Gas money yet to trickle to locals in Southern Tanzania

29Sep 2016
Lusekelo Philemon
The Guardian
Gas money yet to trickle to locals in Southern Tanzania

AROUND 11 am, a 51-year-old fisherman, NasibuIsiaka is busy repairing his hand-made canoe on the beautiful sand beaches of SongoSongo Island located 40kilometres off Kilwa Masoko, the headquarters of Kilwa District in Lindi Region.

Gas economy is yet to trickle down to the ordinary man on the island.

At this time, the sun is becoming hotter and hotter, but Isiaka and his colleagues continue with their work. This is part of their preparation for their next trip into the Indian Ocean to try their fortune of catching fish, as these days fishing does not pay as it was a decade ago.

Artisanal fishermen like Isiaka don’t catch much fish because they use small boats that don't allow them to go into the deep sea.

The situation has been there for years, but in those days fishing was a bit easy compared to the current situation whereby fish are found far from the coastline due to the increasing human activities such as industrial pollution, wantonly mangrove tree felling, and dynamite fishing which pose a detrimental effects on the near-shore habitats such as coral reefs—important fish breeding sites.

“With our boats, it becomes impossible for us to get what we want as we always fish in areas which few distance from the coastline,” says Isiaka, who never used a modern fishing boat.

The situation catches Isiaka and his colleagues in a vicious cycle of poverty as most of the fish they catch is eaten at home rather than sold and so they cannot afford a bigger boat.

A father of five, Isiaka, is aware of the gas discovery, which was made by AGIP in near his home island in 1974, though its production started in 2004 and the project was funded by World Bank.

The SongoSongo gas fields produce 105 million standard cubic feet of gas per day (mmscfd), which is transported to Dar es Salaam for power generation and for industrial and household use.

PanAfrican Energy Tanzania is the operator of the SongoSongo gas wells and gas processing plant on behalf of Songas Ltd, the owner of the infrastructure.

Apart from earning the country with foreign exchange, gas discovery plays a pivotal role in changing people’s lives as social services are likely to be improved in the island with a population of nearly 5,000 people. Most people in the island rely on fishing, with few also in cassava and coconut farming.

People like Isiaka (fishermen) who are the majority in the island, were optimistic that the discovery will have a positive impact on their livelihoods, as they believe that their daily activities would also be improved.

But, Isiaka is confused, as what he was hoping didn’t materialise.

Lost hope?

Isiaka, who has been fishing in the island for more than 30 years, says: “I was among people who were excited when we heard about the discovery of gas in this island, but now I have come to realise that it was a daylight dream as things remained the same.

“I am not saying these gas companies don’t provide anything to us as a community. No! They have been supporting us in different ways from education, health, water and electricity.

But the challenge, he says: “We’re not being supported by the government on how to carry out our daily activities successfully so that we realise the importance of gas discovery.”

By now, one would expect to see modern houses mushrooming at the island but in contrast, people like Isiaka still live under grass-thatched roofs.

“I don’t mean that the government should give us cash but we want it to come up with some programmes that could change our livelihoods. We want something that can mechanise our fishing vessels and tools so that we get more fish and get more money, hence get rid of poverty. Our pockets have been always empty,” the fisherman says while pulling out his empty pockets to demonstrate his lack of money.

Apart from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a business practices involving initiatives that benefit society, Pan African Energy Tanzania Limited has been supporting local communities with different socio-economic projects but it also pays royalty to Kilwa District Council, in which 20 per cent of it needs go back to SongoSongo Island, where villagers have the mandate to decide on its usage.

At this point, it’s where livelihoods projects might come in so that artisanal fishermen and the likes benefit out of the project.

“As fishermen, we need modern fishing boats,” he says, noting: “On our own we cannot afford to buy them, as for an ordinary man like me it’s very difficult to get bank loans, that’s why we’re appealing to the district council to work on how we can be empowered.”

Fixing his own fishnet near Isiaka, Ali Thabiti nods as he listens. He is a 49 year-old fisherman with one child. Wearing a torn white t-shirt, Thabit also blames the government for abandoning the fishermen.

“I thought gas will have something to us but now I have lost hope as I’m not seeing anything coming on our way as fishermen,” an experienced fisherman note suggesting the need for local government authorities to start thinking of the many fishermen in the area.

A mother of three, Amina Jumanne has been living on the island for the past 36 years, she says: “Nothing has changed in my life as my business has remained the same.”

Amina who sells cooked food in a make-shift structure says she cannot expand her business because she has limited access to capital. At this time of the day, Amina is busy serving her customers mostly fishermen, who have spent the entire night in the Indian Ocean.

“We were expecting too much from the Songosongo gas discovery, but our expectations seem to hit a snag as nothing has changed in terms of our livelihoods. What we’re experiencing now is inflations on foodstuffs, making our lives harder and harder,” says Mbwangali Twaha, of Kilwa Kisiwani, who is a fisherman-cum-farmer.

According to Twaha, farming is one of the key activities in the district but the gas economy has not increased demand as much as people expected “we’re now consuming what we don’t produce, as we’re even importing agro-produces from as far as Dar es Salaam,” he lamented.

Said Mohamed, a resident and local leader in the island explains: “We have good schools, clean and safe water here. But all these are supports from the gas company.”

He further notes that the island gets nothing from Kilwa District Council, despite of getting royalty from Gas Company on quarterly basis.

“From the royalty, we’re supposed to get 20 percent of the money but we haven’t got anything until now,” says Mohamed.

Mohamed who is also a Ward Councilor for Songosongo Island further says: “If the money was to be availed to the village, where gas is extracted, it would have a big impact to villagers…I am sure some of the livelihoods programmes would have been implemented in the village.”

“Yes, there are benefits though with minimal effects. In a nutshell, gas economy is yet to trickle down to the ordinary man on the island. And, we’re not blaming gas firms but the district council,” Mohamed complains.

“Perhaps, people need to be patient as I hear that soon the money will start flowing from the district council,” said Shamte Saidi Bungala, ward executive officer (WEO).

What Kilwa District Council says?

“We’ve been empowering [fishermen] on sustainable fishing by encouraging them to use environmental friendly fishing gears,” says Ahmadi Habibu, Kilwa District Fisheries Officer.

In his small office furnished with wooden tables and chairs, the official asserts that the district government was aware of the fishermen’s challenges before the arrival of gas, “but what we do is to ensure that fishing environment is friendly to them as well as ensuring that they have the market to sell their small amount of fish they have been fishing.”

He says development is a gradual process because right now they are working on a fish marketing centre, which will be furnished with different tools including an ultra-modern cold room. “All these are some of the district’s initiatives to make fishermen do fishing in a better environment.”

As he reclines on the chair of his air-conditioned office, Magai Kakuru, the District Council Irrigation Engineer, says: “Before gas discovery transport for sick people from the island was a serious challenge but now there is an ambulance boat and a flight to fly islanders who are very ill to Dar es Salaam”

Omary Digulu, Kilwa District Treasurer, reveals that this year the gas company—Pan African Energy has released 116m/- on a quarterly basis. Hence, annually the district gets 464m/-, which is 30 per cent of the council budget.

The amount paid by the gas company to the local authority is not uniform as it differs from one year to another depending on the business, the official says.

However, in government-approved reports under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the total amount of tax paid by Pan African Energy between June 2011 and June 2014 was 4,745,494,870/-.

But, former Deputy Minister for Energy and Minerals, Charles Mwijage was quoted in the National Assembly last year as saying from 2012 to April 2015, Pan African Energy Tanzania Limited has paid service levy amounting to 1.48bn/- to Kilwa District Council, a figure which is completely different from the EITI report.

Digulu admits that 20 per cent of the gas money collected needs to go back to Songosongo Island where natural gas is being extracted. That would be given 92.8m/- by the end of this year.

But, there are reports, which say that the money hasn’t gone to the village because the district council used the money to finance other projects in the district.

Zablon Bugingo, the newly appointed Kilwa District Executive Director, says gas discovery has changed the entire district from (Songosongo Island) to Somanga.

On royalties, the official says: “When I came here a few months ago and asked whether the 20 per cent was going to the Songosongo Island I was told that it wasn’t going there as the council used to divert the money into other area of priority, but i have instructed the village to get money in accordance with the law.”

(This story is written as part of the Wealth of Nations programme, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in partnership with the African Centre for Media Excellence.)

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