawyer wants Urey investigated”, and “LACC probes Urey,” etc. These public spectacles of media headlines, when combined with the manner in which the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has been going about the probe into Urey’s stewardship at NOCAL, present a façade of an undue crucifixion of a decent man. This article is an honest attempt to provide an insight into what has happened both within the NOCAL Board and before the National Legislature regarding the presumed misconduct on the part of Urey. It does so not with the hope of preventing the LACC probe, or of passing the buck, but of establishing the truth. It is to awaken the professionalism within the investigators so that a Liberian citizen is not persecuted in the name of propriety.
Mr. Clemenceau B. Urey, Sr. was appointed chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Oil Company (NOCAL) by the President of Liberia on March 2, 2006. Counselors Bill Dunbar, Peter JaIIah, and Dr. Evenlyn Kandakai were his appointed colleagues on the Board. The Minister of Land and Mines (Dr. Eugene Shannon, at the time and the Minister of Finance (Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, at the time, and the Minister of Justice were the statutory members of the Board. Together, they were sevem(7) directors. At the NOCAL management level, Dr. Foday Kromah was the CEO/President; Mrs. Marie Leigh Parker was the Vice President for Administration/Finance, and Mr. Fulton Reeves was the Comptroller. Later, Mrs. Ophelia Hoff Saytumah became the vice president for Administration.
The new Urey Board inherited nine (9) contracts, which had been prepared and signed by seven oil companies. Key among these companies were Repsol, African Petroleum, Anadarko, Oranto, Woodside, and Broadway. The signed contracts were awaiting submission to the President for review and onward transmission to the National Legislature for ratification. But after a thorough review of the contracts, the new Board discovered that even though Liberia is still considered a frontier territory (that is no substantial quantity of oil has been discovered) there was much room for improvement or for the upgrading of these contracts. That the Board did effectively. It prepared an addendum to the contracts. The following excerpt is archetypical of what the addendum sought to achieve.
The levy of taxes upon the profits of the oil companies, contractors as well as withholding taxes, the payment of production bonuses to NOCAL, the establishment of a hydrocarbon development fund and contribution of each oil company to the fund, provide funding for training programs which include 100,000.00 per year during each year of exploration and $200,000.00 annually during each year of exploitation , as well as $75,000.00 annually per block from each oil Company to upgrade the mining and geology departments at the university of Liberia and contribution to the social welfare budget for counties along whose coastline exploration and exploitation are taking place in the amounts of $150,000 annually for the exploration period and $250,000.00 annually during the exploitation period.
These were guarantees that were not included in the original contracts but that formed a part of the Addendum. The point here was to ensure that the terms of the contracts provided a stream of revenue to ensure the sustenance and growth of NOCAL as well as guarantee the social responsibility of the contractors. The Board presented the contracts and addendums to the oil companies for signature, contented that that was the best deal for the nascent oil and gas industry. But to the Board’s surprise, the contractors opposed the addendum vehemently. The oil companies and their Liberian lobbyists accused the Board of not only moving the goal posts, but also of reneging on the terms and conditions of the original contracts. But the Board members’ commitment to national interest and their tough-mindedness could not permit them to budge. They persisted that the addendum was integral part of the deals and that there would not be any contracts without it. In the end, the Board prevailed and the oil companies signed the contracts.
Contented that it has sealed better deals, the Board submitted the agreements to the President, for onward submission to the National Legislature for ratification. After the submission, they waited with bated breath for the Legislature to summon them to provide clarifications, if there was need for clarifications. But the summons never came. In the place of summons from the Legislature, the Board received messages and phone calls that demanded incentives for the expedition of the processing of the contracts. Chairman Urey was personally taken aback by the new development, according to a Board insider. What came to his mind was that that might have been a prank. But, it was a reality; some individuals were not prepared to let the process proceed without some sort of kickback! The Board, led by Urey, tried in vain to appeal to the sense of patriotism of those making the demands. The Board reminded those making the demands of the oath they had taken to protect and seek the interest of the State. All that, however, fell on deaf ears. The Board was informed that making this payment which they termed as lobby fees was the normal practice of doing business with the legislature. They insisted, NO DUCK, ON DINNER; After almost nine months of vain attempts to obtain ratification without financial inducement and realizing that the Government and people of Liberia were being held hostage, it dawned upon the Board that it had to capitulate. It was then that the Board consulted with the relevant authorities, after which they proceeded to comply with the demand.
The Board accordingly met, and after a heated discussion, it reluctantly agreed to authorize a payment of fifty thousand ($50,000.00) to the Legislature. The NOCAL Board has had to make the commitment against the reality that the company was virtually bankrupt. The Board therefore authorized the Management to seek a loan from the LPRC to meet the demands. This amount was paid around September 19, 2006, but nothing happened after this amount was received! Again, the Board began to receive messages and calls that the amount was not enough. They wanted more. At this point, Urey became the single-most sought-after man. Some members of the Legislature pursued him relentlessly to the point of harassment and intimidation. But this time around, he stood his ground. He was not prepared to be any part of a deal that amounted to paying individuals, who took oath to do the Liberian people’s bidding, to do their jobs.
He was prepared for the consequences. It was then that he traveled abroad only to return to a briefing that a second payment had been made. Here is the core point of the assumed misconduct: Urey never, ever, personally authorized any disbursement, verbally or otherwise. The first disbursement was a decision in which Urey participated. He was, however out of the country when the second disbursement was made. A financial audit of Urey stewardship at NOCAL has grossly distorted this reality. It impresses upon investigators that a minutes of the NOCAL Board shows that Urey was present at a meeting in which it was decided to make the second disbursement. This professional distortion of the fact is the most mind-boggling of anything else that can be said about the LACC spectacle. But the bare truth is that Urey’s consent to heed, along with his colleagues, the demand of the lawmakers was without criminal intent. The Board under him was motivated by the pure and burning desire to move the ratification process forward in the national interest.
The following facts and truths testify to the Board’s innocent attempt to rescue the oil industry at the time it was clear that the ratification process had hit a formidable iceberg. When Urey took over the NOCAL Board, the company had only $250.00 in its bank account. But the liabilities were enormous and overwhelming. Its employees had not been paid for over six months and it owed domestic debts to the tune of about five hundred thousand (500,000) U.S. dollars. However, within a space of months up to the time President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf unceremoniously relieved Mr. Urey of his duties at NOCAL, NOCAL had rebounded – thanks to his astute business and leadership prowess. The company was sponsoring many students in pursuit of advanced degrees abroad. Many students were on NOCAL’s local scholarship and counties on whose shores exploration is currently taking place were receiving entitled social welfare benefits. Simultaneously, the mining and geology departments of the University of Liberia were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from NOCAL’s support, and NOCAL was making millions of dollars in contribution to the National budget and giving extra budgetary support to Government – especially in making available urgently needed funds for the security of the State. NOCAL and such oil companies as CHEVRON were active in Liberia, giving millions of dollars in charitable contributions. Additionally, the bank balance in NOCAL’s accounts around the time of Urey’s departure amounted to thirty-one million, one hundred fifty-one thousand, one hundred U.S. dollars and eighty cents ($31, 151, 190.08).
This level of success demands a sincere reflection from patriotic Liberians. Would not Liberia’s situation have been worse off had Urey’s Board failed to act and permitted the contracts to be held hostage? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. This is why the Board insider says that Urey remained convinced, as he had been as NOCAL Board chairman, that if managed properly, NOCAL has the potential to transform the lives of the Liberian people. Can one truly say that the Board under Urey did not act in the National interest? Is it not indisputably clear that Urey did not receive any personal benefit from the steps the Board took to expedite the ratification process under the given pressure and circumstance? If the answer is yes, and yes it is, then why are there so much drumbeats about crucifying him even before he has the chance to explain the facts – to clear his name? Why are so many people seeking a pound of flesh from him? These fundamental questions demand honest and sincere answers and appropriate relieving actions.
Persecuting Urey over what happened at NOCAL is absolutely unfair and unwarranted. The man was removed abruptly and unceremoniously as chairman of the Board of NOCAL, after restoring a bankrupt company to financial health. Yet, not even a half-baked departure ceremony was held for him in recognition of his achievements, nor was there even a thank you letter given to him. No one within the government or NOCAL realized that had this man worked for a private corporation, he would have received a bonus large enough to last a lifetime. But all he got was ingratitude followed now by public ridicule and complete silence from his former boss. All he wants is an opportunity to clear his name in a dignified manner as guaranteed by law. He does not deserve what is happening to him at this time of the search for lasting peace in Liberia. He does not deserve being bullied.
It is therefore high time the Liberian people thank the Almighty God for giving Urey the wisdom, courage and strength serve his country. By the help of God, he will use the same wisdom to stand up to his enemies (hypocrites) who are attempting to engage in a witch-hunt against him. On his behalf, this writer would like to thank the Almighty also for ensuring that they will not triumph over him in their smear campaign. The writer would also like to thank the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for giving Urey the opportunity to serve his country at a time when people committed to seeking, above all, the national interest were most needed. Thanks, moreover, goes to God for endowing Urey with the character to manage NOCAL in such a transparent way and manner that not a dime of Government’s funds was converted to his personal use. In the end, God will help the Liberian people (the court of public opinion, the highest court, in my opinion) to decide as to whether what the NOCAL Board under Urey did was criminally intentional or was based on a citizen’s burning desire to seek and protect the nation’s interest.
About Clemenceau B. Urey, Sr.
Mr. Clemenceau B Urey, Sr. holds a BA degree (CUM LAUDE) in political science, from the University of Liberia, a Masters of Public Administration degree (MPA) from Syracuse University, and a Masters of Business Administration degree (MBA) from the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia, USA.
He served in Government as Lecturer of Public Administration, Liberia Institute of Public Administration, from 1975 to 77 and worked for several years at the Ministry of Finance, serving as Commissioner of Internal Revenues and then as Commissioner of Customs & Excise. He has accumulated thirty (30) years of working experience in the private sector where he has succeeded in establishing and managing one of the most successful and reputable indigenous Insurance Company in Liberia, the Atlantic Life and General Insurance Company. His experience in administration and management span more than thirty-five (35) years.
As a hard nose professional and task-oriented Manager, Urey is motivated by results. Failure or paralysis is never part of his nature. It is from this background that he approached and functioned as chairman of the Board of NOCAL.