Story by George Sanzila
Windhoek – The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources held a consultative meeting with the Ministry of Mines and Energy today (12/10/2021). The meeting, prompted by a petition opposed to Recon Africa oil and gas exploration activities in the Kavango regions, follows a recent fact finding mission by the Committee to the two Kavango regions.
In February this year, a consortium of non-governmental organisations calling themselves “Saving the Okavango’s Unique Life” (SOUL), handed over a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Prof. Peter Katjavivi. The petitioners called for an immediate moratorium on all oil and gas exploration activities alleging a myriad of issues including fracking, displacement of the inhabitants without compensation and lack of consultations, water contamination and environmental damage among others. They further stated that there were many environmentally friendly energy alternatives that could be explored including wind and solar energy.
The petition was then referred to the Parliamentary committee for further investigation in order to report back its findings to parliament. As part of a series of its investigations on the matter, the committee then invited the Ministry of Mines and Energy to get clarity on some of the critical issues raised in the petition.
Petroleum Commissioner in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Maggy Shino noted during the meeting that after the company had been issued with an Exclusive Prospecting Licence (EPL) in 2015, more than forty consultative meetings with the communities have taken place including other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and that of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. She further stated that over 250 Namibians have been employed, and that N$14 million has been spent on services and government has so far generated over N$7.6 million in revenue.
She denied claims of alleged fracking noting that the drilling licence issued to Recon Africa, involves the usage of conventional methods. Shino further reiterated that drilling activities by Recon Africa did not harm the environment and that the blocks that have been licenced do not form part of national parks or the famed Okavango delta. “We are not drilling in the Okavango delta. It is situated over 250 kilometres away from the site. That information is not factual. Namibia also does not issue drilling licences in national parks”, stressed Shino.
On charges of displacement, the Petroleum Commissioner stated that so far no community member has been relocated due to drilling activities and that citizens are protected by the law if such a situation arises. “Nobody has been moved from their homes or land. The drilling itself and the wells have a very minimal impact in terms of the required land size. They do not take that much space but also Namibia has laws that makes provision for negotiation and compensation in case of relocation”, said Shino.
According to the Ministry, Namibia as a developing country has adopted a national integrated resource plan that entails the use of all forms of energy. “As a developing country in Africa, our development agenda is different. It will take us some time to transition. We have as a country the National Integrated Resource Plan, which advocates for the use of an energy mix. We have to make use of all our natural resources as we are aware of the energy deficit we face”, she stated.
She further noted that Namibia was equally fully aware of the need to sustainably use its resources hence the promulgation of laws meant to achieve that objective such the petroleum and Production Act, Environmental Management Act and the Water Act among many others.
On concerns of direct monetary benefits to the inhabitants of the two regions classified as some of the poorest regions in Namibia, the Executive Director, Simeon Negumbo noted that the Ministry was in the process of reviewing the law in order to find a balance between investors’ interests and social impact. So far communities have benefited from Recon Africa’s philanthropy in the form of the provision of solar powered community water wells. The Ministry admitted that it lacked a comprehensive social responsibility policy that would compel companies to invest significantly in affected communities for a long lasting impact.
Chairperson of the Committee, Hon. Tjekero Tweya said during the meeting that, the recent fact finding mission to the Kavango regions, revealed that inhabitants were unhappy with being seemingly side-lined in terms of directly benefiting from the natural resources, should oil and gas be found in commercial quantity. Recon Africa has partnered with the National Petroleum of Namibia (NAMCOR) that has a 10 per cent stake in the agreement. Besides the project envisaging to generate revenue through a 10 per cent stake, taxes and royalties for the country in addition to job creation, infrastructure development and energy security, the residents feel they too should directly benefit as custodians of the land in which this resource would be extracted.
Hon. Tweya further bemoaned the current high licence fees for EPLs noting that they are a hindrance for Namibians wishing to participate in the exploitation of their own natural resources.