Throwing Gasoline Onto the Fire
After emerging from a brutal, 14-year civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, Liberia has barely paused before wrapping itself in a tight, corruption-filled embrace with Chevron. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has granted the company unprecedented contracts for offshore oil exploration and production, and she has traveled to Houston to be feted by Chevron executives.
Chevron is drilling in deepwater blocks 20 to 200 kilometers south of the capital of Monrovia and cover a combined area of 9,600 square kilometers. It is the largest oil concession in Liberia's history.
This exclusive access has prompted harsh criticism from the country's legislature and from civil society. It has even brought a highly publicized hunger strike against Chevron by a local Christian preacher, Pastor Wilmot Yarlatai, who accuses Chevron of stoking the fires of division, corruption and oppression. Yarlatai has noted the frequent reports of Chevron's alleged involvement in bribery of government officials, including President Sirleaf's son, Robert Sirleaf.
"These violations have the potential to create the recurrence of another civil war when you discover and report a well that has commercial quantity of petroleum or natural gas, especially after the departure of the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission in Liberia. Nigeria and Sudan are perfect examples of our concern; due to corrupt concession agreements in the petroleum industry, both countries are experiencing blood bath, war and instability," Yarlatai said.
Learn more »
In-Depth Documentation of Chevron's Abuses
Two recent reports have laid bare Chevron's alleged crimes in Liberia.
A 2011 report by Global Witness revealed Chevron's involvement in a chain of oil-company corruption that reached to the highest levels of Liberian government. According to the report by Global Witness, a widely respected, London-based research and advocacy organization, Chevron was tightly linked to bribery of government officials by the National Oil Company (NOCAL). The report, Curse or Cure?, can be viewed here.
In 2012, the nonprofit news organization ProPublica reported more details about Chevron's alleged involvement in corruption in Liberia.
The investigation begins:
Last July, five months before she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf welcomed Chevron CEO John Watson into the executive mansion to herald one of the largest investments in her country since the end of its devastating civil war in 2003: Chevron's purchase of the rights to explore for oil off the coast of the West African nation.
(...) But in the judgment of one of the Liberian government's own anti-corruption watchdogs, Chevron's investment had been tainted even before the multinational oil giant paid its first dollar. According to a report of the Auditor General of the Liberian General Auditing Commission (GAC), a series of bribes – less than $120,000 when added altogether – was allegedly paid in 2006 and 2007 so that the legislature would grant two small firms the rights to four oil concessions off Liberia's coast. One of those companies, which purchased rights to three offshore properties, sold its concessions to Chevron.
No one has been prosecuted or charged with wrongdoing for the alleged bribes. According to a cache of U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by ProPublica under the Freedom of Information Act, both Sirleaf and the U.S. State Department pushed for the three allegedly tainted concessions to be sold to Chevron even after the allegations became public.
(...) What happened after the alleged bribes became public is a tale of compromise and competing priorities that shows how hard it is to root out alleged corruption even when a Nobel-laureate president has made that one of her main goals, and even when the United States has poured more than $84 million since 2007 into good governance and anti-corruption programs.