Watchdog Warns of Oil Corruption in Liberia

Posted September 27th, 2011 at 3:00 am (UTC-5)
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An international watchdog is warning that corruption is already rampant in Liberia’s oil sector — even before any oil has been discovered.

Global Witness said Monday government officials and at least one company have paid bribes to get contracts approved. The report also accuses the government of giving oil concessions to companies with little or no experience in the field.

Global Witness says Liberia needs to implement a series of reforms, including ensuring the official agency regulating the oil industry does not also profit from it, and creating new laws safeguarding human rights, oil workers, and the environment. The British watchdog group says Liberia also needs to do better at investigating corruption and enforcing the laws against it.

The head of Liberia’s national oil company, Christopher Neor, told VOA the Global Witness input is appreciated, but that the group’s recommendations are things the company has already initiated. He also said the government is working to ensure the proper systems are in place to root out corruption.

Global Witness campaigner Natalie Ashworth said the government has made some promising improvements to promote transparency and reform the oil industry, but she says these changes have been poorly implemented.

The report argues that without true reform, any oil wealth could destabilize Liberia’s economy as corrupt officials and companies try to profit.

Indeed, many experts talk about what they call the “oil curse,” a phrase that refers to countries suffering from increased violence, poverty, authoritarianism, pollution and corruption after beginning to export oil.

Neor said the timing of the report is “troubling,” with Liberia set to hold national elections in October. He said the country is in a fragile state and that the United Nations, African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS are all concerned about stability in the region.

Liberia is still recovering from 14 years of civil unrest and war that ended in 2003. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president in the country’s first post-war polls in 2005.