Prospects of possible oil deposits in Lake Malawi have got the world sniffing around, with some oil extraction companies now fighting for rights to explore the valuable commodity.
Reliable sources within government indicate that there is a fight among foreign companies to sign deals with the Malawi Government to start exploring oil and gas in Lake Malawi with a possibility of securing extracting contracts.
Companies from United Kingdom, China, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Afghanistan are said to be in town courting key government officials for mining and extraction concessions.
The scramble for the oil comes at a time the country is embroiled in a lake border dispute with neighbouring Tanzania being mediated by the Forum of Sadc Former Heads of State
and Government headed by Mozambique’s former president Joachim Chissano.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Ben Botolo neither confirmed nor denied the development.
Said Botolo: “What my office knows is that we are still waiting for results from an assessment which government commissioned Surestream to do. As such, no company can start exploring or extracting some possible oil deposits on the lake as there is currently lack of legal framework mandating the same in whose absence no firm can start exploration. Why don’t we wait for such to be in place first and then we can easily map the way forward?’’
However, some documents that Weekend Nation has sourced indicate that the scramble for the drilling rights is already underway.
The documents indicate that several companies have already been allocated blocks on the lake, ready for exploration. The documents also include the companies’ names, contact persons, their valid addresses and telephone numbers.
Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change, Welani Manasseh Chilenga, said he has been receiving telephone calls from various organisations that Malawians and some foreigners are contacting people, especially chiefs from the lakeshore area, to create relations for possible mining and drilling activities along the lake.
“But to my surprise, during the just ended sitting of Parliament, government never brought any issue related to mining or oil extraction to the House’s attention,” he said.
Chilenga said he is surprised to learn that Malawi has been partitioning some blocks for possible oil extraction activities without discussing the matter in Parliament.
He has since demanded that government should come out clearly on any negotiations with foreign investors on the possibility of any extraction and mining deals on Malawi soil.
“This is raising serious issues of political representation in the country where few people in the Executive arm of government can sit and make decisions that will affect everyone without parliamentary approval,” Chilenga said.
Currently, Malawi is in the processes of identifying possible mineral deposit sites through an ongoing airborne Geo-Physical Survey whose results are expected in February 2015.
The chairperson wondered why government is secretly discussing with possible investors when results of the survey are yet to be released.
He said government halted all negotiations until the Mines and Minerals Act is revised and passed by Parliament and results of the Geo-Physical survey are out.
The current Mines Act which was enacted in 1981 gives ultimate authority to the President on all issues pertaining to mining and extraction contracts on behalf of the people of Malawi.
This has resulted in the country getting raw deals from some mining companies as discussions tend to be secretive.
“The idea to have the Mining Act reviewed is to improve on governance structure so that decisions are participatory and subjected to transparency and accountability,” said Chilenga.
However, Minister of Information, Civic Education, Tourism and Culture Kondwani Nankhumwa said in an interview on Friday that currently Malawi has no provision of taking issues to do with exploration to Parliament.
“But what I know the matter is being discussed at the inter ministerial level,” he said.
Meanwhile, executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) Rafiq Hajat said without any effective legal framework, government’s action not to allow indigenous Malawians to be involved in each and every step in the extractive industries or oil extraction exploration should be halted.
He urged government to adhere to international laws such as the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to which Malawi is a signatory that stipulates that no mining activities can take place without tribal groups consent.