Monrovia (AFP) – Liberia’s Senate ordered Wednesday a “forensic” audit of the bankrupt state oil company and vowed to punish anyone found to have negligently handled its finances.
The National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) laid off its entire staff — including the board — in August as falling oil prices hitting the sector hard.
NOCAL said it could no longer afford the “administrative and operational bills” for managers and low-level workers alike, and would later rehire for a downsized operation.
Some 200 people lost their jobs, a source at the company told AFP, although the president and some of his vice-presidents were handed generous retirement packages.
The Liberian Senate said in a statement that NOCAL’s dual roles as producer and regulator were “a clear recipe for the disaster we are facing today”.
If called for “…a forensic audit of the National Oil Company. All those responsible for abuse of public trust should be punished,” the statement said.
NOCAL has been one of the major local contributors to the Liberian economy, as well as the country’s reconstruction programme following back to back civil wars spanning the 1990s.
NOCAL’s announcement prompted President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to apologise in a televised address in which she admitted: “I am the head so I take the blame. But we will fix it.”
There was no timetable for the audit but Senator Varney Sherman, of the ruling Unity Party, said action would be taken against “those who betrayed the public trust”.
“Corporate waste is an offence and it should be punished. When you are liable for corporate waste you resign,” he told the chamber.
Liberia’s oil sector is still emerging, with companies such as US-based Anadarko and energy giant Chevron beginning offshore drilling in recent years.
Hopes were high that oil discoveries would boost the economy and rebuilding efforts after the ravages of 13 years of conflict that left more than 250,000 people dead.
However, falling oil and gas prices have dealt a blow to efforts to develop the sector at a time when the economy has also been devastated by the Ebola epidemic