“Remove veil of secrecy on oil search activities” – Malawi’s Karonga communities want sensitisation meetings

“Remove veil of secrecy on oil search activities”

…Malawi’s Karonga communities want sensitisation meetings

By Deborah Manda

Communities in the lakeshore district of Karonga, where oil prospecting works are taking place, have lashed out at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining for hiding information on oil exploration activities taking place in the district.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining granted oil exploration licences for Block 1, covering Chitipa and part of Karonga to South Africa’s SacOil and Blocks 2 and 3 covering parts of Karonga, Rumphi, Nkhata Bay and Nkhaotakota to UAE firm Hamra Oil.

But John Phiri, a fisherman based at St Mary’s in the shores of Lake Malawi laments that the government has not done any sensitisation meetings with the communities on the oil exploration programme.

We only heard from members of the civil society that oil drilling in the lake will kill fish. We, therefore, fear that we will lose our means of livelihood as we depend on the fishing industry,

says Phiri.

He, therefore, says it is important now that the government and oil investors start organising meetings to update them on the progress of the exploration works and the safe exploration techniques that are being applied in the oil search process so that the communities are assured that there will be no any destruction of the environment.

State President Peter Mutharika assured Malawians last year that the Malawi Government will work with multinational oil firms in applying clean technologies to explore for oil in the country’s portion of the Great African Rift Valley which has potential for oil discoveries.

Mutharika said his government has made this decision because it does not want Malawi to stay behind while other countries in the region are scouting for own oil resources.

But while accepting that oil discoveries may boost the country’s economic fortunes, representatives of the fishing community interviewed in Karonga say what they want is total transparency on the oil prospecting work.

We do not want secrets. We also want to be part of the decision making process on the oil exploration projects. When the discoveries are made and production starts, we as well want to be the prime beneficiaries,

says Phiri.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Programme Manager Innocent Nazombe agrees with the members of the fishing communities saying there is a communication gap between government and the concerned communities because government did not consult the communities nor conducted any sensitisation meetings with the people before granting the exploration licences.

If the community, especially the fishing community knows about the exploration work, it is through engagement with a team of consultants employed by the exploration companies to convince the communities to accept the work to be done in their respective areas,

says Nazombe.

Nazombe also says that they expect the exploration companies to be more transparent in their operations and sign community development agreements with the locals so that the communities can benefit from corporate social responsibility.

As an organisation, we would engage them to be producing monthly reports to be presented to the District Executive Committee (DEC) for appraisal and council for policy direction. We expect that the exploration companies will be publishing their returns, make and fulfil CSR commitments in order to uplift the livelihood of the people of Karonga,

he says.

He says a good number of fishermen who were previously pessimistic of the exploration work now welcome it after being told by the companies that the work would be done onshore.

Nazombe, however, says the only fear the people of Karonga have is that they may be robbed of the oil when it is discovered because the government has not yet come forward to explain how they will directly benefit from the natural resources.

In a separate interview, Traditional Authority Kyungu claims that he does not know anything about oil exploration in Karonga because there has been no official communication from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining to his office.

But Chief Mining Engineer responsible for Oil and Gas, Cassius Chiwambo, says the government conducted community sensitisation meetings in Karonga in 2012 to 2013 in conjunction with UK firm, Surestream Petroleum, which held the oil tenements that time.

He also says the government is lobbying for more resources to conduct more community sensitisation meetings.

We have conducted consultative meetings to get views on the petroleum policy and draft bill with all the concerned districts and we have been to Karonga where we met the District Executive Committee, now we want to engage the public on a daily basis, giving them the required information,

says Chiwambo.

He says the government has also advised exploration companies to sensitise the communities before they begin geological mapping processes as part of their social licence obligation.

Chiwambo says the communities should also not be worried of fish dying during exploratory drilling as that does not happen often.

Not a single fish died when Syracuse University conducted a shallow scientific drilling in 2004 on the lakebed to collect drill core samples for research,

he says.

Exploration for petroleum in Malawi dates back to the 1980s when Duke University conducted a ship borne seismic survey over Lake Malawi under a research permit granted by the Government of Malawi.

***

This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 57 (January 2018).

The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.

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