Civil Society ties sustainable development of the oil sector to holistic policies

By: Patrick Godi

At the South Sudan Oil & Power 2019 Conference in Juba last week, civil society made their presence highly felt by putting forward on the agenda bold policy proposals that protect the environmental, human rights and holistic approach to development. The activists joined other concerned decision makers and institutions that are pushing for a sustainable exploitation of hydrocarbons to benefit South Sudanese who have endured long years of suffering in a fluctuating pattern of civil wars spanning over 50 years.

This high level energy event hosted by the Government through the Ministry of Petroleum, Ministry of Energy and Dams, and Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning under the auspices of the President of the Republic H.E Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit underlined #FocusOnFinance for a dramatic shift in its fortunes in the oil industry.

In its 3rd year, over 600 elite oil and gas professionals, international investors, and government officials in the Petroleum industry from neighboring Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt and across the world including Norway, United States, South Africa, Malaysia, India and China convened to champion growth to promote economic development and meet the country’s energy needs.

The selected group of civil society actors, from the Coalition on Natural Resources led by Chairperson Mr. Charles Onak graced this prestigious event for the very first time – not to join in the deal cutting but with strong advocacy messages rooted in Human Rights, Transparency and Accountability, and Environment and Public Health for sustainable development of fossil resources.

This comes at a critical time when there have been numerous reports on alleged pollution, illegal displacement of people from their ancestral lands, non-compliance of companies on existing legal frameworks among others. Some alarming reports from the oil producing areas highlight loss of livelihoods, sterility in men and women, birth defects, death of animals, contamination of water points among other adverse effects.

With their rich experience on the on goings in the sector and their deep roots in the community, Mr. Charles and his colleagues in the coalition had their work clearly cut out; to lobby policy makers and investors in the oil industry to reverse and counter the negative implications the resource has had on people socially, politically and economically notwithstanding the environment.

A week prior to the Oil & Power conference the Consortium had launched a campaign with choreographed activities and carefully crafted messages to coincide with the event aimed at raising awareness in the public, Government, and the businesses involved in the extraction of oil with specific key notes to do more to conserve the environment through use of new technology, environmental assessment and economic benefit to the country. This sustained effort included press releases, Public lecture, radio talk shows and erecting giant billboards on strategic sites in the city to disseminate the messages. 

The coalition’s intentionality to actively participate in shaping discussions at the conference is emphasized through their engagement with the Ministry of Petroleum officials scoring them a panel under the theme domestic and regional policy as drivers of growth. The Chairperson Charles joined distinguished oil policy experts in a panel moderated by Dr. Jacob Dut Chol, Director of Planning and Projects at Nilepet including Thiik Giir Thiik, founder South Sudan Chamber of Energy and Minerals, Anoul Deng, Managing Partner, Awatkeer Law Chambers, Hon. Caesar Oliha, Chairman, National Petroleum and Gas Commission, Amb.Selwa, former Undersecretary at Ministry of Foreign affairs and an expert on oil and gas.

The panelists gave expert analysis on the current practices in the oil industry and the necessary adjustments needed to fulfill the desire that oil should be used as a tool to promote peace and development, and cause no harm in the country.

Hon. Caesar reiterated the commitment of his agency, the National Petroleum and Gas commission to fully execute its monitoring and oversight mandate in the sector to ensure that there is compliance with the law and regulations guiding the industry and continue to review policies where necessary to meet international best practices. The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS) further strengthens the commission to effectively deliver on its mandate. Its reconstitution according to the Peace agreement includes the President and First Vice President chairing the commission.

Ambassador Selwa opened up that the pre – independence policy formation on oil and gas had a lot of influences and support from Norway which is said to be a model in sustainable exploitation of the resource; however the armed conflict disrupted this relationship. Plans are underway to reengage the Norwegians so that South Sudan can benefit from their knowledge, experiences and expert advice.

On the status of legal framework on oil and gas, Charles expounded on the existing framework’s noting that most are good however there is lack of political will to implement them. Civil Society is advocating for implementation and review of the existing laws and regulations further emphasizing the need for more transparency, accountability and access to information on the sector which is largely viewed as one of the most discreet and corrupt moreover the lifeline of the country contributing up to 98% to the state coffers.

Also prominently, mismanagement of the oil revenues came up in discussions on the subject with some linking dissatisfaction with the status quo fuelling violent armed conflict in the country especially in Upper Nile states. Calls were made for activation of the Petroleum Management Act 2013, which among other things calls for the allocation of 2% and 3% net revenue from oil to the producing areas and communities respectively and immediate formation of inclusive Community Development Committees (CDC’s) to administer this revenue prioritizing community needs.

The panel concluded, calling for more transparency in management of oil revenues to mitigate the dry years ahead given its a non-renewable resource. the activists; giving an extrapolation “the oil should act as the seed that will germinate and grow bearing plenty of fruits for consumption in the future”, simply meaning oil revenues should be reinvested and used to anchor the growth of other sectors of the economy to diversify noting if its proceeds are mismanaged the negative implications it leaves behind is far reaching on all aspects of life and will be heavy to bear by future generations yet the oil would be long gone.

There is consensus that the oil industry needs a serious scrutiny to identify the fault lines that had hindered its progress however a radical reposition to address them will require the participation of a wide spectrum of stakeholders including the civil society, women and youth especially those most affected.

The Minister of Petroleum Awow Daniel Chuang, closing the event recognized the different viewpoints and stated such conversations are important and should be continued not only in the Ministry’s annual energy event but encouraged other forums be created to positively influence the sector to meet aspirations of all South Sudanese. He promised a comprehensive environmental audit to give a clear understanding of the level of environmental degradation as a result of oil drilling and the necessary recommendations that should be taken to mitigate its negative impacts.

He further highlighted some policy reforms already undertaken such as shift from the concessions agreements which were critiqued as opaque to a more transparent competitive licensing; adding 14 new blocks are ready for Oil exploration. The blocks include A1 to A6, E1, E2, C1, C2, C3, D1, D2, and B1, and plans for a licensing round for the new blocks will take place early next year. Lastly he announced 29th – 30th October as dates for South Sudan Oil & Power Conference 2020.  

With a renewed peace agreement holding, a new set of investors eager to strike the next oil wells, – a spark to an oil boom is seconds away, however bold messages put forward by the Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources during the South Sudan Oil & Power Conference 2019 for instance “Invest responsibly in our oil and gas industry by protecting the environment, protecting wildlife and aquatic habitat, protecting peoples health and livelihood and respect the laws of the country” will even reverberate louder and clearer, perhaps causing a fundamental shift ushering in a new era of oil and gas development in South Sudan.

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