Recommending the need for an approved and public national policy for natural resource management
AMAN highlights the importance of establishing a national team to activate community dialogue and popular oversight of the gas sector
Ramallah – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) held a session to discuss a paper, titled Governance in the Gas Sector Management. In addition to a number of civil society organisations, the discussion brought together representatives of the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In his opening statement, Mr. Jihad Harb, senior researcher at AMAN, explained that the paper aimed at providing practical recommendations to help decision makers to enhance and diagnose governance of the gas sector management as a distinctively national file. The paper explores the availability of an approved national policy for management and governance of the gas sector. In the interest of the public, it assesses the advantage of gas investment as a natural resource.
Need for optimal protection and management of state resources
In her review, researcher Razan al-Barghouthi explained that, in view of scarce natural resources in Palestine, the newly discovered natural gas was an important resource for Palestinians. With a reserve of approximately 1 trillion cubic feet (31 billion cubic metres) of natural gas, discovery of the Gaza Marine field is promising for improving public revenues. Discovered by British Gas in 1999, the Gaza Marine field development constitutes the central pillar of energy security in Palestine, contributes to energy self-sufficiency (power generation and uses in industry, transportation and other sectors), and reduces reliance on imported energy. The Gaza Marine field development cost is estimated at US$ 1 billion, requiring optimal protection and management of state resources.
Challenges to the gas sector management
Gas exploitation, operation, and extraction have come to a virtual standstill. The State of Palestine faces problems and challenges on several levels. Palestine continues to be affected by prejudicial Israeli policies, prohibiting the use of natural resources and hampering natural gas extraction from the Gaza Marine field in Palestine’s territorial waters. Israel places conditions that prevent Palestinians from using this vital resource. In addition, the public policy for the management of natural resources, particularly gas, is not clear. Gas sector management, including the regulation of concession contracts, is legally inadequate. Provisions of relevant agreements and decisions are poorly transparent.
Poor transparency raises questions from Palestinian society regarding the gas sector management
According to the paper, domestic efforts have been made to achieve development and enhance Palestinian lives through gas agreements and accession to the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), among other things. However, the paper finds out that these attempts have not accomplished the desired goal of Palestinian investment in the natural gas discovered more than 20 years ago. It highlights poor transparency of the gas sector management, raising many questions by various society groups about the nature of this sector administration within the Palestinian system.
Elections as an entry point to promoting engagement and ensuring parliamentary oversight of natural resource management
AMAN recommended that national elections be held to restore the legislative power and strengthen parliamentary oversight of government functions. This should allow broad public participation in electoral and decision making processes, reflecting the Palestinian people’s sovereignty over their territory. The Palestinian position towards accession to the EMGF needs to be revisited. The government should adopt a clear, specific, and publicly announced national policy and strategic framework for the gas sector management. The role and powers of energy resource management institutions will be set out. A participatory approach will be in place, making clear the tasks, powers, and mechanisms of collaboration between these institutions. A law will be enacted, laying down the procedures, criteria, and rules for managing natural resources and granting concession contracts.
A participatory process starts with transparency and publication of agreements to promote popular oversight
Failure to make publicly available the information on agreements, including accession to the EMGF, has contributed to sidelining the role of community control over and accountability of the gas sector management institutions. Against this backdrop, the paper recommends that the Law on the Right of Access to Information be promulgated. Agreements and memorandums of understanding on the gas sector management will be open to the Palestinian public. Periodic reports, including financial and administrative data and performance of responsible bodies, will be compiled and made publicly accessible, ensuring institutional and popular oversight of the gas sector management as well as of the functions of responsible agencies.
PIF: PIF did not sign any agreements and the Palestinian government is the competent agency
Mr. Awadh Du’eibis, PIF Communications and Public Relations Manager, made clear that the Palestinian government was competent of the gas sector management, including to grant concession contracts, develop the Gaza Marine field, or accede to and approve the EMGF Charter. Du’eibis asserted that the PIF did not sign any agreements. The developer signed a memorandum of intent with an Egyptian corporation to launch a dialogue on the potential access of another Egyptian corporation as a third party. Of note, this issue is conditional on approval by the Council of Ministers. According to Du’eibis, the PIF role is governed by a concession agreement. The PIF is not the only party to this working relationship. An intergovernmental committee, headed by the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority, is in place.
Shuaibi: Gas sector management is cast into disarray
Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, Advisor to AMAN’s Board of Directors for Anti-Corruption Affairs, highlighted the chaotic situation of the gas sector management, furnishing an opportunity for a conflict of interests between relevant management institutions and developers. Shuaibi indicated that the gas company, which the government made a decision to establish a year ago, has neither been incorporated nor registered at the Ministry of National Economy. To date, a law on the granting of concessions has not been passed.
MoFA: We are working on demarcating our maritime borders according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
Ambassador Ammar Hijazi, Assistant to the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, stressed that accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea would enable Palestine to “delimit our maritime borders based on international law so as to protect our maritime rights and national resources. This is in line with Palestinian nautical charts deposited at the United Nations, conferring legal validity on these charts.” Even though Israel is not a party, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has become customary (i.e. binding) under international law. In this context, Israel is deliberately plundering Palestinian natural resources. The MoFA has sent a public exhortation to all bidding European corporations, forewarning that they would commit a crime under international law. Hijazi elaborated that the MoFA was in the process of developing a digital catalogue, which should help to quantify and cite the pillage of Palestinian natural resources in future Palestinian claims.
BDS: Europeans must be warned of becoming involved in the purchase of gas stolen by the Israeli occupying authorities
Mr. Mahmoud Nawajaa, BDS Coordinator, asserted that a review shows that the EMGF agreements signed by the State of Palestine “make no mention at all of the right of Palestinians to sovereignty over their natural resources, particularly the gas fields off the Gaza Strip coast.” Nawajaa emphasised that these agreements were purely technical and did not address rights, wondering about the significance of accession to the EMGF in the absence of demarcated maritime borders. At the same time, Israel imposes a nautical chart, which excludes two thirds of the maritime area. Hence, Israel’s membership on the EMGF gains legitimacy. Activity should be maintained within the framework of an international movement. Europeans must also be warned of becoming involved in purchasing gas stolen by the Israeli occupying authorities.
Discussants recommended that a national team be established, including partners, national institutions and civil society organisations, to govern the management of natural resources, including gas. A national campaign will be launched to put pressure on the government to make publicly available relevant documents, such as the EMGF Charter. The State of Palestine’s role in the EMGF will be made clear. In addition to Palestinian rights to extracted gas, partnerships and agreements with different parties will be delineated, including concessions and negotiations with local and foreign corporations on gas extraction. Property rights of each party will be laid out. The PIF role will also be disclosed. Participants agreed with Dr. Mamdouh al-Aker’s proposal to institutionalise meetings on the gas sector management with all relevant managing agencies. Engaging all groups from across the spectrum, a community debate will be in place to strengthen popular oversight in the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council.