Juba — South Sudan on Friday expressed optimism about the possibility of exporting its crude to international markets by 2014 using an alternative pipeline passing through neighbouring Kenya, in what is an apparent attempt to avoid using the port of neighbouring Sudan with which it is engaged in a series of post secession disputes.
Speaking to journalists after a weekly cabinet meeting in Juba on Friday, the minister of information and broadcasting services, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said the members of the cabinet had unanimously agreed to endorse the petroleum and mining policy framework of the oil ministry during deliberations chaired by vice-president Riek Machar Teny.
He said the policy will guide petroleum and mining activities, as well as the operation of the ministry and partners, particularly in laying out procedures and processes relating to granting contracts to international and national companies wishing to invest in the petroleum and mining sector.
South Sudan shutdown oil output a year ago following a dispute over how much the new nation should pay in pipeline fees to transport crude via its northern neighbour for export from Port Sudan.
At African Union-backed talks in Ethiopia last month both governments failed to reach agreement on a number of sticking points, including the South's alleged ongoing support for northern rebels and the withdrawal of troops from border regions - a prerequisite for resuming oil exports.
The minister told reporters that the minister of petroleum and mining, Stephen Dhieu Dau, had briefed the council during the meeting with a Kenyan delegation headed by the secretary for the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET ) corridor project, Sylvester Kasulu.
"President Salva Kiir last year travelled to Kenya to participate in the breaking and laying down foundation for the construction of Lamu port. The team from the Kenyan government working on the site had come to Juba to brief the government of the progress of the work," Marial said on Friday.
"They met with the minister [Stephen Dhieu Dau] and discussed with him issues related to the progress of the work. They told him water systems and road and the electricity have been put in place. The other issues they discussed with the minister are issues related to intergovernmental agreements. These are some of the issues the minister shared with members of the cabinet and [it] was decided he should go ahead. There is a general agreement between the two governments that discussions must be concluded so that the agreement is signed as soon as possible", he added.
Marial said construction of the pipeline through the Kenyan port of Lamu will begin when feasibility studies, contracted to German company ILF, are completed by the end of the year.
"The Kenyan government had managed to get some funds from World Bank and the African Development Bank to start the work. A construction on the Kenyan side will begin on the 25th [of] this month. A police headquarters and houses for the port management [are] said to be under construction. They [have also] shown some progress in power line and water supply systems," Marial explained.
He expressed optimism that the country could export its oil via the Kenyan transport link by 2014 if construction started immediately after completion of feasibility studies on the proposed route.
"The impression we are getting from the international companies with experience in construction of pipelines is that it takes maximum of one to two years and they say we could begin to export our oil by 2014 which is good news to our people. And in fact what is important is now that the work should start immediately. The minister of petroleum and mining will next week go to Kenya to sign the final agreement on how the construction work [will] be carried [out]", he said.
While the South Sudanese government has expressed optimism, some citizens remain sceptical about the possibilities and reality of finishing feasibility studies and construction of the pipeline within a one-year period.
"I am not an expert in pipeline construction but I don't think it will take the company less than six months or a year to complete feasibility [studies], let alone construction. It took more than three years for [the] Chinese to complete construction of the pipeline from where they are today to port Sudan. So talks of one year are just political assumptions to raise public hope", Aguer Madut Deng, a native of Warrap state currently visiting Juba told Sudan Tribune on Friday at South Sudan Hotel.
Arop Kuol, a native of Abyei, said it is possible to finish the project within one year as long as work on the pipeline is done by a capable construction company.
"I think it can be done within one year if there is [a] capable construction company. What is required is a work force to be on side", he said expressing fears over insecurity in the area which is yet to be addressed.
"My worry is not about [the] time it will take. It is insecurity in where the pipeline will pass. This will require a lot of work. It means the government should deploy [a] huge force to provide protection to the workers. The local population needs to be properly educated about the benefits of the construction of the pipeline. They need to be involved in the construction. The work force should be from the area where it will pass. It should actually be turned into [a] source of employment", Kuol added.
Deputy speaker of the national legislative assembly, Daniel Awet Akot, said the construction of an oil pipeline had "immense benefits" for the local population where it passes.
"It will provide[a] source of employment to some of our youth in the area where it passes. It will provide security because the government will have to deploy forces there. Indeed there are immense benefits," Akot told Sudan Tribune on Friday, stressing that people should not worry about the timeframe it will take to complete construction.
"Actually the focus should not be about time. The element should be the subject of concern. We should focus on the start. Let us remove this challenge first", he said.