By James Butty
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) Tuesday sacked its entire staff of 200, saying it did so to save itself from collapse due to declining oil prices. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf endorsed the cuts, saying they will reduce costs and put NOCAL on a more viable financial footing.
A statement issued Tuesday said Sirleaf instructed NOCAL’s board of directors to restructure for organizational efficiency and effectiveness.
Rodney Sieh, publisher of Liberia’s FrontPage Africa newspaper and online magazine, said the reductions are not surprising given NOCAL’s reputation as a dumping ground for political appointees, its bloated staff and mismanagement.
“This action by the president involving the decision by the Board of Directors for the National Oil Company of Liberia has been long in the making. As you may recall, some time ago, we reported that there were some problems within the oil sector, that there were signs that the management were paying extravagant travels outside the country, that they were misspending the money intended for the oil sector,” he said.
Sirleaf said “despite the obvious decline in revenue that began in late 2013, NOCAL continued hiring staff at an alarming rate with exorbitant benefits resulting in the current wage bill of over $7 million (US) per annum.”
Sieh described as a contradiction NOCAL’s claim that the mass dismissals were the result of declining oil prices.
“Although there are falling oil prices, mind you, Liberia has not discovered commercial quantity of oil. So, the issue of oil prices dropping is a non-issue in this matter. The main problem is that the management was not running the company properly. There are a lot of issues behind the scene that were not addressed,” Sieh said.
Sieh said Sirleaf’s support for the mass cutbacks shows she was aware all along about the problems within the sector. He said that although Liberia is experiencing high unemployment, the sacking of the entire staff may help reduce NOCAL’s bloated staffing at a time when Liberia has not yet discovered oil.
“NOCAL has become the dumping ground for political appointees. Liberia hasn’t discovered oil yet, so it’s a very small company. The perception is that there were too many people in the company anyway. Now, the president has suggested a more realistic number for NOCAL. She said it shouldn’t be more than 50 people in that country,” Sieh said.