- On Tuesday, the court dismissed the case filed by six NGOs, which sought to suspend the massive project in Tanzania and Uganda
The government yesterday described as “encouraging” a French court’s decision to dismiss a landmark case against the energy giant TotalEnergies, which is involved in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (Eacop).
“It has removed a dark cloud over the project’s implementation,” Energy minister January Makamba told The Citizen.
On Tuesday, the court dismissed the case filed by six NGOs, which sought to suspend the massive project in Tanzania and Uganda.
It was the first case of its kind in France, and activists had hoped it would set a legal precedent to halt projects deemed harmful to the environment and human rights.
The NGOs that filed the suit argued that the development of the Eacop failed to adhere to a “duty of vigilance”, a 2017 law that compels companies to avoid grave harm to human rights, health, safety and the environment.
The court ruled that the case was “inadmissible”, saying the plaintiffs did not correctly follow court procedures against the French energy giant.
It said the plaintiffs submitted accounts to the court in December that were “substantially different” from those that were presented to TotalEnergies in a formal notice in 2019 when the case was initiated.
The suit in France was brought by two French and four Ugandan NGOs, which accused TotalEnergies of taking land from more than 100,000 people without adequate compensation.
Mr Makamba, who previously served as Environment minister – said yesterday that the dismissal meant that the court had indirectly sided with proponents of the project, who had all along argued that all the relevant factors had been given due consideration and appropriate measures taken.
“We have indeed invested in considerable efforts to ensure that the project is executed in a manner that does not affect the rights of people. In fact, as far as Tanzania is concerned, we have so far ensured that the rights of everyone involved in the project are protected,” he said.
Latest official data show that 89 percent of the people who will be affected by the project in Tanzania have already received their compensations.
The Eacop project coordinator from the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), Mr Asiadi Mrutu, said during a Local Employee’ Skills Enhancement Training in Tanga last month that out of the 9,508 people that will be compensated, 8,450 have already received a total of Sh29 billion in compensations.
“In short, out of the 9,508 people, 8,922 – which is more than 93 percent – have agreed to receive their compensation and 8,450 of them have already been paid Sh29 billion as compensation and given notices to move from their places by May this year so as to pave way for the construction,” he said.
In their petition, the NGOs argued that TotalEnergies drilled wells in the biodiversity-rich Murchison Falls National Park on the shores of Lake Albert.
Friends of the Earth and Survival, the two French NGOs, and the Ugandan groups denied having substantially modified their submissions to the court.
They “only clarified them and consolidated their arguments with more than 200 documents of supporting evidence”, said Juliette Renaud, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth.
The plaintiffs, who can appeal against the decision, said they would speak to “the affected communities” about their next steps, Renaud added.
Celine Gagey, the lawyer who represented the NGOs, said they would take time to “digest the decision” and discuss whether it would be best to appeal.
The “very strong popular mobilisation” over the project “obliged Total to improve the transparency of its actions” and make further efforts which remain insufficient, she added.
TotalEnergies welcomed the ruling.
It told AFP the verdict recognised the firm had “formally established a vigilance plan” with elements “sufficiently precise to not be regarded as cursory”.
The $10-billion oilfields and pipeline project has been hailed by supporters as an economic boon for Uganda and Tanzania, where many live in poverty, but is strongly opposed by environmentalists.
The project is being jointly developed by TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), along with the state-owned Uganda National Oil Company.
The 1,443-kilometre (900-mile) pipeline will transport crude from vast oilfields being developed in Lake Albert in northwestern Uganda to a Tanzanian port on the Indian Ocean.
Lake Albert, a natural border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, lies atop an estimated 6.5 billion barrels of crude, of which about 1.4 billion barrels are currently considered recoverable.
Mr Makamba late last month rejected the environmental and rights concerns as “propaganda”, saying the country complied with environmental, safety and human rights standards.
Source: The Citizen