Rich oil contracts put President "Ma Ellen" in critics crosshairs (39683)

May 8 (GIN) – With lucrative oil contracts in the works, critics are taking preemptive aim at Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf whose son, Robert Sirleaf, is chairman of the Board of the national oil company, serving without pay.

At a press conference this week, the critics, who want to remake Liberia’s oil laws along the lines of Ghana and Nigeria, claimed that Sirleaf’s pro bono work is just a scam to avoid paying taxes to the U.S. where he is still allegedly a citizen. Sirleaf is a banker who has worked with the oil industry, according to his mother, the President.

Veteran lawmaker Rep. James Biney questioned whether Sirleaf is accountable to Liberia if he works without pay. “We want him to be more accountable,” Biney said. “Let’s pay him so that he can be more accountable.”

Charges and countercharges have been flying around the oil sector as the country begins talks with ExxonMobil Corp. and Overseas Petroleum Ltd. The deal on the table would give Exxon 70 percent control of an offshore oil block.

The talks will take place in London next week and include NOCAL, the national oil body, CEO Randolph A.K.W. McClain, as well as Liberia’s ministers of justice, finance and lands, mines and energy, according to NOCAL. A full audit has also been pledged for the year 2011 and a budget has been published for the first time in NOCAL’s 12 year history, addressing demands for more transparency by the agency.