On Saturday 27 February 2016, Times Exclusive’s Brian Banda challenged Godfrey Mfiti, an environmental activist and Executive Director of the Institute of Sustainable Development, on his “radical rejection of oil drilling in Lake Malawi”. The interview is available on Youtube and can be watched below.
Mfiti has recently taken a public stance on Lake Malawi and oil exploration over concerns that oil drilling for exploration and production could cause long-term potentially irreversible environmental damage to World Heritage Site Lake Malawi National Park and the entire Lake. He gave this lecture on the oil and sustainable development last year.
Mfiti joins with other organisations that have been working on the extractive industries in Malawi for over a decade. For example, a grouping of 16 organisations under the Malawian Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) recently put out a statement of “5 unanswered questions on exploration of oil and gas in Lake Malawi” (some of which is touched upon in Mfiti’s interview) and this grouping has been advocating for inclusion of oil and gas in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. In addition, Citizens for Justice, which hosts NRJN, reviewed the 1983 Petroleum (Exploration and Petroleum) Act in 2014.
Mfiti refers to the Malawi Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Scoping Study report which reveals certain payments made to Government from oil and gas companies with petroleum exploration licences. The report is available for download here. The table below is taken from the report (page 40) and shows these payments.
Some reflections on certain implicit assumptions made in interview (particularly the questions):
- Banda pushed the question [at 11 minutes] “do you want to tell this television that the Malawi Government has given licences to oil drilling companies when we are not sure that we have oil?”. The purpose of awarding exploration licences at this stage is so that companies can identify potential resources and whether it is feasible to extract oil given associated risks and ultimately whether or not a required return on investment can be achieved. The Government is currently not in a position to take on the risk of exploration itself. To date, exploration in Malawi has involved seismic surveying.
- Banda asks [at 12 minutes] “what is wrong with that [oil spillages] […] do you realise that countries that are drilling oil have prospered?” and later compares oil spillages with car accidents and cites Nigeria as an example – equitable and inclusive sustainable development from oil resources is not a given and not all countries have prospered. See the Africa Progress Panel’s study “Equity in Extractives” and video below for a discussion on this, and the African Union’s Africa Mining Vision was adopted by all heads of state in 2009 because Africa has not “reaped the benefits of exploiting resources”.
- Mfiti says [at 30 minutes] “all the six companies were found to be one company” – there are four companies with majority shareholding (Hamra Oil, Pacific Oil, Rak Gas and SacOil) in the six petroleum exploration blocks in Malawi (three cover Lake Malawi and three are on land) and one with minority interest (Surestream Petroleum). According to The Nation, the Attorney General stated in a legal opinion that three of the companies (Hamra Oil, Pacific Oil and Rak Gas) that control five of the six blocks are likely to be operating under a ‘corporate veil’ and are assumed to be controlled by the same holding company or beneficial owners. This is illegal under the 1983 Petroleum Act which indicates that one company can control only two blocks.