Vultures Are Circling Over Oil

Oil discovery of Namcor, partners likely at 10b barrels

Apologies to the vultures. Actually, we apologise to animals that we often use as comparisons in order to explain (and excuse) questionable human behaviour.

For Namibia’s oil and gas sector, as well as the much-hyped green hydrogen, using some common age-old phrases might be apt though incompatible with the environmental realities.

We shall try to explain this in this editorial.

Last week, the chairman of an organisation called the African Energy Chamber, NJ Ayuk, published an article urging Namibian lawmakers to seize the opportunity by implementing policies that will have the country’s citizens gain from the anticipated flow of oil and gas that is scheduled from 2027.

“Before Namibians achieve these hotly anticipated milestones, Namibian lawmakers have the opportunity to implement thoughtful, effective policy to benefit their people,” Ayuk, also known as Njock Ayuk Eyong, wrote on his website.

Newspapers, including this one, carried the article “Namibia Energy Sector Needs Local Guidelines”. On face value the article is promoting something good.

After all, Namibian citizens ought to benefit from their country’s resources.

Only well informed people would immediately have made the connection between the author and his dealings with the Namibian government.

Critically minded people would have noticed the conspicuous lack of focus on anti-corruption and transparency points.

It is no joke that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Since independence Namibians have come to realise that policies that appear to be based on the best intentions often turn out to be a waste of money due to pure negligence, or are actually about a chosen few benefiting from public resources.

The fishing licences, roads and government construction projects, land resettlement, veterans benefits – the list is endless of good intentions used to line the pockets of fat cats (sorry).

Ayuk correctly points out in his article that “Namibia is fortunate to be in a position to benefit from the experiences of other oil and gas-producing states”.

The Namibian government is reported to be using legal advice from Ayuk, a Cameroonian businessman, for legal advice on policies pertaining to the country’s oil and gas production.

What is concerning is that Ayuk has been pointed out as a key player in the network of corruption-tainted Equatorial Guinea’s former oil minister, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, who is also the son of that country’s president.

Ayuk is also reported to be a convicted fraudster, although he has sought to deny the claims. It is instructive that Ayuk’s article avoids raising alarm on corruption and transparency in his supposed noble call for “local content”, aka Namibians getting a share of the businesses along the oil production chain.

Without addressing bribery and rent-seeking concerns, any talk of “local content” amounts to human vultures circling Namibia’s oil industry to enrich themselves, their close relatives and friends, as happened in other economic sectors.

Statistics like GDP and per capita income point to oil as useful for countries like Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Angola. But corruption has ensured that the majority of those countries’ citizens have not benefited.

Angolan leaders are a disgrace for such a rich country, when many of their citizens continue to depend on their neighbours for public health, education and a daily meal.

Namibia should by now have put in place anti-corruption measures like the Foreign Corruption Practices Act (FCPA).

The US law makes it “unlawful for certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business”.

In short, companies and officials should find it difficult to have undue advantage for personal and institutional gain.

But in Namibia, some oil companies have already been hiring officials who were working in regulatory institutions of government.

Those are signs that the worst kinds of vultures (human) are circling even before oil is being pumped.

Namibia is vulnerable. We are not prepared for the ‘oil rush’ now taking place. The country’s leadership does not have the political will to tackle corruption head-on, ministries are under-capacitated and our anti-graft bodies are weak and lacking independence.

The government must listen to what to them might seem unpalatable advice and put transparency, anti-corruption and enforcement measures in place rather than taking advice from people with dubious track records who do not have Namibia’s best interests at heart.

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