Monday, September 30th, 2013
The government and oil companies have made great successes in discovering commercial oil reserves standing at over 2.5 billion barrels, issued over five(5) exploration licenses, conducted over five(5) Production Sharing Agreements(PSAs), trained some Ugandans in oil, currently enacting new laws and many other positives.
Since 2006, over twenty (20) Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have been carried out for a number of oil exploration and production projects in different local communities in the Albertine Graben and beyond by the oil companies licensed and authorized by the government to operate in Uganda. These range right from Petrofina to Energy Africa, Hardman Resources, to Heritage, to Tullow, Dominion, Neptune, Total, CNOOC and others. As investors, these companies have made us proud by discovering over 2.5 billion barrels of oil reserves with great potential to liberate our country and our people from poverty trap, provide the much needed revenues for education, roads, electricity, health and other opportunities.
We also appreciate the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA)’s commitment under its great leadership for ensuring that Environmental Impact Assessments have been conducted by the developers for all oil projects in Uganda.
However, the single biggest problem in the oil sector is secrecy, corruption, outdated laws, poor EIA processes, refusal to pay taxes by the oil companies, threats to biodiversity of the Graben and other issues.
Environmental Impact Assessment processes and EIA reports have been and continue to be produced in English amidst a situation where over 80% of the participants/community people do not comprehend the language, so, even where NEMA and the oil developers have attempted to involve the people, the language has remained an obstacle.
It has been also observed that the EIA processes and EIA reports have been and continue to be produced in English amidst a situation where over 80% of the participants/community people do not comprehend the language, so, even where NEMA and the developers have attempted to involve the people, the language has remained an obstacle.
Oil activities’ related to Environmental Impact Assessments have been, since oil companies showed up on the scene in Uganda, done without accompanying public hearings despite the sensitivity of the natural resource that is oil and the fact that oil is recognized by the Constitution as a resource of international/transboundary importance.
On completion of the assessments, the ensuing reports which are always in English have not been translated into respective local languages which are understood by the relevant communities of the project areas and, this has continued to make the participation of the communities ineffective which in turn affects the implementation of the recommendations in the reports.
In addition, environmental, social and equity issues linked to the use of this resource is of fundamental importance for the people of Uganda and particularly the poor and vulnerable communities whose livelihoods entirely depends on the healthy ecosystem/environment in which we live in.
Therefore, We believe that it was because of the realization of the possible impacts of oil and the need to conserve the environment which compelled the Parliament and the government to put in place laws and regulations which require that the public should be facilitated to participate in EIA processes through Public Hearings and EIA reports translate in local languages to promote community ownership of the reports for easy implementation.
National Environmental Management Authority(NEMA) should also commit to translating all the existing EIA reports on oil projects into local languages relevant to specific community and ensure that any future EIAs are duly translated.
The writer works with
Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)