On April 15, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate for the Tilenga oil project together with the conditions of approval of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Tilenga project.
Tilenga project is located in areas with critical biodiversity such as Murchison Falls National Park, River Nile, Lake Albert, Budongo Forest Reserve, Bugungu Game Reserve and others in the districts of Buliisa, Nwoya, and Masindi, among others.
The certificate was issued to M/s Total E&P Uganda and M/s Tullow Uganda Operations Pty Limited as the developer for the development of six oil fields with 34 well pads, an industrial area, pipelines and other supporting infrastructure in Buliisa and Nwoya districts.
Nema also attached 12 conditions to the certificate of approval for Tilenga project issued by the Authority, which are meant to address the challenges that are likely to negatively impact the environment and livelihoods.
The bad news is that these conditions will not conserve the environment or protect livelihoods because the conditions are insufficient and others constrained by resources which makes it impossible for Nema to enforce them.
While Nema and Petroleum Authority (PA) as the lead agencies were organising the public hearings on the Tilenga ESIA, they violated number of laws: They violated clause 7(3) of the 1999 EIA Public Hearing Guidelines and Regulation 22 (2) of the 1998 EIA Regulations as the public was not given the 21 to 45 days before organising the public hearings as required by the above laws.
In this case, the notice calling for the public hearing was issued on October 30, 2018 and the public hearings commenced on November 12 and 15, 2018 in Buliisa and Nyowa districts respectively, which gave the community in Buliisa only 11 days to prepare and make their presentations and the community in Nyowa was only given 14 days.
Clause 5(3) of the 1999 EIA Public Hearing Guidelines was also violated when Nema appointed a biased presiding officer, Dr Fred Kabagambe-Kaliisa to preside over both the public hearing in Buliisa and Nyowa. Dr Kabagambe-Kaliisa is a former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Energy and is the Senior Presidential Adviser on Oil and Gas, whose role was to actively promote oil and gas activities. This makes it to have a direct interest in the subject contrary to what laws provide for.
According to EIA Regulation, Regulation 24(c), the report he submitted to Nema is one of three factors that form the basis on which Nema makes a decision on whether to reject or approve a project. The fact that he was biased, the report submitted by him was biased as was even accused by the public at the public hearing for taking side, such report cannot help Nema to make a fair, just and right decision to promote conservation and protect livelihood.
Clause 10(1) of the EIA Public Hearing Guidelines was also violated. The presiding officer denied youth groups, including the Guild Presidents’ Forum on Governance (GPFOG), an opportunity to make formal presentations.
These youth groups had notified Nema three days before that they would make formal presentations at the public hearing, but they were not allowed to make a presentation in Nyowa contrarty to clause 10(1) of the EIA Public Hearing Guidelines, which state that any person with an interest in or affected by the subject matter of a hearing may contact the lead agency or the executive director not less than three days before the hearing is to commence to request a time period to appear personally or by legal counsel at the hearing.
Clause 15(5) and (6) of the 1999 EIA Public Hearing Guidelines were violated too where people were not given a chance to submit their views, the presiding officer had to limit each speaker’s speaking time.
Those who made formal presentations were given three to five minutes to present while those who made informal presentations were given a minute each.
This was contrary to Clause 15(5) and (6) of the 1999 EIA Public Hearing Guidelines which provide that speakers making formal presentations shall be given ten minutes or more, with permission being given by the presiding officer if a speaker sought to exceed ten minutes.
All these violations were intended and show that everything was just done for formality and both Nema and PAU were already biased and had already approved the Tilenga project in their minds.
This was confirmed when the land acquisition for this project commenced before the project was approved and granted the certificate. The developers appointed Atacama to provide the consultancy services for Tilenga project, who went down to Buliisa and started on the process of acquiring the land.
On top off the violations during the public hearing of the ESIA report, Nema issued an EIA certificate yet the developer conducted and Environment and Social Impact Assessment. This creates a lot of confusion because the developer relied of the National Environment Act 1995, which provided for EAI A, but went on to conduct Environment and Social Impact Assessment. This means that the developer is under any obligation to implement the ESIA since its EIA that has been proved.
With all these irregularities, the public should come out and force Nema to cancel the certificate of approval because it will meet the objecting which is conserving the environment and protecting livelihoods
Nema should also undertake its mandatory responsibility as the regulator and supervisor to make sure laws are followed for other on-going oil projects of Kingfisher and EACOP.