THE NATIONAL OIL COMPANY of Liberia finds itself in a major public relations nightmare over one of the speakers invited at the oil company’s six-day roundtable draft petroleum law consultation.

ESTRADA J. BERNARD III, a grand nephew of the sitting President, is currently in his last year at South Anchorage High School, where he is an honors student, varsity athlete, and student leader. But many Liberians are puzzled over whether he possesses the right experience and knowledge to serve as an expert on petroleum and a draft legislation which will decide Liberia’s future.

WHILE WE take note of the impressive bio presented by NOCAL on the young Bernard suggesting that Mr. Bernard began his study of resource management during Anchorage School District Gifted Mentorship with Malcolm Roberts, founder of Malcolm B. Roberts & Associates, a firm with expensive experience working on issues of natural resource management; that their research has led them to determine ways in which resources around the globe can be managed, and how the idea of The Commons can be applied to societies around the world; that Mr. Bernard authored a paper for the Institute of the North (a public policy forum), entitled: “Resource Management in Sub-Saharan Africa: Alaskan Parallels with Liberia,” we are still of the conviction that NOCAL was wrong to give him such a platform to contribute to Liberia’s budding oil sector.

FOR ONE THING, the oil company has spent millions of dollars over the past few years sending scores of Liberians to universities around the world to improve their knowledge of the sector. Did NOCAL really need a high school student to tell Liberia how to manage or preserve its budding oil sector.

JACQUELINE KHOURY, Director to the Board of NOCAL, sought to dismiss the issue when pressed by reporters last week, by saying NOCAL was making use of the clause of the draft NOCAL law that talks about citizens’ participation.

ACCORDING TO KHOURY Liberia has a Citizen's participation clause in that law and that NOCAL is now drying to develop how this clause gives direct benefits to each and every citizen prompting a request to the government of Alaska to provide the experts. “In the course of that, I saw young Bernard on the internet. Liberia pays nothing for their expertise; they were all, including the young man, given to us by the state of Alaska to help us with our process.”

WE ARE TROUBLED by Ms. Khoury’s sudden disappointment that the media is focusing too much on the family connection of young Bernard when she stated: “This is the most important conversation that we will have for the next 15 to 30 years. Let’s focus on how we will achieve the maximum benefit of our new law so we can now fund education, health, social welfare, roads, and transportation and put funds aside for our people that are the focus of our conversation, thank you.”

WHAT MS. KHOURY failed to recollect is the nagging controversy regarding the first family’s role in the country’s budding oil sector, bolstered by a new sensitive but unclassified report by Liberia’s stakeholders suggesting that political patronage and family ties is still strong in Liberia with elites having a stronger connection in protecting their personal and business affairs and with such ties extending in the employment sector. States the report: “Only a small fraction of Liberia’s relatively small population of 3.7 million operates in the formal political, governance, and economic sphere. As a result, kinship ties among those elites are strong, and everyone knows one another and their personal and business affairs. There is a cultural trend toward hiring people that you know well and not creating a stir when a family member, friend, colleague, or even an acquaintance does something that is clearly wrong or illegal. Likewise, many interviewees told the LGSS Team that the trend in Liberia's to “live and let live”.

WE HAVE NO reason to doubt the potential of young Estrada Bernard but we do feel extremely disappointed that NOCAL has wasted a lot of money on a roundtable discussion that is unlikely to reap anything substantial for Liberia, now or in the future. Both NOCAL and the legislative branch of government have failed the people of Liberia with this roundtable and must remedy the situation before it gets too late. A stitch in time could save Liberia from a lot of headaches in the future.