By Jesefu M. Keita,Jr.

 The Man-Sumo Kupee:

Hon. Sumo Kupee, Managing Director Liberia Petroleum Refining Company as of May 2015
Hon. Sumo Kupee, Managing Director Liberia Petroleum Refining Company as of May 2015

Hon. Sumo Kupee is the most recent former Senator of the Food-basket county of Lofa; a position he held for 9 consecutive years providing qualitative representation and leadership for the third populated county in the country. As a son of Zolowo town, Mr. Kupee has been one leader that has remained steadfast in ensuring that peace, tranquility and development take root in LofaCounty since the crisis came to an end a decade ago. In concert with other prominent sons and daughters of Lofa, he has honestly worked in reconciling the people of Lofa County. He has been a champion for various developmental initiatives including poverty eradication, capacity building for young people, humanitarian assistance, and donations to worthy causes among others. Through the ‘Sumo Kupee Humanitarian and Education Foundation’, the New Managing Director at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) has striven to provide humanitarian assistance and educational aid to the people of Liberia in general and citizens of Lofa in particular.

Prior to being elected senator, Mr. Kupee served in various capacities at the Ministry of Finance, beginning as Commissioner at the Bureau of Income Tax and subsequently progressing to Special Assistant and Policy Adviser to the Minister of Finance. Mr. Kupee later became Commissioner of Customs and Excise; a position he held immediately prior to elections in 2005. With an MSc in Development Economics from the People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR), Kupee taught at the University of Liberia from 1986-1997, and served as Chairman of the Department of Economics for 6 unbroken years.

At the national level, he has been a voice against wanton abuse of public resources and indeed presided over the Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee of the Senate for several years. As a development economist of professorial orientation, Mr. Kupee is a fiscally discipline personality with a large heart for national development and that is why his role as the then Liberian Senate’s Chairperson on Ways, Means , Finance and Budget Committee saw key focus being paid to the Infrastructure, Education, Health and Agriculture sectors of the country.Summarily, one can authentically concludes that Kupee’s tenure as head of the Finance and Budget Committee saw the scrupulous monitoring of the national budget’s approval and implementation process, drafting and passage of the public financial management law and improvement in the existing investment incentive code intended to bring about economic revitalization, thus facilitating poverty reduction. Also, he and his committee understood the importance of decentralizing the budget and therefore made sure that the national budget was county-sensitive and efficiently allocated.

LPRC’s Challenges:

As a public corporation, the LPRC has not been too forthcoming as far as its operations have been concerned. Predicated upon this state of affairs, the Liberian people have not been too comfortable with these developments and seem to have lost considerable confidence in the LPRC’s operations. Two cases in point are the infamous Nigerian and Kuwaiti oil deals (one under Harry Greaves and the other under T. Nelson William) both arrangements from their origins remained dark secrets with so many intriguing questions yet unanswered. Even the Japanese oil grant and the way it was managed with the resignation of Cllr. Negbalee Warner coupled with revelations that followed did not help matters at all!

Thus, opening up for public scrutiny the way the LPRC does business will be one challenging but necessarily required decision that the new Managing Director will have to embark upon in setting the new corporate management tone at the Company. Managing Director Kupee should prioritize transparency, accountability and financial probity at the LPRC. This will go a long way in rebranding the corporation and once more restoring public confidence in the downstream sector of the country.

Another challenge the corporation has had over the years is the untoward activities of non-licensed and unregulated sources involved in the sale of petroleum products nationwide. In the absence of a Consumer Protection Law in our country, the LPRC as the downstream sector regulator will have to take keen interest in making sure that non-licensed and unregulated makeshift gas station operators are removed from the market for the good of public consumers. The risks in having these people dealing with a commodity with high combustible elements are just too high to let go! Besides, most of these unlicensed sole proprietors are often found in the habit of price-hiking and at times using dilutants to increase the quantity of the products they sell thereby putting at risks unsuspecting vehicle owners who buy fuel, gas and other lubricants from them. The LPRC must put into place a robust monitoring and inspectorate system that must collaborate with national security agencies mainly the police to ensure that illegal operators are stopped.

Possibilities worth Considering by the New Managing Director:

The Corporation has to do more in making sure that petroleum service providers (PSPs) are properly regulated and monitored including the inspections of their facilities such as Gas stations, petroleum storage depots and LPG filling plants to ensure conformity with best practice and protocols in the petroleum downstream industry. Another key area that should claim the attention of the New Managing Director should be the initiation and conduct of investigations into standards of quality and quantity of petroleum products offered to consumer on the Liberian market. Undertaking round the clock inspections of fuel stations across the country to guarantee the integrity of fuel sold on the market will go a long way in checkmating unscrupulous business practices and further assure the safety of the consuming public.

The New MD will also have to continue to marshal on the highly commendable “Liberianization” policy initiated by his predecessor in person of Mr. T. Nelson William. If there is nothing good that anybody can say about Mr. William, his overwhelming desire to champion Liberian entrepreneurs in the oil sector is quite commendable and this has to continue. Under his stewardship, we have today at least (5) Liberian-owned companies that are not just wholesaling and retailing but are also importing petroleum products into the country. We think by the time Sumo Kupee leaves the stage; there should be about 10 or more importers of Liberian origin. Imagine, if we were to replicate this feat in other meaningful sectors what the result would be in terms of wealth creation and lifting our people out of poverty. It is under T. Nelson Williams’ watch that a truly Liberian-owned company; Amanita and Sons was able to sign its biggest home-based contract with AureusMining Company–a mouthwatering deal amounting to US $100M with a lifespan of 7 years.

Fast-tracking the Ganta Terminal Project

It is indeed a welcoming development that the former Managing Director and his team planned to undertake a US $ 9.5 M rehabilitation and expansion of the Ganta Oil Terminal in Nimba County. We think such strategic policy direction is in the right direction and that the new Managing Director will seize upon this momentum and ensure that practical steps are taken to bring this into fruition in the fullness of time. When completed, the Ganta Storage Terminal will be poled position to serve southeastern Liberia. In the long run, it will also be a great idea if Zwedru and Buchanan are considered as locations for additional storage terminals. By this, Zwedru would then be able to serve RiverGee and Maryland Counties, while Buchanan would serve RiverCess and Sinoe Counties respectively.

Planning of Petroleum Products Inventory for Strategic and Operational Purposes

Monitoring and planning of petroleum products inventory situation in keeping with Government’s key policy to ensure adequate reserve stocks for strategic and operational purposes is more than necessary. Petroleum is a national security commodity just like our staple food-rice is and having an adequate reserve at all times is quite important for the survivability of the state and its machineries. Having strategic petroleum reserve helps to engender price stability, economic continuity, and assure confidence in the market.

For the good of the reading public, the global strategic petroleum reserves (GSPR) refer to crude oil inventories or stockpiles held by the government of a particular country as well as private industry for the purpose of providing economic and national security during an energy crisis.

According to research conducted by this writer, the United States of America strategic petroleum reserve is one of the largest strategic reserves in the world amounting to approximately 4.1 billion (650,000,000 m3) barrels of oil. 1.4 billion barrels of oil is government controlled while the remainder (2.7 billion barrels) is in the possession of private industry. Much of the remainders are held by the other 26 members of the International Energy Agency. However, other non-IEA countries being led by China have commenced establishing their own strategic petroleum reserves. Since current consumption levels are neighboring 0.1 billion barrels (16,000,000 m3) per day, in the case of a dramatic worldwide drop in oil field output as suggested by some peak oil analysts, the strategic petroleum reserves are unlikely to last for more than a few months.

Despite this analysis of strategic reserves not being able to provide long-sustaining cushion beyond just few months, the IEA requirement reserves for its 28 members is that they all must have a strategic petroleum reserve equaling 90 days of prior year’s net oil imports for their respective countries; and it is only net-exporter members of the IEA are exempt from the reserve requirement. These include Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Regardless of the fact that Liberia is not yet a petroleum exporting country, it came as a welcoming development when it was recently announced at a MICAT press briefing by the former Managing Director that Liberia now has a storage capacity for 90 days. Truth be told, this is a major achievement and thanks to former T. Nelson William and his team for taking this bold step. The next step now is to make sure that these storage facilities are filled with required reserve that could avert the grounding of our economy for at least three months. In effect, this is a plus that the Sumo Kupee-led administration must built upon for the good of our country and economy!

Bigger and bolder vision for the future

LPRC's Ganta Oil terminal
LPRC’s Ganta Oil terminal

A bigger and bolder vision of refining petroleum product in country should our discovery oil in commercial quantity ultimately becomes a reality is one earthmoving initiative that will strike symbiotic chord with our middle income ambition dated the year 2030. Having the ability to plan ahead and then translate that planning into actuality is the essence of managerial astuteness.

The LPRC has to be cautious and build up its capital base for growth. This is normal commercial practice. Having a strong capital base, can only lead to better business prospects and opportunities and ultimately profitability. In effect, the next big thing for the LPRC is transforming crude oil into various types of petroleum products so as to positively impact the pricing, availability and affordability.

Re-enforcing Public Awareness and Education about Petroleum Products

Another important input we like to make at this juncture is that the LPRC needs to give keen consideration to the establishment of a Consumer Education Month or Week. This recommendation is intended to annually have a particular period of the year at which time the company will have the opportunity to educate Liberians from all walks of life about the use of various sorts of petroleum products ranging from gasoline to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the country. This public education venture will go a long way in educating consumers about the ‘dos’ and “don’ts’ associated with petroleum products thus avoiding disaster such as fire and burns.

Conclusion:

The Liberian Refining Petroleum Company is at a very important crossroad as a public corporation as the country moves toward the consolidation of its democratic credential by going to the polls in 2017. In spite of the changing of the guards, the company has to remain business-minded making sure that its balance sheet is intact and operational decision-making is forward-thinking. How the LPRC manages external political influences without necessarily offending very powerful people and yet continue being focused on implementing its 5-years strategic plan as well as remaining competitive and the doer of good business is a challenge that the new administration has to overcome.

Subsequently, bearing in mind that the issues and recommendations tabled in this article are not ends in themselves but rather means to successful ends, I am of the conviction that LPRC is bound to strike gold by paying keen attention to the germane issues we have raised. The writer is of the view that attaching relevance to this article will further enable the LPRC truly fulfills its mission which is “To support the industrialization and socio-economic development of Liberia by producing, refining, storing, supplying and distributing petroleum and petroleum products in a safe environment.”

The writer is an independent Development Communications and Management Consultant. He has more than 10 years of professional working experience both within and outside the public sector. He holds a BSc. Degree in Economics with minor in Political Science and a Masters in Public Sector Management from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA)-School of Governance and Leadership. He can be reached via e-mail at: bossokorbama2005@yahoo.co.uk or via +231 (6) 533466 / +231 (77) 533466

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