The Right To Access Information: Inclusive Governance in The East African Crude Oil Pipeline.

By Bridget Ampurira |

On the 20th of May 2021, Tanzania and East African Crude Oil Pipeline Company (EACOP) signed the Host Government Agreement (HGA) for Tanzania. This was the final agreement for the pipeline project that will enable exploitation of crude oil in Uganda. The agreement was signed by EACOP Company’s General Manager Martin Tiffen and Total E&P Africa President for exploration and production Nicolas Terraz, and Tanzania’s energy Minister, Dr. Medard Kalemani. President Museveni of Uganda and Her Excellence Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania were both in attendance as witnesses. Important to note that earlier on in April of this year, Uganda signed its Host Government Agreement, the Shareholders Agreement, and the Tariff and Transportation Agreement at State House in Entebbe.

HGAs are agreements entered into between host governments on the one hand, and project investors on the other, relating to a pipeline system. HGAs deal mainly with vertical issues that concern the project activity within the territory of each state and expand on some of the issues identified in the relevant Intergovernmental Agreements for instance; governmental obligations, investor duties, environmental and other relevant standards and issues relevant to the implementation of the project in each specific territory. Several HGAs have been signed in different parts of the world. Cases in point are: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline (BTC Pipeline) a crude oil pipeline originating in the Azeri-Cheraw-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea where three HGAs were signed between the Government of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Main Export Pipeline (MEP) Participants, the Government of Georgia and the MEP Participants’, and finally, the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the MEP Participants’. The South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) where two HGAs were signed between the Government of the Azerbaijan Republic and the SCP Participants, the Government of Georgia and the SCP Participants.                 

Being an environmental lawyer, my first instinct is to analyze the foreseeable implications these agreements have on our environment. Based on the premise that the project for which the agreements were made involves drilling underground to reach the oil field and then transport the hazardous material beneath the ground, near our water sources (Lake Albert) and animal habitats putting into consideration the possibility of oil spills. Seeing that the project is one that poses risks to the environment, it would be of benefit if the responsible agents are transparent about the contents of the agreements in the EACOP. 

A Section of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline

The Aarhus Convention recognizes the right to access information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Environmental issues can best be governed by applying these three principles. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development proclaims that environmental issues are best handled through the employment of public participation, access to information and access to justice. It aptly states that; 

“…At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available…” 

In the same spirit, Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda looks at the right of a citizen to access information that is in the possession of the state or any other organ or agency of the State. The same Constitution calls for the creation of an Act of Parliament through Article 41(2). As a result, the Access to Information Act of 2005 (AIA) was promulgated and it provides for the right to access public information. Additionally, the AIA, 2005 provides for mandatory disclosure of information in public interest related issues among which the environment is indicated.

In Greenwatch v the Attorney General (Misc. Cause No.232 of 2009). Find link to judgement here . The Applicant, Greenwatch sought access to copies of the Production Sharing Agreement between Tullow Oil Company and Heritage oil and gas company, Dominion Oil company, Neptune Petroleum Uganda, any other oil companies and the Government of Uganda. The Lady Justice Lydia Mugambe in her judgement said the following; 

“The oil agreements mentioned in issue are public documents which the public (including the Applicant) is entitled to access under Article 41(1) of the Constitution of Uganda and section 5 (1) of AIA.”

In light of the above holding and the various provisions of the law, it is in my opinion that the citizens of Uganda (the public) are entitled to access these documents/agreements that are in the hands of the state. Access to information is a human right, denial of which strips an individual of their right to participate and influence the decisions that are made on their behalf. 

Conclusively, considering the current climate change trend and its negative impacts, it is paramount that the citizens have access to agreements that have significant environmental implications. However, the important question is, “Will these agreements be made accessible to the citizens of Uganda in the event of a request?”