27 January 2013

Uganda: Oil - Nebbi Puts Total Officials On the Spot

Oil in Uganda, a website owned by Action Aid, and operating with funds from the East Africa office of the Ford Foundation, carried this piece about the impact of oil in Nebbi.

The Observer reproduces it in a three part series. In this last part, the piece points out some of Total's relationship with the people of Nebbi.

The district chairman will have other grievances to present.

"Because of the increased air pollution [from road construction], cough and influenza are common among the residents," he claims. "In fact, the community wrote a letter to the [resident]district commissioner complaining about the dust."

He also faults Total for failing to keep promises they made to the community. "Total agreed with the local government to drill a borehole for locals in Panyimur. This they did, but then diverted it to their own camp in Nyamutagana, leaving our people disheartened."

Okumu's complaints are not confined to Total. He also accuses the central government, including the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, of keeping his district out of loop. Nebbi is not invited to important workshops called by the ministry to discuss oil and gas issues, he says. "We are in the dark . . . We are not considered when oil opportunities come up, unlike people from Hoima, Buliisa and Masindi, who are always given the first priority when it comes to delicate oil decisions."

District ambitions:

In Pakwach, LC-3 Chairman Benson Okumu has a similar list of complaints. He showed Oil in Uganda a letter he wrote to Total, late last year, "to bring to your attention the dismay and the concerns of Pawkwach town council and the Community in regard to various companies that Total E & P Uganda have sub-contracted to work in the industry."

LC-3 chairman for Pakwach, Benson Okumyu, hopes the area will gain status as a district in its own right. The letter names Civicon, Pearl, Excel and MSL Logistics, who it accuses of "shortcomings" in "issues of . . . bribery, unskilled (casual labourers) being employed from outside the area of operations, HIV/Aids components, corporate social responsibilities" and more.

It summons these companies to a meeting, adding in a postscript that "issues of facilitation of this meeting remains your responsibility as this concern is created by you and your team."

The LC-3 chairman's apparent determination to assert authority over the oil industry is perhaps connected to political ambitions. He openly admits that he wants Jonam the area comprising the sub-counties of Pakwach, Panyimur and Alwi--to split from Nebbi and gain administrative status as a district in its own right, and is confident that this will happen next year. That way, local government's eventual share of any oil revenue will fall within his patch.

Slightly better news:

Altogether, this does not seem a promising start to Total's community relations strategy. On a brighter note, however, Oil in Uganda found no evidence, and heard no reports, of the 'land grabbing' speculation that has notoriously marred the oil exploration process in Bunyoro, where Uganda's first commercially viable oil discoveries were made.

Perhaps this is because, as Moses Ogamdhogwa claims, the local government has done a thorough job of 'sensitising' local people on this issue, warning them against speculators.

Or it could be because Oil in Uganda did not stay in the area long enough, or dig deep enough, to uncover cases.

Or it may simply be that Nebbi has been so overlooked in the national oil conversation that speculators didn't know it had petroleum prospects. With Total's new discovery of oil in neighbouring Nwoya district--first revealed to the world by Oil in Uganda this week--that's likely to change quite soon. And then things in Nebbi may get even more complicated.

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