CSOs call NEMA to address Total’s illegalities on the Tilenga oil project

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are calling on the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to address Total E&P (U) B.V’s illegalities and irregularities seen in the public review process of the Tilenga oil project’s Environmental and Social Management Plans (EMSPs).

In the communication to NEMA’s Executive Director (ED) on 5 this month, the Chief Executive Officer, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Mr Dickens Kamugisha, says that the Tilenga oil project will affect major eco-sensitive areas in Uganda and DRC including Lake Albert, Kabwoya Game Reserve, Murchison Falls National Park, River Nile, Bugungu Game Reserve and the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta among others.

In the communiqué signed by Mr Kamugisha, 21 CSOs agree that Total operating in Buliisa and Nwoya districts is not following the stipulated laws in its Tilenga oil project’s EMSPs.

“Adherence to the law and effective public participation in development of mitigation or management plans among others is therefore needed to protect the affected resources from oil impacts”.

The CSOs urge NEMA’s ED to use his regulatory powers to ensure that Total adheres to the relevant laws in the ongoing development and review process of the Tilenga project’s EMSPs.

Having read the 1998 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations and the 2019 National Environment Act, the CSOs are of the view that ESMPs are part of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process which Total should, even when irregularly conducted independent of the Tilenga ESIA, follow the same ESIA development and review process.

The activists remind NEMA that the 1998 EIA regulations which govern over EIA/ESIA processes provide regulations 9-25 ranging from requiring developers to submit complete mitigation measures to enable NEMA determine whether to make a decision on a project based on a project brief or ask the developer to undertake a full EIA study; to NEMA being empowered to make any relevant decision including approving the project, rejecting the project ordering the redesigning of the project and others.

They are concerned that Total’s ongoing Tilenga ESMPs development and review process saying it is violating all the provisions including regulation 12 that requires the developer to effectively consult the public wondering that the ESMPs review process is ongoing without terms of reference as required by regulation 10.

The CSOs also ask the laws that Total is basing on to conduct the ESMPs and why it is not consulting the public as per EIA regulation 12.

“Without terms of reference that define the scope of the ESIA or ESMPs, it would be impossible for anyone to review the ESMPs and provide effective comments to Total or NEMA. It is also strange that it took Total 14 months to compile the draft ESMPs but the same Total that shared the 28 ESMPs on July 13, 2020, wants comments from CSOs by July 31, 2020. How does Total expect the CSOs to read 28 ESMPs, compile comments and submit them within 14 working days?”

 “Under what laws is Total proceeding to conduct the ESMPs and consulting stakeholders, why is Total sharing ESMPs with only CSCO, why not share and consult the public as per regulation 12?” the CSOs ask.

They are again concerned that Total’s ongoing ESMPs process is being done in disregard of the Tilenga High Court cases against NEMA and the Petroleum Authority of Uganda.

The cases were filed over the procedural irregularities and illegalities that happened during the Tilenga ESIA public review process in 2018. One of the issues in court is about an incomplete ESIA report the Total submitted and approved by NEMA in absence of complete mitigation plans.

The CSOs say that apart from failure to adhere to the laws in the ongoing ESMPs development and review process and breaching the rule of subjudice, Total has shared draft ESMPs that have gaps and weaknesses.

They say that most of the draft ESMPs lack critical components including a statement of risks as identified in the ESIA report, budgets for activities planned to eliminate, reduce or mitigate the specific risks for each ESMP among others.

“It is wrong for Total to say that ESMPs will be living documents to be regularly reviewed and updated. We demand that Total submits complete ESMPs and NEMA considers those ESMPs as per regulations 24 and 25 of the 1998 EIA regulations. The approved ESMPs must be reviewed and updated in consultation with NEMA on clear terms of reference.”

The organisations recommend that Total’s ESMPs development and public review process should be halted until the High Court cases as regards the Tilenga ESIA procedural irregularities and illegalities are determined.

They also say that when cases have been decided, Total should be compelled to consult the public including the directly affected communities, the media and others on the Tilenga ESMPs as is provided for under EIA regulation 12 among other recommendations.

“If the relevant laws are not adhered to, Ugandans should file more court cases against NEMA as a regulator for endorsing illegal and irregular activities. No oil activity should be considered until the court cases are determined,” it reads.

Background

The CSOs’ concerns follow Total’s letter dated June 30, 2020 shared with CSOs on July 13, 2020 in which the oil company requested CSOs under Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CSCO) to submit comments on the Tilenga oil project’s draft ESMPs by July 31, 2020.

The letter indicates that the ESMPs will be living documents subject to regular reviews and updates noting that should CSOs miss meeting the deadline for submitting comments, the concerns could be addressed during the review process.

The letter that was signed by Total’s General Manager, calls for restricted distribution of the listed 28 ESMPs and does not quote any provisions of the law that govern ESMPs review process including public consultations on the same, according to the campaigners.

The CSOs say that they “remain committed to supporting and reminding NEMA in particular and government at large to always ensure that environment is conserved and used to support sustainable development based on social justice and equity for the benefit of the present and future generations.”

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