Debacles of Jonglei (Block 2) Oil Exploration

By Dut-machine de Mabior

A news of an oil deal caught the air on Monday, May 5th 2019, when the minister of Petroleum announced it. Ambassador Ezekiel Lol who became minister in 2016 after the J1 dogfight which saw Dr. Rislek Machar on a forty days long journey through the labyrinth of South Sudan’s forest into Congo has since had numerous efforts in opening more oil blocks than reviving the production that was interrupted by war. After failure of the security structure of ARCISS (2015), Riek fled for his life and a faction of his party led by Taban declared allegiance to the agreement and became active to fill the void. In his quest to upgrade oil production, the minister has agreed with the Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF), a South Africa’s state-owned corporation to be the player doing exploration.

“South Sudan has a great potential, yet our country remains vastly under-explored, and we believe the entry of new players like the SFF will lead to new world-class discoveries very soon given the aggressive exploration program and great petroleum viability,” declared Ezekiel during the signing ceremony.

Block B2, located in Jonglei State, has been in the negotiations market since 2018 after long talks with the French Total failed to produce an agreement. The deadlock came up due to a staunch disagreement on the length of exploration and commercial terms that would see an agreement through. “Lol was never going to agree with Total. He needs a company that would bribe him to award contracts…” were the words of John Gatluak, a technical member of the team that handled negotiations with the French oil giant. It’s not clear what the SFF provided the minister with. This article has no intention whatsoever to determine the backdoor dealings that led to the license award.

Jonglei State stands to benefit due to a two percent from the oil sales the transitional constitution of South Sudan awards the an oil producing state. Other than economic improvements, insecurity that has been the hitch hampering productivity in many areas in the state may register some positive changes. A development of an oil workers station to the east, especially between Pibor and Jobglei, could see a case of reduces cattle rustling and child abduction. This postulation stands against the backdrops of a Gadiang military force that has been in existence for years but rather has not helped. Men in uniform have been quoted declaring ‘never to die for civilians antagonism’. That the primary role of any government is to protect civilians is a foreign function in their lexicon. Employment opportunities may crop up, more so, to the betterment of the locals and youths.

Highlights of benefits that may accrue to Jonglei and South Sudan aside. The project doesn’t seem to have been well thought ahead of awards. Public scrutiny has paid attention to the haste in which this matter is being bulldozed and realized a possible repeat of the Ruweng case is eminent.

Ruweng oil fields have done more damage than good to the people. The state’s two percent proceed has found itself in the pocket of elites of the defunct Upper Nile State. Many point fingers to Gen. Taban, the then governor who improved his position at the running plight of Dr. Riek in 2016, becoming the country’s ever second First Vice President. The only payment people of Ruweng have had is defiled environment which has thus far seen animals dead and human giving birth to deformed infants.

Wim Zwijnenburg underscored the state of oil pollution in South Sudan warning if nothing is done, the situation may only worsen. Nothing seems to be underway in the positive direction. The government has only decried oil prices, production levels and nothing touching on the environment ever comes up. The Chinese and Malaysian symposiums that lead this exploration get away with everything in their responsibilities as South Sudanese wrangle over who belongs where in the Power Phasor Diagram. Oil production was shut down in 2012 over disagreement with Sudan on transit fees. Even though it’s clear Sudan signed the agreement with the current oil contractors, South Sudan has not made any effort to renegotiate the deal factoring their national interests, environment and her people, at the heart of it.

World Health Organization pledged to support South Susan’s health ministry to develop a policy on environment. This doesn’t fall into the specific contact of oil hazards but any policy on environment in South Sudan marks a step in the right direction. South Sudan’s first ever report on sustainable environment released in the July of 2018 emphasized “sustainable and equitable management of resources, such as forests, oil, water and minerals, will contribute to peace and economic prosperity.” It acknowledges that the state of the environment is not at its best though lack coherent measures to correct the menace of oil.

Many have put their opinions out there against this SFF deal citing corruption and pollution among others. Philip Anyang, a constitutional lawyer expressed on his Facebook page his disappointments with the ministry to sign off the contract. SFF is a considered quack in the industry and leaving the people in their hand is a heavy price to pay, at least, for people who have not known peace their entire lives. Biar D’Chol-Banyawutl, on other hand questions the government’s legitimacy to continue exploiting people’s resources that only it officials pocket the profits. South sudan, according to World Bank has lost over ten billions of dollars to graft since the autonomous government in 2005. Young people of this eaten country would rather prefer to have their resources preserved while tye leaders fight over positions, Daniel Akech, a mathematician suggests.

President Salva plays victimhood in affairs of his government. In public utterances, he’s claimed to have been failed by appointees. His cabinet has been corrupt, failed to deliver and the crowd he speaks to never fails to laugh and clap. Whether or not such rigour of applauses are mockery is an underlying topic that needs a different unearthing of truth. If this contract goes wrong with the civil population, it won’t be a surprise seeing the President coming out boldly to distant himself. Fingers have thus far been pointed at Lol, same way they go to Taban over the forced disappearance of Samuel Dong and Agrey Idri whom the UN panel of expert declared to have been executed on Kiir’s farm in Luri. All these can go wrong but a roar from the President at what he doesn’t like will send tremors down the planners to make them behave. In this regard, one may exonerate the President to some extent and hold him accountable by powers invested him.

In the recent days, an online hyped group, Red Card Movement, threatening to stage a protest in Juba on May 16th has seen the government spokesman, Michael Makuei, threaten the protesters. It may not be so wrong till this SFF contract goes through. Another blunder that throws the lives of people to money hunters, given contracts in the hand-to-mouth manner minister Lol did may surely be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.


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