Snowe’s humiliation? The devil’s in the details
By J.M. Cassell
Thursday, November 1, 2012
As much as I struggle to make sense of Montserrado County’s representative Edwin Snowe’s press conference this week where he launched a scathing attack on President Sirleaf and Nocal’s chairman Robert Sirleaf, I however couldn’t come across any nugget of reasoning or rhyme or reason for his actions. After listening to his tirade on the radio, It was obvious that the press conference was all about him and how his feelings were hurt and how “humiliated” he was after he introduced the notorious Russian energy company Gazprom to the NOCAL chairman and was subsequently shut out of a meeting between the President, Chairman Sirleaf and members of Gazprom. Perhaps, Mr. snowe wanted the Liberian public to shoulder his “humiliation” so a press conference, in his mind, was in order. This is arrogance at its most extreme. Never mind the optics of a government official brazen involvement in an obvious conflict of interest, but to call a press conference under the guise of being the abused victim and providing very little to support his claims was a classic case of a conduct unbecoming of a government official. But it got even more interesting when I read the transcript of his press conference…surely, the devil was in the details… my first reaction was…Gazprom. Really?.
Never mind Snowe’s blatant conflict of interest, but did he even care to research Gazprom before taking up their cause for owning an oil block in Liberia? If Gazprom called Mr. Snowe out of the blue as he claims, wouldn’t it be a responsibility of his as a representative of the Liberian people to , at the minimum, do some sort of due diligence by checking out the reputation and track record of this company? Unlike Chevron, Anandarko, Exxon Mobil and other publicly traded western energy companies, Gazprom is a state-owned entity owned by the Russian government , has a strong KGB connection and is known for global bribery and corruption. Google Gazprom and corruption and there’s a laundry list of articles. Gazprom is in a legal wrangle with the European Commission and the government of Ukraine for its unorthodox business methods. Even Russia’s Putin who has been deemed corruptible by the western media has warned the management of Gazprom of dire and punitive consequences if they do not change their culture of mismanagement and corruption. This is surely a company with an excess baggage that Liberia cannot afford.
Honorable Snowe , according to news reports ,claimed that he was intent on exploiting the potential riches of Liberia’s black gold, much like the Nigerian owner of Oranto Petroleum who through some under the table deals with Liberian legislators was able to win a bid for an oil block. The Nigerian later sold shares from that bid to Chevron and walked away with about $200 million dollars, according to those familiar with the deal. This was the deal that led the London-based NGO Global witness to urge the government to commence a fundamental reform of the country’s oil industry. President Sirleaf stepped in and brought a top down overhaul of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) with an emphasis on transparency and good management. As a result of that national shame brought on us by greedy legislators and probably some corrupt elements of the NOCAL at the time, the president brought in Robert Sirleaf as a pro-bono chairman to help right the ship and institute some needed reforms and transparency standards.
Robert Sirleaf who has been pilloried by a small minority of Liberians who relish the corrupt past of the Taylor and Doe regimes, is a one time executive director of Wachovia Securities, a North Carolina-based securities firm that was acquired by a major American banking institution, Wells Fargo. Prior to being acquired by Wells Fargo, Wachovia Securities had $1.7 trillion (TRILLION with a T) retail client assets under management. Wachovia was then the second largest brokerage firm in the United States of America, so to question Robert’s qualifications as chairman of a little upstart agency in a developing country is a fool’s errand. As a former Wall Street maven, Mr. Sirleaf is over-qualified for the position he now holds. So the nonsense coming from those who do not understand the oil industry and claim that the absence of oil industry experience from his portfolio somehow makes him a bad fit…is just that. Nonsense. I pored through dozens of oil industry executives profiles on their websites and about 90 percent had no degrees in the petroleum sciences.
What they did have in common with Robert are terminal degrees in management as well as management experience at the U.S. corporate level. If you have an exceptional management acumen, especially at the level that Robert was in the states… being chairman of NOCAL might not be much of a challenge, or as they say in the states, it’s a no-brainer. I had to mention this because Mr. Snowe made the dubious claim that Robert was not a fit for the chairmanship of NOCAL because of his lack of oil industry expertise. No, Mr. Snowe, if you have strong managerial and negotiation skills as well as a big picture focus you can run basically any organization from a management perspective; that’s why the CEO of Pepsi John Skully, a soft beverage maker became the CEO of Apple Computers , a computer manufacturer. Skully knew precious little about computers, his goal was to make that company profitable . Skills and experience at that level are transferrable from company to company no matter the industry. Perhaps a better example for Mr. Snowe is the Liberian born Vice president of Coca Cola who was recruited away from Pillsbury, the flour manufacturer. He traded a flour maker for a soft drink maker. His new industry was of no consequence to the portfolio of skills he was bringing to his new employer. That’s how corporations function in the U.S. He or she who has the skills will travel.
The oil and gas industry in West Africa is now the focus of the entire world, hence Liberia will be seeing it share of companies of all shades beating their path to our shores to make quick profit at the expense of the people of Liberia. Of course representatives of these companies would also find kindred spirits in the person of Mr. Snowe and others who aim to replicate the success of Oranto petroleum. It’s mission critical and paramount that NOCAL have an individual with the experience and temperament of Mr. Sirleaf who will drive a hard bargain in the national interest.
Additionally, in his tirade, Mr. Snowe did the unspeakable by introducing very personal documents, including bank account numbers and passport information of Mr. Sirleaf. This was gutter-sniping, sewage politics, something I thought was beneath someone of Snowe’s stature. If these acts were aimed at dislodging Mr. Sirleaf from NOCAL because of his patriotic and nationalist gatekeeping at the National Oil Company in order to allow the agency to be taken over by crooks, President sirleaf must remain resolute in her support for Robert Sirleaf. There are those who believe the oil company must model itself after Nigeria’s or Equatorial Guinea’s. Hopefully, with Robert, our model might be more of that of Norway, even if it hurts the feelings or” humiliate” government officials who have only their self-interest at heart.
JM Cassell is a former features editor of the New Liberian newspaper.
He is currently the President of Quality Resource Solutions, LLC, a Walnut Creek, California based pharmaceutical quality assurance recruiting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org