This week, the African Energy Chamber (AEC) denounced a BBC investigation into the allocation of Senegal’s energy contracts, asserting that the report – which, among other things, alleges the complicity of the president’s brother in an energy deal relating to offshore oil and gas fields – is little more than a thinly disguised attempt to discredit a reforming leader and destabilise the government.
The chamber, whose members work with companies operating in the African continent’s energy sector, claims that the investigation has misinterpreted – and potentially fabricated – evidence, showing scant understanding of the industry’s procedures, instead of employing smear tactics against Senegalese President Macky Sall. The motives behind breaking the story may be unclear, they say, but the allegations are nevertheless threatening to stymie the progress that has been made over the past few years in the social, political and economic reform of the country.
The BBC Panorama and Africa Eye investigation focuses on what it claims are suspicious circumstances surrounding the acquisition and subsequent resale of the exploration rights to the Cayar Profond and St Louis Profond offshore concessions, citing links to the president’s brother, Aliou Sall. One point of contention is that the original concession-holder is in line for substantial and ongoing ‘royalty’ payments under the terms of BP’s 2016 acquisition of the blocks – payments that will allegedly deprive Senegal of its rightful revenues.
However, the AEC argues that BP’s activities conform to the strict tendering processes that are in place in Senegal and that the due diligence conducted by BP and its exploration partner Kosmos Energy regarding the ownership and operation of the blocks was properly conducted. Both companies have robust anti-corruption policies (in line with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Anti-Bribery and Corruption Act) and it’s hard to imagine that either would have progressed the deals to their conclusion had there been any question of impropriety in the award of the licences. The Kosmos report was even examined by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for compliance.
As AEC goes on to argue, Macky Sall cannot be directly implicated in the licence-awarding process, as the rights to both fields were allocated prior to his installation as president in 2012, under the administration of then-president Abdoulaye Wade. Investigations by Senegalese regulators have since found no evidence of government wrongdoing over the course of these transactions. And, while Aliou Sall doesn’t deny working under contract for the original licensee – the Timis Corporation – he asserts that he was employed for his expertise, receiving remuneration ‘inline’ with industry expectations and has labelled the BBC’s report ‘totally false’.
The AEC also defends the right of organisations like BP and Kosmos – who are instrumental in tapping into the mineral wealth of countries like Senegal – to trade risk for profit. It argues that there is significant risk attached to exploring offshore sites and that without the commitment of the oil and gas exploration companies, it’s unlikely that Senegal would be able to realise the full potential of its oil and gas reserves.
In the statement, the chamber’s Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk, communicated his frustration, cautioning that Senegal must not be deprived of ‘the millions of jobs’ that the country’s oil industry will supply and warning that the attacks were carefully targeted and designed to ‘slow investment’ into the energy sector – as well as into Senegal as a whole. He went on to express his admiration for President Macky Sall, whose reform-led agenda had prioritised market-driven policies, making the future of the country’s oil industry ‘bright’ and ‘people-centred’.
According to the AEC, the people of Senegal have a level of faith in their reforming president that can’t be destroyed by a ‘sinister rush to judgement’ by BBC investigators. As they point out, Macky Sall was returned to power for a second term in February and appears determined to build on the progress he’s already made via the ambitious Plan for Emerging Senegal (PES), which mapped out the key priorities for his administration. Senegal may even count itself lucky to have elected a leader who not only has a clear vision for the future but also has a real understanding of the achievements and challenges faced by fellow African producers.
Finally, the AEC emphasized that the combination of inward investment into the energy sector plus meaningful government reforms will inject billions of dollars into the Senegalese economy over the next ten years or so and support over a million jobs. It would be unwise to allow unsubstantiated allegations to impede a course of action that will allow citizens to share in the country’s future growth and development.