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Total not upfront about Tilenga, oil pipeline projects

Oil pipeline project activities

Oil pipeline project activities

On March 8, 2021, Total, the global oil giant, published a statement titled, Tilenga and EACOP: Acting transparently.

The company outlined ways in which it is addressing the environmental and social concerns of the twin projects, which are located in some of Uganda’s and indeed the region’s most ecosensitive areas. 

These include Murchison Falls national park (MFNP), the Murchison-Falls Albert Delta wetland system -a Ramsar site- and the Lake Victoria basin among others.

Total’s statement was published after 263 environmental and human rights civil society organisations (CSOs) from Uganda and all over the world wrote to the banks that are arranging financing for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project and those that have recently financed the EACOP project developers, specifically Total and CNOOC.

In the letter, the CSOs discussed the substantial environmental, climate change and social risks of the EACOP project. To perhaps reassure investors that Total is addressing the Tilenga and EACOP project risks, the aforementioned statement was published.

First, we appreciate Total for being responsive and for showing that the company is seeking to address concerns. However, we feel that Total published information to reassure its publics while doing little to nothing to address the environmental, social and climate change concerns of the Tilenga and EACOP projects.

This means that the risks of the projects remain real. For instance, while Total said that the company is carrying out “a land acquisition program compliant with the highest international standards”, evidence from the EACOP-affected communities shows otherwise.

Over 5,000 families whose land is being acquired in ten districts in Uganda for the EACOP project have not been compensated since 2019. Under Article 26, the Ugandan Constitution provides that project-affected people (PAPs) have to be paid prompt, fair and adequate compensation. It’s 2021 and the EACOP-affected families are yet to receive their prompt compensation!

Moreover, the families were stopped from using their land to grow perennial food and cash crops, such as coffee or matooke. They were also stopped from setting up any new developments.

If one acquires a windfall and wants to set up rental units to avoid wasting one’s money, one cannot do this. The families also cannot bury their dead, as new graves are barred, before consulting with Total or its sub-contractors. How is this a high standard if cultural and economic rights are being abused?

As regards Total’s commitment to ensurean accessible, transparent and fair complaints-handling system”, this commitment is yet to be seen under the EACOP project. Complaints of intimidation from Total’s sub-contractors and security agencies have been recorded especially in the Greater Masaka area, where the EACOP will pass. PAPs who complain against low assessment values are intimidated.

Little wonder that community anger against the EACOP project exists. Tasked to explain their grievances, communities will tell you to “never, ever speak to me about the EACOP project”.

Under the Tilenga project, intimidation through the use of court cases exists as well. While Total expresses a commitment to “not use or tolerate the use by others of … legal threats against people …”, legal means are being used to intimidate nine Tilenga-affected families that refused inadequate and unfair compensation.

The nine families were sued by government to compel them to take the compensation they refused. Granted, Total didn’t file the suit against the Tilenga PAPs. However, its partner, the Ugandan government, did.

Yet the company commits to allow freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly or protest. Isn’t the right to receiving fair and adequate compensation, a right that is crucial to the economic prosperity of affected communities, important?

It is also notable that in October 2019 in Kakumiro district, security officials attempted to stop CSO leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from submitting their views on the EACOP’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report.

This was at the public hearing on the report. Yet the EACOP and Tilenga projects will have transboundary impacts that will be felt in the DRC. The discovery of oil on Lake Albert already caused conflict that resulted in death in 2007. Despite this, security officials tried to stop DRC CSO leaders from expressing their views.

Total also notes that over 70,000 people have been consulted on the Tilenga and EACOP ESIA reports. However, anyone who has attended the public consultations will tell you that the consultations are aimed at meeting requirements for international financing, among others.

Communities lack the information and understanding of ESIA reports needed to meaningfully participate to protect the environment and their livelihoods. In addition, DRC cross-border communities that have been and will continue to be affected by Uganda’s oil activities are not consulted.

Finally, Total fails to show how it is addressing the climate change concerns of its projects. Proposals of financing the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to address biodiversity concerns may also compromise UWA’s capacity to play an oversight role over pollution in MFNP.

The writers are the senior communications officer of AFIEGO and a co-leader of DYCOPERA, a network of environmental and human rights CSOs in the DRC.

Comments

0 #1 Lysol 2021-03-30 02:52
Total is a corrupt organization. It is the one now keeping Museveni in power.

It screwed up in Tanzania and now in Mozambique. The detail of which is anybody's guess.
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