Friday February 9 2018

Can social movements improve transparency in oil and gas industry?

Action Aid Uganda officials listen to women

Action Aid Uganda officials listen to women in Anaka, Nwoya District. The women are part of the social movement that has been formed to demand accountability and transparency by companies engaged in oil and gas extraction in the area 

By Monitor Reporter

When it comes to the extractive industry, governments the world over, usually strike deals with multinational companies on behalf of their citizens.

The contractual discussions involving resources like oil and gas and other precious minerals happen behind closed doors.

The contracts are very lucrative and government officials defend the standard on grounds that because of the “sensitivity” involved, details cannot be for public consumption.  

In the end, the resources in question are controlled by international companies and generally become a curse for the population and governments where they are extracted.

The narrative, however, could end in Uganda, if the social movements being created by citizens through the help of pro-poor non-profit agencies like Action Aid Uganda, take off.

The international development organisation is engaging people in areas where the extractive industry is active, in Uganda, to awaken people’s spirit to demand fairness and reasonable benefit in the utilisation of the resources, according to Mr Ivan Mpagi, a governance officer at Action Aid Uganda.

Where there is no transparency regarding information sharing, he says, there can never be transparency in the entire business. Where there is no transparency, there will be massive theft of such resources, grand corruption and illicit financial flows start from here and if citizens don’t follow up such deals, they are doomed.


Who owns the resources?

The population where the oil and gas resources are located (Hoima Masindi, Buliisa, Nwoya, Pakwach) and gold reserves in Mubende District are located; are being reminded that it is a mistake for them to continue believing the government narrative that the extractives business is beyond their wisdom and grasp.

Ms Ndumeya Moyo, Action Aid Uganda’s Reflection Action Inspirator, at Gulu Cluster said much as the local population does not have the capital and expertise to extract the natural resources, they have the ability to demand accountability from the incomes being generated and how they are being utilised at local and national level.

Usually, she says, nationals in areas and countries where the precious natural resources are extracted get satisfied with some infrastructure like schools and health centres and some basic social services that are constructed by the mining companies which pocket billions of dollars from the resources. “What type of hospitals are being constructed? Can you access quality health from these hospitals? You get some scholarships that cost a few million shillings yet the resources are worth billions of dollars. Are these scholarships enough?, she wonders. “These companies are constructing bore holes in your villages. Is it boreholes that you need?”

She said if citizens create a social movement that engages stakeholders using social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, they can challenge all kinds of social injustices safely in their communities without fearing to be jailed or targeted at individual level by powerful players and governments who are taking the lion’s share of the resources.

Meaningful skills

The social movements, according to Action Aid Uganda can demand lasting and meaningful rights.

Such rights include training to attain meaningful skills to  enable them compete for jobs in the extractive industry.

The skills can be acquired from specialised artisan schools; set up by the mining companies in the communities where the resources are extracted.

With 6.5 billion barrels of oil discovered, it is estimated that recoverable reserves in Uganda could support production of 100,000 to 200,000 barrels per day for 20 40 years.

Based on the existing Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) between the government and oil companies and assuming a long-term international price of $90 pare barrel, the country expects to earn an average of $2.5 billion (Shs9 trillion) annually.

Such incomes imply that  the few millions spent by mining companies on small projects under Corporate Social Responsibility in areas where the oil resource is located is negligible.

The social movement is intended to continuously debate about resource allocation and who earns what as well as how to tackle other attendant problems.

Currently, there are plans to set up a Central Processing Facilities in Buliisa and Nwoya districts. All these mega projects will displace hundreds of people from their land.

The compensation and resettlement processes are in high gear but the engagement is mainly between government, oil companies and some civil society organisations. The citizens who are likely to be displaced, are nowhere in the conversation.

The affected communities are hardly represented and even when their voices are relayed by local leaders and politicians, it does not bring out the pain and frustration of the citizens.

That’s why, through social media, members of the social movement will be able to churn out concerns without

limitations by police that can stop a demonstration; bureaucracy which can curtail petitions to concerned government officials or money that can limit the affected groups from buying space in the corporate media to air their views.

Citizens of Pakwach District form a social m

Citizens of Pakwach District form a social movement to follow up and engage govement and oil companies on issues related to oil and gas.

The citizens  who have been mobilised to form the social movement groups in Mubende, Hoima, Buliisa, Nwoya and Pakwach.

Members of the movements were advised to share relevant information about the extractive industries to acquire knowledge that would buttress their arguments.

In Nwoya District, some women complained of sexual harassment at the hand of workers employed by oil companies.

The women, according to Mr Morris Oryem Porong, a resident of Nwoya, who once worked as a Laundry Assistant for a service provider for one of the oil companies exploring oil in the area says, the women fear to speak out individually and expose the men who exploited them.

“With this social movement, we hope, it will be easier for the victims to speak out and expose the perpetuators,” he said.

Mr Walter Oballim Nwoya District Youth Chairman said they would use Nwoya Youth Advocates Forum to demand for jobs and social justice as well as accountability.

This rhymes with Action Aid Uganda’s idea to strengthen people’s struggles for social justice by using social media to engage in strategic discussions.

Mr Evaristo Ocheng, a  student of Bio-systems Engineering, at Gulu University said lack of information about extractive industry has retarded people’s ability to demand what belongs to them.

“With a social movement that agitates on social media platforms, the era of ignorance has come to an end,” he said.

Cause to die for

In Pakwach District, where another social movement was formed by about 200  citizens, the district chairman, Mr Robert Steen Omito said such a cause would get the youth “out of sleep.”

“By engaging all players in the oil and gas industry on social media, you will be having a cause that touches your livelihood and future,” he said.  “The time of doing positive things you think about on social media is just now. Discover a cause for which you can die.”

Ms Sylvia Kirabira, a youth representative in the Buganda Lukiiko (Parliament)  said the former artisanal gold miners who were evicted from gold mines in Kayonza, Kitumbi Sub-county, Mubende District , have no alternative but to advocate and fight for their rights.

“In   life you don’t get what you deserve but what you demand for,” she said. “We need to create a bigger group that can create a bigger voice because the people in government and their allies in the

She said the social movement has the ability to change the tradition where minerals only benefit the powerful and leave the citizens who are supposed to be the core beneficiaries; grappling with problems like pollution, environmental degradation, displacement and abject poverty.