It’s good to see the Statoil gas story continues to make headlines in the Tanzanian press. Today (Monday) saw The Citizen lead with the story, asking some very pertinent questions about the contract and TPDC’s response to it.
The article quotes me at length, along with a statement released by TPDC (Swahili, pdf) over the weekend, which argues that the deal is a good one for Tanzania.
I disagree with the TPDC statement, which I feel continues to misunderstand the issue. They are still not engaging with the key point: that the terms of the signed PSA (the leaked document) are significantly worse for Tanzania than the terms of the model PSA.
But it’s actually a different point I want to focus on here: transparency.
Why is it that the Tanzanian media (and civil society, politicians, and citizens) have to wait for someone to leak a contract like this before they can begin trying to work out whether or not it represents a good deal for Tanzania?
(Incidentally, the Citizen mistakenly said in the article earlier that I was the leaker – a error for which they they have apologised, and which they have corrected.)
For me, the key point is that the gas belongs to Tanzanians, so shouldn’t they have the right to know the terms under which it is being sold?
The IMF, in their recent paper on natural gas in Tanzania, made a different (but equally valid) case for transparency, arguing that it is vital “for the public to gain confidence that any agreements are fair.”
“A good starting point would be to disclose the terms of signed PSAs. Companies are likely to welcome this, at least as long as disclosure is applied across all companies on a level playing field.”
In fact, at the moment, the playing field is not level. It favours the big players. Smaller companies, such as Swala Energy, are effectively forced to reveal the terms of their PSA as part of their efforts to raise funds. Bigger firms, such as Statoil, ExxonMobile and BG, can more easily hide their terms from the public.
And if TPDC is confident that their contracts are good for Tanzania – as they claim to be – what have they got to lose by publishing?
Tanzania has been part of both the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) for several years now. There are some signs that this combination might bring some transparency to gas production contracts, though given Tanzania’s record in the first two years of the OGP, we will have to wait to see what happens.
Finally, there is a related issue – one which the Citizen’s mistake earlier prompted me to think about. There is no legal protection for whistleblowers in Tanzania. I did not leak the Statoil PSA, but I’m very glad that someone did. Whoever the real source of the leak was, they deserve our support and thanks. It is because of him/her that we are able to have this debate at all.
Ambassador Juma Volter Mwapachu agrees with me. After seeing the Citizen article, he tweeted:
@asalim86 Is he being accused for patriotism or what? If there is truth in his report of the leaked PSA contract that should be commended.
— Juma Volter Mwapachu (@Mwapachu) July 14, 2014
In other words, Ambassador Mwapachu sees the leak as an act of patriotism.
We shouldn’t need leaks, but at the moment, we do. Perhaps there’s a case for legal protection for those who release confidential documents in the public interest?