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Extraordinary letter from Shell whistleblower Dr John Huong

Because my stand on this matter in consonant with Shell Group Business Principles, its governance and with Malaysian national interests in mind, I made my concerns known internally at Shell. Shell made me feel that I had sinned for having a moral compass and a conscience.

My name is Dr John Huong. Until May 2003 I was a Shell geologist for almost 30 years – a management level employee of Shell Malaysia. I specialised in many areas of earth sciences including Micropalaeontology, Petrology, Sedimentology, Field Geology, Bio-Sequence Stratigraphy, Operation Geology, Exploration Geology, Reservoir Geology and Production Geology.  I am also conversant with Petrophysics, Petroleum Engineering (i.e. Well Engineering, Reservoir Engineering) and Petroleum Economics.  In the company, I belonged to the Malaysian Senior Staff Council (MSSC) and was once its Vice President.

My work involved being a contributor/producer for Shell Field Development Plans and scouting for Shell block biddings. I was for example in the early 1990’s involved in a Shell study of oil and gas basins at the Ural-Volga, Caspian and Siberia in the former Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) at the invitation of the Russian Oil & Gas Ministry and the Eisenhower Foundation of USA. I have studied Business Administration, specialising in Human Resource Management. I am also a graduate from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK. After work, I do community work for the needy.

I started out my career with Shell being immensely proud of the company I worked for and represented. I was very impressed by the famous advertising slogans: “You can be sure of Shell”; “We Care, We Share” and more recently, “Triple Bottom Line” and “Profits AND Principles”. My pride in being a Shell geologist was reinforced by Shell management’s stated commitment to core principles of integrity, transparency, honesty and professionalism, as expressed in Shell’s Statement of General Business Principles (SGBP). I felt that I was part of an outstanding multinational company of the very highest reputation which is in consonant with my own personal belief and value system.

My respect for Shell regretfully evaporated away over more recent years because of events that I have witnessed. I eventually came to the sad realisation that the companies’ actions were totally at variance with its carefully contrived public image. It is in fact a ruthless unprincipled multinational, as demonstrated by countless examples, most vividly by its record of oppressive exploitative policies in Nigeria. Shell, in collaboration with the military government, allegedly put men of good repute to torture, hanging; where women, children were raped and their homes razed to the ground.  Shell must answer all these questions clearly to resolve that part of a horrible history.

If only Shell senior management had abided by and enforced the values and strictures enshrined in the SGBP I would still be a loyal dedicated Shell geologist today. Furthermore Shell’s reputation would not have been destroyed by the disgraceful conduct of its most senior management, some of whom at the time of writing this letter are still at the pinnacle of the Royal Dutch Shell Group. How can lies, dishonesty and cover-up be reconciled with the above core principles of the SGBP? Has there ever been a better example of blatant hypocrisy?

It is proper before going any further to declare my personal grievances against Shell senior management. I was dismissed after almost 30 years of loyal dedicated service. The allegations against me were “absent from work without leave, permission or reasonable excuse” and “failure to attend weekly meetings without permission, leave or reasonable excuses”. The charges against me were made out of malice and were unfounded, unproven and invented without any formal investigation. The whole process was undermined by improper actions in breach of natural justice.

As Shell senior executives are aware, normal disciplinary procedures were not followed by a management accredited with an ISO certification for excellence in Human Resource (HR) Management. I received no reprimands, nor written or oral warnings. Even worse, threats were made by HR personnel against my assistant, whom I had appointed as permitted by the Domestic Inquiry (DI) Process which preceded my unwarranted dismissal. The truth is that Shell senior management was bent on getting rid of me because I had expressed reservations about Shell misdeeds and wrongdoings. I have a conscience and felt compelled to speak out for the benefits of a civilized society. I have no doubt that a fairly conducted independent investigation would clear my name once and for all.

Obviously the issue of my dismissal is not of world shaking significance but it is of great importance to me because it reflects on my personal integrity which I value very highly.  I have been shamed and humiliated. If I had been genuinely guilty of the allegations that would be bad enough; it makes my situation almost unbearable knowing that my dismissal was based on unfounded allegations combined with falsified evidence and the deliberate intimidation of my assistant for the domestic inquiry.

I did write recently to Malcolm Brinded who is a Group MD of the Royal Dutch Shell Group and Chief Executive Officer of Shell Exploration and Production seeking his intervention. Suffice it to say that although I had worked for Shell for almost 30 years in a senior position, Mr Brinded did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge my communication. That alone speaks volumes about him.

I therefore feel a deep sense of betrayal and injustice caused by the treatment I have received from Shell management. I am a victim of what others have accurately described as a corporate culture of cover-up at Shell. If I had not brought sensitive matters to the attention of Shell senior management, I would almost certainly still be a Shell geologist.

For example, in 1997, I was assigned to the multi-billion dollar Kinabalu offshore platform project as the only Production Geologist. A faulty design rendered the Production Platform unsafe and potentially subject to sinking. I was threatened by the Kinabalu Project Manager because I raised these important work issues during a Project Team Meeting which was minuted. Shell did not want such sensitive information placed on the record. Information about this vitally important life threatening issue was not passed on to PETRONAS at the time. PETRONAS is Malaysia’s national petroleum corporation. Wholly-owned by the Malaysian Government, the corporation is vested with the stewardship for the entire oil and gas resources in Malaysia and is entrusted with the responsibility for safety and other matters relating to Kinabalu Field development and other such projects. Shell deliberately withheld the information from PETRONAS.  In time to come I will present other misdeeds of Shell for withholding information from PETRONAS or the Malaysian Government and its people who live in a lovely country where my family and I are also proud to reside.

Because my stand on this matter in consonant with Shell Group Business Principles, its governance and with Malaysian national interests in mind, I made my concerns known internally at Shell. Shell made me feel that I had sinned for having a moral compass and a conscience. I was transferred out of the Kinabalu Project without any proper reasons being given and made redundant in exile to work on a paper platform that was left in mothballed state for many years, known as the Ketam Field – “Ketam” in local language mean “Crab”!

I raised my grievances at being transferred out of the project against my will to the Ketam Field and the matter reached Managing Director/Chairman level. An Internal Investigation was subsequently conducted and blame apportioned to many individuals, including the General Manager. However I was not restored to my geology job. Shell management was apparently intent at all costs on covering up the flaws I had exposed in the Kinabalu Project and wanted to keep me out of the picture and further involvement. On reflection I believe that the most important concerns to Shell management was stopping important information from being disclosed to its Malaysian partner, PETRONAS (information PETRONAS was entitled to receive) and hiding the truth about hydrocarbon reserves from Shell shareholders.

What happened naturally caused me a great deal of personal stress but I was concerned that a catastrophe might take place and I did not want to have any deaths on my conscience, nor put my country Malaysia at risk due any potential oil/gas spills since the coastline of Brunei was very near to the Kinabalu field. No job is worth that risk.

From 1997 until 2003, I was not only stressed out but also unfairly treated by my supervisors by moving me around the company. I believe this happened as a direct result of my raising the safety, reserves and other technical concerns and issues about the Kinabalu project. It seems totally wrong to me now as I had not blown the whistle on Shell with PETRONAS but only made my concerns known internally at Shell.

In mid 2002, I was working under Mr. Hee Len Hi, the General Manager for Shell Malaysia Technology Management/Technical Services. My assignment at that time was to track a Facility Verification Report pertaining to helicopter services. I was informed by Operation Installation Managers of certain unprofessional work which had taken place in relation to the serviceability and safety of the helicopter fleet. However I discovered to my horror that passengers were still told to board one such helicopter and thus ended up, without their knowledge, as being TEST CREWS together with the pilots. I brought this alarming situation to the attention of Mr Hee Len Hi. It was not something he wished to know because the logistic unit was also under his responsibilities. His made his displeasure at my internal whistleblower action obvious. Once again my conscience and wish to work within Shell’s stated ethical code had got me into serious trouble.

I have since wondered whether serious accidents which have occurred in Shell’s North Sea operations involving helicopters and oil platforms happened because someone remained silent about the same type of cover-up and wrongdoing which I had felt compelled to expose within Shell.

It was Mr Hee Len Hi who subsequently orchestrated the above mentioned trumped up Domestic Inquiry together with Mr. Rosli Lompoh involving flawed evidence and intimidation of my assistant whom I recruited for the domestic inquiry. Furthermore, I wish to know who gave Len Hee and Rosli the instructions to treat me badly and I believe that will be clearer after my pending Industrial High Court case against Shell for wrongful dismissal. I also have important information directly relating to the Shell oil and gas reserves scandal. It will be added to this document shortly.

Dr John Huong

May 2004


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