The maxim “knowledge is power” has been made manifest by the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) as the tripartite organization takes its seventh reconciliation report, covering the period July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, and it eighth reconciliation report, covering the period July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, to citizens in Rivercess, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Montserrado counties to inform them about the content of the two reports in terms of the tracking of revenues generated by the government from the extractive sector.
According to the head of the team, Mr. George Dennis, the outreach was intended to enlighten citizens about the amount of money generated from the extractive sectors as indicated in receipts from the companies as well as from the government through the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). Mr. Dennis said the process is not meant to incite the citizens against their leaders for not using the generated money for the improvement of their lives but to engender fruitful dialogue between the counties’ leadership and the citizens in order to ensure that their natural resources can be a blessing instead of a curse. “Direct government revenue from the extractive sector decreased from US$185.96 million in fiscal year 2012/2013 to US$135.30 million and to US$100.73 million in fiscal year 2014/2015 amounting to US$50.66 million and US$34.58 million drops in revenues, respectively,” he indicated. The LEITI official noted decision to take the two reports to the people in rural Liberia was based on the fact that citizens in that part of the country do not have access to valuable information via internet, newspaper or radio. Hence, the voluminous document was summarized in order to enable the ordinary people to have a fair appreciation of the way their natural resources are reaping millions of dollars. In Rivercess County, where citizens of all walks of life turned up to participate in the public awareness exercise, the participants expressed delight in the engagement initiated by the tripartite organization and vowed to use the information contained in the two reports to ask their lawmakers regarding their share of the money collected from the extractive sector especially the forest and oil industry; because Rivercess has many forest concessionaires and Chevron is drilling Oil Block 13 offshore of the southeastern county. They maintained that the amount reported by LEITI is an eye-opener because they did not know that some of the communities mentioned in the reports were said to have been closed. The citizens recommended that LEITI should include names of companies that refused to pay their reconciled differences as identified in the reconciliation report. As part of effort to continue the nationwide awareness initiative, the team held another meeting at the Youth Center in Buchanan, Grand Bassa, where citizens re-echoed the need for LEITI to name and shame concessionaires that are in the business of refusing to pay their taxes to government. The Bassa citizens intimated that the summary report should also include the punitive actions taken against delinquent companies so that others can be deterred. “The information provided by LEITI is very important because we have reliance to engage our leaders on the amount we are supposed to received from these revenues coming from our natural resources,” the Bassa citizens told the gathering. Participants representing the youth and disabled communities frowned on the lack of openness in the management of the country’s resources in terms of equal distribution for every citizen to benefit. For the citizens of Margibi County who converged at the Youth Center in Kakata, the information provided by LEITI in the two reports is very useful at this time in the nation’s history as elections draw close because it will help them make informed decisions at the polls. They recommended that LEITI should make findings from their audit of the differences in the payment a separate report so that citizens can have a better understanding. The citizens believe that taking the report to them and explaining it will enhance their ability to engage their leaders constructively since they do not have access to the internet and regular newspaper publications.