NAIROBI, KENYA: Residents of Turkana could have signed numerous agreements with Tullow Oil but are unsure what they have given up.
This is due to the level of literacy among the community members, most of whom view the many agreement signing meetings with the company as merry-making occasions, while the firm will not open up the signed documents to the public for scrutiny.
A new report by Oxfam notes that few members of the communities in areas where Tullow has been prospecting for oil are unaware of such documents.
Only a few leaders, such as chiefs, are aware that such agreements exist but many of them do not have copies or cannot explain how the processes that resulted in the signing. The documents show the process of acquiring consent to land and include agreements with the community.
Tullow, on the other hand, treats the documentation in confidentiality and will not give access not just to outsiders but its own officials working with the communities and the county government.
The report was done after a study by Oxfam on whether Tullow Oil has complied with Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in doing its work in Turkana County.
The FPIC concept is a way to guarantee that communities are not side-lined in such projects as the Turkana oil project and that they understand the land access they would be giving a firm such as Tullow.
Making the documentation public would help stakeholders including community non-governmental actors gauge whether the agreements are beneficial or a rip-off.
Oxfam said it had requested for the documents while doing the research but Tullow turned down its requests
“Tullow staff repeatedly insisted that the company had extensive documentation of consultations and of the agreement, both on paper and on video, but were unwilling to make this available for review,” said the report published last week.
“While no one is obligated to provide documentation to external researchers, the real problem is that the community members themselves have no documentation of the negotiation process, and most have little awareness of the final agreements.”
“Most community members did not appear to know much about or have access to such documents; only the chief, chief’s elders and members of the Wellpad Committee could speak about written agreements, and they were not able to find copies of these documents…. without documentation, and in light of different opinions, it is impossible to confirm that the process and agreements were sufficient for FPIC.”
While Oxfam noted that it was not out to criticise Tullow and the study was aimed at offering learning for Kenya’s relatively young oil and gas, the findings of the study point to a firm that is careful to hold all the cards close to its chest.
The non-governmental organisation said the exploration firm is wary of giving up information to the public, even instances where it is necessary to make them.
The Lokichar is partly financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which has a requirement for transparency and accountability on projects that it finances.
This would imply publishing the agreements that Tullow Oil has signed with the communities, for example, on its website.
“The lack of ready access by community members to the documentation required by IFC, combined with inconsistent understandings of what was agreed, means that ‘consent’ to the access to land has not met FPIC standards,” said Oxfam.
The organisation’s research team said reported in the report that Tullow officials said there were ceremonies during which agreements were signed and necessary measures were taken to enable the community members to understand the nature of what they were getting into.
To the people, however, these were festivities and those interviewed for the report could not recall the agreements that were read to them.
“Tullow staff said the agreements were read out in the local language at the agreement ceremonies, and that signatories were introduced. Locals said that these ceremonies involved speeches and a lot of meat, but no one recalled hearing agreements read out, explained or shown, or signatories being introduced,” said Oxfam.
“Again, without documentation from the agreements ceremony, it is impossible to verify the contradictory statements.”
The report further notes that Tullow’s own field employees are in the dark on the content of the agreements adding that lack of access to documentation goes beyond the communities.
“Neither Tullow Oil’s own government and public affairs team in the county seat of Lodwar, nor any of the county government officials interviewed, have copies of any documentation,” said Oxfam.
“The team noted that this was problematic since they deal with the Government, and should be fully aware of what Tullow is doing with communities.”