The sound of silence, breaking?

elephant in the room

The leaked Statoil contract (see here for background) is a big deal. Tanzania could well lose out on several hundred million dollars a year from just this contract (compared to the terms of the model contract). It should be the big political story of the moment, perhaps of the year.

And yet:

When the parliamentary committee on economic affairs, industry and trade noted the bad deal in a report (pdf, Swahili), it led to zero coverage in the media.

When the World Bank launched their latest Economic Update on Tanzania, two weeks ago, the Statoil contract was apparently the hot topic on the meeting sidelines. The media still said nothing.

When The Citizen reported on Statoil’s latest gas find, and the prospects of a larger-than-expected gas processing plant, they didn’t mention the leaked Statoil contract or what it could cost the country.

And most of all, when Uongozi Institute held a forum on natural gas, four major newspapers gave the event prominent coverage (Citizen, Daily News, Guardian, Nipashe), several of them discussing the need for gas contracts that protect the national public interest, yet none mentioned the Statoil deal.

One of the main speakers at the meeting was Patrick Rutabanzibwa, the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals and now Tanzania Country chairman of PanAfrican Energy (the company who runs the Songo Songo gas field and the Songas gas-fired power plant in Ubungo, Dar es Salaam). According to the Citizen, Mr Rutabanzibwa said that: 

“We should let bygones be bygones and start by legally making investment contracts in the natural gas sector public; I am sure there will come a day where all investment contracts are public,” he added.

But no mention of the one investment contract that has become transparent.

The Guardian also quoted Mr Rutabanzibwa:

“We are failing to enter into resource contracts as it was in mining and currently in oil and gas because our capacity is very low. But if Tanzanians will be empowered then, contracts will be balanced.”

No mention of the unbalanced contract that’s already in the public domain.

Nipashe pointed out that the Norwegian Embassy was represented at the meeting, but no mention of the contract, or the fact that Statoil is 67%-owned by the Government of Norway.

And the Daily News summed up their typically positive view in their headline: “Gas tipped to boost public services”

There’s an elephant in the room, and the result is silence. It’s certainly not the sound of a free press in action, or the sound of democracy.

Which is why I submitted a post to the African Arguments blog, which was published earlier today (Friday). Here’s an excerpt:

Leaked agreement shows Tanzania may not get a good deal for gas

One of the big political risks with oil and gas is that it can be seen by politicians and senior officials as ‘easy’ money that doesn’t come with the kind of scrutiny that taxpayers demand when they pay their taxes and donors demand when they provide aid. Unless somebody – the media, politicians, civil society – steps up to fill the gap, decision makers in government will be left free to make whatever decisions they choose, unencumbered by any need to protect the public interest. The Statoil PSA may well have cost Tanzania several billion dollars – yet it appears no-one is trying to hold those responsible to account.

So why the silence? It may be that the media and the politicians don’t understand the significance of the deal, don’t have the capacity to pick apart the leaked PSA’s legal language to find the meat. It’s certainly not easy to do. Alternatively, it may be that they don’t care. Or it may be that they are scared.

Click here to read the full African Arguments post.

And in response, two reactions. First, from Zitto Kabwe on his blog: Tanzania to lose up to $1b under StatOil PSA: Open these Oil and Gas Contracts. And second, Zitto’s post was uploaded to JamiiForums, where it has provoked a bit of a discussion, of a kind that wasn’t happening before today.

It’s not much, as yet, but perhaps the silence has been broken?

– – – – –

Update 5/7/14:

In the Guardian: Tanzania to lose up to $1bn under StatOil PSA, says MP Zitto Kabwe

The Guardian, 5/7/14

The Guardian, 5/7/14

Update 7/7/14:

More from Zitto: Mkataba wa Gesi umevuja: #Tanzania kupoteza shs 1.6 trilioni kwa mwaka – #Norway kujirudishia misaada yake yote nchini kupitia mkataba huu.

And he’s quoted at length in Nipashe (Mapato ya gesi asilia Tanzania kulizwa) and Mwananchi (Tanzania kupoteza Sh1.6 trilioni za gesi), both on the front page (but only just.)

Mwananchi 7/7/14

Mwananchi 7/7/14

Nipashe 7/7/14

Nipashe 7/7/14

Meanwhile, TPDC has defended the contract, which is the line taken by (government-owned) Daily News: TPDC dismisses claims of losing out in contract.

 

6 thoughts on “The sound of silence, breaking?

  1. MOSES MWANJA

    We need a strong leader like you who cant sleep and devoted with his/her life for the country.Now the question is common citizen understands the loss and the danger our country is facing due to this corrupt agreements?

  2. Eric

    Thanks for the nice article. I think this means that the press lacks confidence in its own capacity to read and interpret complex documents. They couldnt rely on an independent analysis until prominent politician, Mr Zitto, spoke and then it was easier to quote him instead of setting the agenda themselves.
    It is strange about the CItizen though because they have been setting the agenda lately with high profile corruption stories. However they now face a lawsuit in court so maybe they are being cautious.
    It’s only a story if a politician says it. That is the situation we are in now where elites set the agenda for the media. So what else goes uncovered because Zitto has decided not to speak about it? That is the question.

    1. mtega Post author

      Thanks Eric, great point.

      The media (almost everywhere) retreats into “he said, she said” reporting when they don’t feel qualified to judge what is true. It’s safer, it’s easier, it’s cheaper. But the media also needs to recognise when a story is too important to be told in only that way.

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  4. E. Miller

    Hi Ben,
    I am happy to see your blog post got more press for the leaked contract! But would you be able to explain how you arrived at your figures of $400 and over $900 million in losses?

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