Residents of Buliisa in Bunyoro and Nwoya in Acholi sub-region have rejected the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report [ESIA] done by Total E&P for the extraction of oil in these two areas.
Total E&P bought out Tullow that had explored oil in the two sub-regions. The report, a legal requirement for any project that has potential to cause disturbance in the environment and the social setup was conducted for a period of three years.
Oil production in the Tilenga oil project is expected to start in 2020. Speaking at a public hearing held at Buliisa district headquarters for Bunyoro sub-region and at Gwotapoyo primary school in Nwoya district for Acholi; speaker after speaker decried the manner in which the report was done.
Many wondered how the developer and government came up with the name Tilenga that means a Uganda kob instead of their native names of the villages in which the project is found.
"A lot of mistakes were done from the word go, how did you come up with the name Tilenga; why are you changing our heritage? This place is called Bugungu, not Tilenga; we therefore demand that this project be called Bugungu Petroleum Project," Steven Mukitale Biraahwa, the MP for Buliisa county, said. The same disappointment was echoed by Enoch Bigirwa the patron of Bugungu Community Association.
"A name gives you identity, dignity and self-esteem; therefore, a name is very important. We demand that this project be renamed Bugungu, not Tilenga," Bigirwa said. He also expressed shock that the report indicated that Bugungu did not have natives.
"I was born here; I have always been a Mugungu; how do you say then that you didn't find a Mugungu?" A tough-speaking Bigirwa said.
Not only were the Banyoro uncomfortable with the name, even the Acholi said it means nothing. "This name Tilenga means nothing; you have to change the project name to something we can relate with," said Lilly Adong, the woman member of parliament for Nwoya district.
Norah Bigirwa, the Woman MP for Buliisa district, wondered why National Environment Management Authority and the Petroleum Authority of Uganda were providing them only one day to discuss the voluminous document, yet the oil companies spent three years coming up with the report.
"It has taken Nema and oil companies three years to come up with this Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report but they are giving us just hours to debate it. As part of the oil community and Uganda as a whole we deserve better," Bigirwa said.
She also wondered how many locals were working in the oil sector now despite the presence of a law that guarantees local content.
"The law talks about local content but how many of the workers are going to come from our community that is going to pay the heaviest price for this oil production. What have oil companies done to prepare our people to take advantage of oil production? In other countries, this is being done we want to see it done; here also. Tullow Oil trained people in Kenya where it is also having interest but what is it doing to empower our people especially the women to meet that threshold of the local content?" Bigirwa said.
Her worry wasn't different from that of Simon Oyet, the MP representing Nwoya county. "These companies are buying food from outside Nwoya because they said we don't have capacity to supply, but what have they done to help our people have such capacity?" Oyet said.
The other issue that continuously came up in both regions was the lack of enough consultation from all stakeholders. All the MPs said they were never consulted when the report was being done. They wondered that if they, the people's representatives were never consulted then who was?
To answer some of the people's complaints, Peter Lokeris, the state minister for Mineral Development, said people should never worry about the name; after all, the project is for a limited period of time.
"The project will end and this place will stop being called Tilenga; so, there is reason to worry," Lokeris said. He added that the area where the project is going to pass including the Murchison Falls national park is a very fragile area that great care must be taken while undertaking it.
"This public hearing is a milestone in our move to start producing oil in this country. I call upon all stakeholders to cooperate fully and their issues will be captured and respected," Lokeris said.
Ernest Rubondo, the executive director of Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), said the main purpose of the public hearing was to provide a platform where the developer would meet people who are going to be affected by the project to have say about it.
"We don't want to leave anyone behind in our operations. Everyone concerned must be heard so that all Ugandans benefit from this oil resource," Rubondo said.