The Observer - From impact assessment to influence avenues

Written by Edward Ssekika
Friday, 28 February 2014 07:16

In the final part of our three-part series on oil waste, we look at the politics of environmental
impact assessment (EIA) in the petroleum sector. Given that EIAs are conducted by private
consultants hired by the oil companies, it raises questions of connivance.

It becomes a sort of environmental influence avenue (EIA), as Edward Ssekika reports.  
Dr Tom Okurut, the head of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), once
admitted in a public meeting that Uganda had failed to carry out a comprehensive
environmental and social impact study in the Albertine graben oil exploration and production
area. Oil exploration activities are subject to EIAs on a case-by-case basis– with each
exploration well, for example, needing an EIA. But no one has yet joined up the dots.

In the case of oil, international precedent shows that oil waste should be one of the key
concerns of the EIA. How waste disposal will be handled, for instance, can often be the
difference between oil being a curse or a blessing especially to local communities. Ideally, no
project should be approved if there are serious risks to communities and the environment. But
do Uganda’s EIAs ask the right question and find environmentally-sound answers?

Environmental experts say that Uganda’s EIA process is marred by delays, shortage of
technical expertise, lack of follow-up and the inherent disposition for EIA consultants to please
the developers who hire them.

Paul Mafabi, the Commissioner for Wetlands and Environment at the ministry of Water and
Environment, says Uganda’s EIAs are wanting. Mafabi himself has several years of experience
doing EIAs on behalf of the government and various private companies and corporations.

“For years, I have seen many EIA reports done by different experts, but the quality is very poor,”
he says.

Many experts, he adds, “do not diagnose the right impacts for some projects and they do not
recommend the right mitigation measures for others.”

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The Observer - From impact assessment to influence avenues
Written by Edward Ssekika
Friday, 28 February 2014 07:16

In Uganda, EIAs are conducted by private practitioners on behalf of developers who fund them.
Nema is charged with overseeing the process. Achilles Byaruhanga, the executive director of
the conservation NGO Nature Uganda, says that because Nema does not conduct or fund EIAs,
developers can easily influence the outcomes.

“The EIA experts dance to the tune of the developers who pay them. They fear they will lose
their contracts if they do the right thing; so in the end the quality is compromised,” Byaruhanga
asserts.

David Duli, the Uganda country director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), adds that
because the EIA process is still relatively new in Uganda, there is a shortage of EIA experts in
the country —only   120 in total. Nema is facing dire challenges of manpower. Arnold Ayazika
Waiswa, the authority’s director of environmental monitoring and compliance, says that in his
department, the volume of EIA reports has increased but the manpower remains small.

“We are understaffed and cannot handle all EIA reports adequately. We need to add more
experts but our hands are tied behind. Nema is a government agency and we cannot do
recruitment without [following] civil service rules. We have submitted a new recruitment
structure to government and we are waiting for approval. It is a little bit frustrating but we have
to be patient to succeed,” he explains.

Years of delay
But as Nema waits, EIA practitioners and the developers who hire them are increasingly
frustrated by delays. Alfred Tumusiime, the managing director of Opportunities for
Environmental Planning Consult Limited, says he has waited for years for his EIA reports to be
approved or rejected by Nema. His company is now losing clients because they try to side-step
the EIA process.

“If a developer waits for this long, they may lose business or go bankrupt. So, there are many
developers dodging the mandatory EIA process,” he says.

According to the law, the EIA process for any project must be completed within three months.

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The Observer - From impact assessment to influence avenues
Written by Edward Ssekika
Friday, 28 February 2014 07:16

Yet Tumusiime says he has spent over three years pleading with Nema to review 15 EIA
reports. In a recent meeting with Nema, Tumusiime learnt that the authority currently has over
500 EIA reports awaiting review.

According to the EIA process, when Nema is reviewing the EIA reports, district environment
officers in the locality where a development is proposed are supposed to comment and add
recommendations.

“But many of these officers often refuse, arguing that they have not been facilitated with per
diem and transport. They demand money from us, which is not proper,” Tumusiime complains.

Oil priority
According to Tumusiime, Nema gives priority to the oil sector and the process is much faster
than for other commercial developments. Nevertheless, the period in which Nema reviews the
assessments still sometimes exceeds the legal timeframe. When Tumusiime did an EIA for
Dominion Oil in 2008, he recalls, Nema took five months to review it instead of the mandatory
three months.

The ActionAid newsletter Oil in Uganda managed to examine some of the oil sector EIA reports
in NEMA’s library. They are officially public documents, but they were not easy to access:
 Nema staff, oil companies and environmental services companies initially all referred requests
for samples to each other.

Sample assessments
In September 2009, Heritage Oil and Gas contracted Environmental Assessment Consult Ltd to
conduct an EIA for Bbegeril exploration well, in Ngwedo parish, Buliisa sub-county. Moses
Kitimbo, who carried out the assessment, wrote that potential impacts included noise, surface
and ground water pollution, air pollution, diseases, accidents and soil erosion.

Recommended general mitigation measures included environmental management and setting
up a monitoring plan. In December 2008, Tullow Uganda Pty Limited contracted Air, Water and
Earth to do an EIA for the proposed early production system at Kaiso-Tonya area, Block 2, Lake
Albert.

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The Observer - From impact assessment to influence avenues
Written by Edward Ssekika
Friday, 28 February 2014 07:16

According to the report, meetings for the impacts were held and they discovered that the project
could bring solid waste problems, accidents during transport of products and contamination of
water. The report recommended mitigations such as developing a solid waste management
plan following the principles, and waste treatment and responsible disposal in storage areas,
among others.

Most recommendations in these samples seemed to be of a rather general nature, without
concrete mitigation measures on air pollution or avoidance of polluting water sources. Nor did
they give concrete suggestions on mitigating disturbances to wildlife, merely recommending that
the Uganda Wildlife Authority or National Forest Authority serve as lead agents to monitor and
report any impacts.

Satisfied
However, in a written statement, Tullow Oil representatives expressed broad satisfaction with
the EIA processes in Uganda. Nema, the statement said, has put in place clear guidelines that
have enabled the business to undertake operations in accordance with international best
practices. This EIA process reportedly involves various assessments, frequent reviews and
extensive consultation with stakeholders.

Responding to a question about ‘challenges’ in the process, Tullow’s representatives wrote:
“For a new industry that is currently growing, you will find that some standards have not yet
been developed. However government is in the process of developing all required standards.
For example, guidelines for waste management have been published recently and are under
review by the industry.

“Nonetheless, in the absence of some standards, we follow international standards and industry
best practice to ensure environmental accountability and safeguard the environment.

“Another challenge is related to the large demand made on the local consultants who are
dealing with a new industry and its impact. However, to boost local capacity development, the
operators bring in international consultants and promote partnership with local consultant to
insure that best practice are implemented and foster the development of local capacity and
expertise.”

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The Observer - From impact assessment to influence avenues
Written by Edward Ssekika
Friday, 28 February 2014 07:16

Ultimately, then, the question of oil waste in Uganda boils down to capacity. Capacity to
appreciate the risks, capacity to put in place mitigating measures, capacity by regulators to bite
offenders and deter abuse so as to protect Ugandans.
ssekika@observer.ug
This Observer feature is published in partnership with Panos Eastern Africa, with funding from
the European Union’s Media for Democratic Governance and Accountability Project.

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