By Samuel Okulony
During the recently concluded International joint oil and gas convention and regional logistics expo that took place at the Kampala Serena Conference Centre, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, cautioned Uganda against signing of bad agreements and asked the Government to endeavour to put the citizens at the centre of decision-making.
His comments came at a time when the developments in Uganda’s oil sector are in advanced stages where major decisions are being made with fundamental social, environmental, economic and political implications.
These decisions include the building of pipelines, an oil refinery, Central Processing Facilities (CPF), power stations for heating pipelines, building of construction camps and operation centers in addition to development of urban centers, roads connecting oil centers and along pipelines among others.
Noteworthy is that, these developments are taking place in one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystem in Africa known for hosting a habitat for 39% of Africa’s Mammal species, 35% of Africa’s insect species, 51% of Africa’s bird species, 19% of Africa’s amphibian species, 14% of Africa’s plant and reptile species plus 79 threatened terrestrial vertebrates among others.
Therefore, for sustainable exploitation of oil resource to occur in Uganda and join some of the world's blessed countries with the resource, citizens must be involved and allowed to express their opinion in decision-making. This could be done through effective implementation of Environmental Impact assessment where citizens are given an opportunity to participate through either public hearing and or consultations.
Environmental Impact Assessment is the process of analysing the likely impacts of the proposed project, plan or activity on the environment. The implementation of the EIA differs according the country and type of project in line with scope, quality, methods, public participation but the systematic process and goal is the same where each step has an equal importance in promoting environmental sustainability.
For public participation to be effective, citizen’s civic competence to influence decisions must be enhanced with right and timely information especially on developments that affect their livelihoods.
However, only a well-informed public aware of its rights and having right information to participate can truly help decision makers make the right choices. Under the current EIA regulations, it is the mandated for all project listed under the third schedule to undergo full EIA that involves conducting public hearings and taking into efforts to solicit the views of the public in decision-making.
Therefore, National Environment Management Authority as an institution mandated by law to oversee environment management must work with her institutions to create public awareness on their role in participation. In addition EIA reports produced must be translated in local languages understood by the people especially project affected persons with popular versions for easy understanding.
When citizens are allowed to participate in decision-making process in the oil sector, we shall be basking in glory of oil resource like other blessed countries.
The writer is the programmes and research coordinator with Africa institute for energy governance