Thursday, November 16, 2006

(Source: Standard Times on line)

It is quite clear that until this country can produce oil, the journey to economic recovery will remain arduous. This stems from the fact that a considerable proportion of the country’s foreign earnings goes into the importation of crude oil, and with the unstable nature of oil prices on the world market still a problem, the need for local production of the commodity becomes imperative. It is in light of this that the people are calling on the government to intensify the search for oil in the country, particularly in deep waters where there is growing evidence of potentially large accumulation of oil and gas, and as a first step, the government should embark on a major revision of the legal and regulatory framework for oil and gas exploration and eventual exploitation, to make it more attractive to investors. What the public want to know at this point in time is what has been achieved since the government reported over five years ago about oil exploration in Sierra Leone, or whether there is nothing to write home about. It was reported that an independent consultant in oil exploration, Robertson Safi, who is also the Managing Director of Sierra Leone International Trade and Investment Company based in Freetown, established a link with a US based company, T.G.S. NOPEC, a leading global provider of non-exclusive seismic data and associated products to the oil and gas industry, to search for oil in Sierra Leone. For this venture, a memorandum of understanding between the government of Sierra Leone and the above company was signed on the 11thAugust 2000, following which a government delegation comprising of professional heads of the Mines ministry led by the then Deputy Minister of Mines, Foday Yum Kella, who is now Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to The Gambia, visited the exploration ship, M.V. Nanhan at the Queen Elizabeth Quay for a trip out to sea, to begin a survey that should last for six weeks, at no cost to the government. Data collected from the survey was to have been processed in a laboratory in Houston, Texas and the result, if positive, sold to interested leading oil companies worldwide in partnership with the government of Sierra Leone. While the people welcome the government’s move on the oil situation, they nevertheless wish to remind the government that this is not the first time they have been told about the search for oil, which began in the era of Siaka Stevens. Nothing positive has ever come out of the explorations, and unless this present government takes positive steps to ensure that the resources of the country are used for the benefit of the people, our dreams of becoming a prosperous state will only come from individual hard work and perseverance. What is baffling the public is the conspicuous silence on the part of government on the outcome of that survey and the role of Mr. Safi, and the current state of affair with regards to all the other oil explorations ongoing in the country. The Kabbah government owes an explanation to the public, which has the right to know and now demands an explanation from the officials involved. Despite the efforts of the minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Kadie Sesay to remove the long petrol queues in the country by introducing a National Petroleum Product Strategic Stock (PPSS) programme, more effort is required to ensure a sustainable stock over any period of time. This programme is funded through a newly established strategic stock fund within the existing industry’s pricing systems. The fund is four million United State dollars, and is locally funded without any foreign assistance. With this new initiative, Sierra Leone is approaching the stage of becoming one of the strongest nations with abundant fuel reserves to meet any fuel crises. This initiative is very laudable and commendable, but nevertheless the government should try to ensure that we produce our own oil product. This is not to suggest that the present government cannot be trusted to keep its decision on oil exploration. The issue however is that it will be in the government’s own interest to be able to pursue this policy and succeed in putting Sierra Leone on the list of oil producing countries. This is because, the oil and gas sector holds the key to accelerated development of the country, and it is therefore important that everything possible is done to provide the right environment for it to flourish.