Former Information Minister and now Vice President for Public Affairs at NOCAL, Lamini Waritay, is appealing to critics and all other stakeholders, including the media, who are rightly following the ongoing Oil Reform engagements, to calm down as the National Legislature, the Executive and NOCAL are doing all that is humanly possible to put the oil sector reform process on a firm trajectory for the benefit of the generality of the Liberian people.
Mr. Waritay noted that the ongoing spirited debates around the oil sector constitute a healthy national exercise and must accordingly be welcomed and encouraged by all well meaning Liberians, because it is generating ideas and issues pertinent to such core principles of governance as “transparency, accountability, fairness and the public good”.
He further observed that many countries where oil has been or continues to be an issue never had the opportunity of such extensive discussions, arguments and exchanges of views and opinions as what has been obtaining in Liberia on the matter.
This, he said, is a “good thing” for the future of our country and the oil industry—long before oil production becomes a reality.
Noting that “the national legislature could have simply passed the Draft Petroleum (Exploration & Production) Act, and the Draft NOCAL Act of 2013 without much fanfare, and with not much debate even within the Legislature much less outside of it, the decision to have a road show and extensive discussions on the Acts is laudable– given the strategic nature of the resource and the potentially far-researching implications of its future exploitation.
Waritay however regretted that the good intentions behind the consultative exercise spearheaded by the Legislature and the supporting role being played by NOCAL are being overshadowed by misunderstanding, vilification, and, in some cases scoring of political points.
He agrees that the sector is too strategic not to keep the public eye focused on it, but “this must be done without uncontrolled rancor and breast-beating. After all, the oil issue is a relatively new one for us in Liberia,” Waritay noted, “and so as we struggle along to put the necessary institutional mechanisms in place, mistakes will be made and otherwise well-meaning good intentioned actions and activities will be misinterpreted or misunderstood.”
He said while he appreciates genuine concerns expressed by Liberians and other stakeholders on “the need for transparency, accountability, sensitivity and an all-people ownership of the reform exercise, care must be taken to ensure that this oil baby is not thrown out with the bathwater.”
He therefore urged everyone to “rest assured that the institutional arrangements being recommended for the oil sector will ensure that this potentially beneficial sector will not be the exclusive reserve of any one person or group or branch of government, but one which will be driven by the overall interest of all Liberians—which, according to VP Waritay, is in fact the main purpose behind the ongoing nation-wide consultations.
On the Junior Bernard 111 issue, Mr. Waritay clarified that his information is that the young man was never brought in by the organizers as an “oil expert”, but as someone who had put a short presentation together for the purpose of “illuminating some of the problems that, in his youthful opinion, may lead to the oil curse that has afflicted many oil producing countries, but which his country of residence (Alaska) has endeavored to avoid.”
He said he listened to the presentation himself, which some have described as a “lecture”, and took note of some salient issues like the much bandied word ‘corruption’ which the young man emphasized Liberia must grapple with it if the oil is to benefit “all Liberians and not just a few.”
Waritay pointed out that while he is not defending the young man, he has honestly been looking more at the message contained in his presentation than his age or where he was coming from. That his participation has now become a “political football” and generated “so much cacophony in our increasingly politically charged/sensitive environment, is regrettable.”
Waritay however appealed to all and sundry to “put this issue behind us and to look at the bigger picture—which is, a reform exercise that will ensure that no one–now and in the future–will mismanage the resources of the people, as it was done over past decades, but will be harnessed for ALL Liberians—a key point, Waritay noted, that all stakeholders and external consultants stressed throughout the latest consultative exercise.
Waritay concluded by stating that “this process is already being assured by the open society that is being fostered by the ongoing political dispensation that makes it difficult for anyone (public official or private interests) to short change the people, or “operate in a cloak and dagger” manner over the management of our resources.
He then called on all stakeholders to remain focused on the reform and not to lose confidence in neither NOCAL, nor the Legislature that is driving the process, “ as we all strive genuinely to get the oil issue right long before one drop of oil is produced in the country.”