24 April Press Briefing Notes

Tuesday, 24th April 2012

Welcome to this Press Briefing

• The Executive Mansion has followed with keen interest comments from one Nimene Bestman that armed security men, particularly from the Special Security Service, invaded a parcel of land allegedly belonging to the Bestman family in the proximity of the Roberts International Airport with threats of violence against himself and his family. Interestingly, Mr. Bestman claimed that the men were led by the Presidential convoy.

Here is the actual story: On Wednesday, 18 April 2012, while on her way to the United States of America, President Sirleaf requested the Minister of Justice and Acting Chair of the Cabinet, who had escorted her to visit a construction site just a few yards away from the control tower at the RIA claimed by Mr. Nimene Bestman. The Justice Minister arrived at the construction site with her assigned bodyguards, inspected the scene, had no discussion or exchanges with anyone on the ground and departed, having noted her observations. It was therefore a surprise when Mr. Bestman was heard making accusations that the President’s convoy invaded his property and issued threats of violence against workers on the scene and members of his family.

With regards to the land being contested which Mr. Bestman puts at 800 acres, the Government of Liberia will shortly conduct a survey of the total land belonging to the airport, which is estimated at 5,000 acres, and determine the quantity of land that is actually needed for the modernization of the RIA consistent with the National Airport Master Plan that is currently being worked on.  The deed of the land in question dates back to the days of Pan American Airways. At the end of this process, the excess land will be disposed of and those legitimately belonging to individuals who can substantiate their claims will take possession of same. At the same time, Mr. Bestman’s construction site undermines airport security and travelers’ safety due to its close proximity to the airport tower and will definitely not be allowed. We believe that the continuous use of the name of the President by individuals making different kinds of claims may have motives that are clearly political, selfish and personal, and thus meant to undermine the Government’s drive to transform and develop the country. We want to encourage journalists to visit the area in question and verify for themselves the proximity of the construction site to the airport tower.
• There has been much talk not just about NOCAL and oil in Liberia, but also about how President Sirleaf and the NOCAL’s Board Chairman, Mr. Robert Sirleaf, are awarding oil contracts and oil blocks to investors. The Executive Mansion wishes to unequivocally state that these claims are not only false and misleading but meant to subject the President to blackmail and drive away investors. The negotiation of contracts, not just in the oil sector, takes a complete circle and process that starts at different stages of the Government structure and ends with the process of ratification by the National Legislature. Moreover, most of the oil contracts that are being discussed today were negotiated before Madam Sirleaf ascended to the Liberian Presidency. In fact, it is very important to remember that it was the President who put a halt to the awarding of oil contracts pending the completion of the reform process. Therefore, it is inconceivable that people would associate the President with any attempts to mortgage the oil resources of Liberia.

Additionally, it is untrue that the President and the NOCAL Board Chairman are negotiating and awarding oil contracts to investors because the legal process for awarding contracts does not permit that. In fact, the President, working with other branches of Government and  stakeholders, is simply striving to make the oil sector more open and transparent by eventually making amendments in the Petroleum Law and the law creating NOCAL, and also reviewing the existing oil deals for the benefit of the Liberian people. The President has said -- and we want to reiterate -- that NOCAL should engage the public more and provide the necessary information that will lay to rest rumors and speculations.

We would also like to draw the media’s attention to a press release issued today by Global Witness, who has been a vocal critic of the extractive industry, that it welcomes the reforms being undertaken by the Liberian Government in the oil sector.
• I wish to inform the media and the Liberian people that the new President of Malawi, Her Excellency Joyce Banda, will pay a two-day working visit to President Sirleaf on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 to 29. President Banda will spend the night in Monrovia and will depart on Sunday. Details of the visit will be announced later.