Malawi has asked the United Nations (UN) to let it decide on Unesco’s request to cancel oil exploration at Lake Malawi National Park, a world heritage site, according to official communication.
But in the communication, a letter to the United Nations Scientific, Education and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) signed by Ministry of Sports and Culture Principal Secretary (PS) Sam Madula, Malawi fell short of giving a time frame on when it will make a decision on the matter.
Oil exploration on Lake Malawi is currently suspended, but Unesco is concerned that Rak Gas Limited was also granted an oil exploration exercise on the world heritage site.
Reads Madula’s letter: “You may wish to know that the issue of oil exploration started under a different government before the new government came in May 2014. Owing to complexity of the issue at hand, the new government needs time to assess the issue and the consequences of its decision.
“Second, the recommendations of the mission party such as working closely with communities in the village enclaves in and around the periphery of the property are being addressed through the revision of the property’s management plan.”
He assured the UN agency of Malawi’s commitment to heritage conservation issues and that the country is working on several recommendations from the Doha meeting on the matter.
Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining PS Ben Botolo on Tuesday said he could not comment on the matter as his ministry is yet to see the Unesco report and government’s response.
Reacting to the development, environmental activist Godfrey Mfiti asked Malawi to withdraw its interest to explore oil on the heritage site.
He said: “It is high time that the Government of Malawi must come out in the open and withdraw the whole idea of exploiting Lake Malawi unsustainably. The current world growth path demands sustainable economic development approaches. It is unfortunate that oil drilling in Lake Malawi is undermining the possible permanent environmental and public health impacts.”
But another activist, Undule Mwakasungula, urged caution on the matter, saying government needs to weigh the economic benefits of any of the choices it can make on the matter.
He said: “Government cannot just cancel licences because of Unesco recommendations. The nation must weigh the benefits from oil and keeping the so called recognised heritage. If oil with proper management will bring economic turnaround for the nation and change lives of the people why not go for it?
“What I see is not destroying the heritage sites, but utilising the heritage sites to bring prosperity to the nation.”
Over the weekend, some communities in Karonga and Nkhata Bay asked government to speed up its decision on oil exploration licenses that Capital Hill suspended last November to review Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), saying they believe oil discovery would be of economic benefit to their communities.
The suspension of oil and gas exploration in November 2014, initially for a month, have now swallowed more than a year.
Four companies—Rak Gas, the Surestream-Hamra Oil Holdings venture, Pacific Oil and SacOil—hold the exploration licences.
Rak Gas—owned by the Government of Ras Al Khaimah, one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—holds Blocks Four and Five it won after an international bidding participation. It has since carried out Full Tensor Gravity Gradiometry (FTG).
Hamra—a Cayman Island origin private company—bought 51 percent into Blocks Two and Three from Surestream and entered into a deed of assignment that was duly approved and signed by the ministry. Hamra too has carried out an FTG.
Pacific Oil, which is part of Vega Petroleum Limited—the privately owned oil and gas entity that has oil producing and exploration concessions in Egypt—secured Block Six, also after an international bidding participation while SacOil won Block One.
Both Pacific and SacOil are yet to carry FTGs, but the Vega group member has indicated that it is ready to carry out the exercise once it gets government nod. n