Host communities of the Tilenga Oil Development Project in Buliisa district have asked the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to delay the approval of the proposed Tilenga Development Project Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) until all their grievances have been settled.
This was during the Public Hearing for the ESIA held at the Buliisa District headquarters on Monday
The Tilenga Development Project ESIA conducted by AECOM Uganda limited and Partner consult on behalf of the developers Total E&P Uganda B.V. and Tullow Uganda Operations PTY Ltd production describes the main characteristics of the project, the identified impacts and the proposed mitigation measures to minimize potential negative environmental and social impacts.
The hearing which was organized by the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU) and presided over by Dr. Kabagambe Kalisa, the former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) attracted over 700 participants who included Government Agencies, Members of Parliament, Local government officials, Civil Society, officials from the Bunyoro kingdom and the Bagungu Cultural Community, religious leaders and local and locals from the area saw several reactions from these different groups all largely declining to support the report due to issues they deemed necessary to either include or amend in the proposed ESIA for the Tilenga Development Project.
Some of the issues raised during the hearing included; illegalities in the notice dates, inadequate stakeholder engagements, insufficient time to read the report and make informed responses, failure to recognize Bagungu as the indigenous people of the oil hosting areas in Buliisa and failure to preserve the names that are known to Buliisa communities in naming of project and oil wells.
Other issues include inadequate legal framework for the Resettlement Action Plans (RAPS) and other necessary regulations, lack of commitment to influx management from government and the developers, inadequate mitigation measures especially on the tourism impacts and trans-boundary conflicts with DR. Congo among others.
The area Member of Parliament, Steven Mukitale said government deciding to call the project Tilenga instead of using the known name of the area was intended to deprive the oil hosting communities of ownership rights and that he would not allow the assessment report to be approved by NEMA before the name of the project is changed.
He further added that there was need to redefine recovery costs so that it includes among other things service delivery like hospitals, schools, environmental protection to the host communities.
“This is a very big project. A report like this which will determine the next step for the oil processing should be given more time and be discussed by the academia at like at Makerere University. As much as we want this oil out as early as yesterday, we cannot allow the process to proceed before the rights of the host communities are carefully taken care of and respected. I therefore demand that NEMA does not approve this assessment until our issues are dealt with,” he said.
The Bagungu under their umbrella, of the Bagungu Community Association (BACA) expressed concerns over Total E&P refusing to recognize them as the indigenous communities of the host are of the project in the ESIA study undertaken.
Mr. Enoch Bikirwe, the chairman of the BACA who made a presentation on behalf of the community said by refusing to recognize them as the indigenous host community for this oil, said the developers were trying to elude and rip them off all the benefits from the oil for themselves.
He also said the assessment of 13 projects as one was wrong as each of these small projects had special environmental challenges that could not be raised as one.
“Each of these projects has special environmental and social impacts since they are all in different areas of operations. Having one ESIA report for all of them is wrong because people in different locations are going to be affected differently,” he said.
In response to some of the issues raised, the Executive Director NEMA, Dr. Tom Okurut said all the issues raised from the two hearings from Buliisa and the second one scheduled for Thursday 15th November in Nwoya would be considered through a committee that has been put in place so that they are readdressed before NEMA goes ahead to approve the ESIA report.
“The law provides for five days from the time of the hearing for any other groups or persons that may have other issues that they were not addressed during the hearing. We are open to any discussions and we encourage you to read the report and engage us on a different level” he said.
The Executive Director PAU, Mr. Ernest Rubondo said Government was committed to address some of the issues that were raised outside the ESAI report and had put in place special committees for that effect
The chairperson of the Board, PAU Dr. Jane Mulemwa remarked that there were some interest groups that were misinforming the communities and asked them to read the report that is available for the public intensively before making uninformed comments that could trigger discontent among the people.
“When you read the report, most of the issues that the groups are complaining have actually been addressed. If they could read and understand this report, they would find answers to most of these issues that were raised. As the regulator, our job is to monitor and regulate all processes of all the developer to ensure that the interests of the Ugandans are well taken care of. As PAU, we received the report, revised it and make recommendations to NEMA that will guide it in the process of approving the ESIA” she said.
On the issue of limited consultations of all stake holders, Ms. Sebikari Gloria, the manager Corporate Affairs at the PAU said most of the stakeholders were consulted on institutional levels rather than individual levels as most participants at the Public Hearing wanted it to be.
“The ESIA is an integrated report of all the different projects under the Tilenga Development Project. Each of the 13 components requires special attention and unique inputs, these have all been considered and NEMA has the mandate to scrutinize each component before the ESIA is approved. As PAU, we have to protect the interests of all Ugandans and ensure that the operations of the developers are in line with the legal and regulatory requirements of Uganda as per the laws of the country and best international practices, said Sebikari on the sidelines of the Public Hearing in Buliisa.
The objective of the ESIA Public hearings is to provide the platform for the developer to inform the entire public of the outcomes of the ESIA study, verify accuracy of the findings in relation to the situation on the ground and give the affected and interested parties an opportunity to express their opinions on the issues contained in the findings of the ESIA study.