Johnsonville, Monrovia – The news that the National Oil Company of Liberia (Nocal) had delivered two much-needed latrines and a water well hand pump to his community came as a shock to Melvin C. Bettie, Commissioner of the Johnsonville township.
“This sounds very strange to me that NOCAL has projects in this township,” says Commissioner Bettie recently showing a reporter around the community. “There is no project that takes place in Johnsonville that is not to my knowing.”
In its latest investigation into the Community Responsibility projects that Nocal claims on its website, Front Page Africa went in search of the latrines and hand pump that Nocal describes as follows:
“At the request of the Johnsonville community, NOCAL participated in the building of latrines and a water well hand pump. NOCAL worked with the Johnsonville community to fund the construction of two latrines and one water well hand pump for community dwellers in and around the township of Johnsonville. This initiative provided much needed safe drinking water and sanitary latrines for the people of this township.”
Nocal did not reply to questions about the whereabouts of the latrines and pump, so Front Page Africa visited every one of the 17 communities that make up the Johnsonville area to inquire about the project. Not one community knew anything about it.
Johnsonville Commissioner Bettie insisted there was no way the project happened without his knowledge. “Even NGOs when they come to do projects without coming to the commissioner’s office to inform us as to the quality of project they want to do, we put stop to it because this forms part of our Terms of Reference,” he said. From his office in central Johnsonville commissioner Bettie shows a reporter a UNICEF project a block away that he says he stopped for two months until the proper procedure of passing through the Office of the Commissioner was followed.
“I am sticking to that in Johnsonville,” Commissioner Bettie says. “I am straight to the letter with that so my community leaders are informed to inform my office as to what is happening in their communities. NOCAL is a very big institution and if they were doing something I will know.”
The news of the claims on Nocal’s website also came as a surprise to Sekou Kanneh, the Legislative Representative for this District Number 2 in Montserrado County. “Well as far as I know, and my office is concerned, I have no idea where NOCAL built any hand pump or latrines in my district as a whole and to be specific Johnsonville,” says Representative Kanneh.
With a growing population of over 50,000 people, Johnsonville Township, situated outside the Capitol Monrovia, is no exception to the numerous problems of bad roads, no electricity, lack of safe drinking water, bad sanitary conditions that plague almost all townships.
One of the largest townships in Montserrado, with seventeen different communities and other sub-communities, almost all lacking latrines according to Commissioner Bettie. As a result, his people constantly plead with his office to appeal to NGOs to construct latrines for them. Commissioner Beattie was visibly angered at Nocal’s assertions it had brought latrines to the Johnsonville Township, saying it was a misrepresentation of the facts. He said for an institution such as Nocal that was there to share wealth among Liberians, to say they have done what they know they have not, was unacceptable to him.
“We are downhearted because we expect NOCAL, one of the entities that is supposed to help this nation to erect some developmental agenda, but we feel so bad that since they existed there is no project that has been carried out in any part of Johnsonville,” Commissioner Beattie says. “I only can remember they came one time and distributed t-shirts and footballs at the school and they left. Within the community here there is no project carry out by NOCAL”
Nocal was previously seen as a beacon of hope for Liberia’s future generation. It is now racked by a financial crisis and laying off many staff. In a major Front Page Africa investigation reporters have found many of the projects that Nocal has funded over the last few years have delivered little to Liberians. A community center in Vai Town shut down within a year. Affordable Housing units in Buchanan and Sanniquellie have been priced too high for ordinary Liberians and have ended up the hands of government agencies.
Johnsonville’s residents and community leaders expressed disbelief upon hearing of Nocal’s claims in their community.
Alpha Momo, Chairman of the Old Field Block C- Community in lower Johnsonville expressed his frustration saying he wants Nocal to make real the assertions made on its website and provide his community of over 9,000 inhabitants with latrines which they are desperately in need of.
Charman Momo said the pit latrines his community is using now are all in a deplorable condition and were constructed by IOL. He pleaded with Nocal to work in the interests of the people instead of “lying to them.”
Representative Kanneh, a member of the Unity Party, called on Nocal to show him where in Johnsonville it has carried out such development because, he says, water shortage in Johnsonville is a major concern. He specifically points out Naclays Town and City View Communities, where, he says, residents awake as early as three am to fetch water during the dry season.
Representative Kanneh says negotiations are nearing an end for an $US18,000 project in which the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation will connect residents from Wein Town to Rehab community as part of his legislative project.
“I challenge NOCAL to prove that they carried out the project and my office was informed beyond all reasonable doubt,” he says. “The essence of the Executive and Legislative branches (of government is that) we are supposed to be coordinating but it seems as though there is no coordination on the part of NOCAL to the legislature and District Number 1 to be specific.”
Representative Kanneh said he once heard from his Lower Johnsonville Naclays Town community leader that NOCAL had promised to give a little over $US100,000 to rehabilitate their road. They also wanted some funding from the County Development Fund to help with the project. Representative Kanneh says he couldn’t say whether or not NOCAL provided that money as that negotiation was not done through his office. Kana says the road in question remained in a deplorable state until the Armed Forces of Liberia rehabilitated it last year after Representative Kanneh’ s intervention with the Ministry for Public Works.
The failure of multiple Nocal projects uncovered in Front Page Africa’s investigation did not come as a surprise to one of the community watchdogs working in the area, Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL). Anderson D. Miamen, program officer and acting director of CENTAL, says the projects’ failures were symptomatic of the poor financial management that had led to Nocal’s financial crisis.
But it seems the obstacles to accountability in Liberia’s oil sector go beyond Nocal itself. CENTAL had its own obstacles in monitoring these projects. When asked why it had not been challenging Nocal to account for these projects, Miamen said CENTAL did not have the funding and capacity to do so.
“We would have loved to really do a lot, be involved with all of the sectors, look at all of the transparency and accountability issues around the country but because of constraints and capacity gaps we can’t and it brings about some disappointment,” said Miamen.
This story was produced in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation/New Narratives Liberia Oil Reporting Project, which is part of the Foundation’s pan-African programme Wealth of Nations (wealth-of-nations.org). See more at www.newnarratives.org