While the Jasmine Revolution swept across West Asia and North Africa last year, Sudan went through a partition. Awad Ahmed Eljazz, Sudan’s 62-year-old petroleum minister who presided over ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL)’s acquisition of oil assets a decade ago, says the civil war is still on. However, he says prosperity is not a distant dream, after an African Union-brokered peace settlement was adopted in toto. In an interview with Jyoti MukulWith OVL’s production block now in South Sudan and the company seeking a lower transit fee from Sudan, what is your government’s view on the issue?
We feel proud to have ONGC Videsh. I did my best to ensure India was part of the oil sector in the country. With CNPC and Petronas, OVL is producing from one of the biggest block there. Through these years, upstream and downstream operations have been carried out safely and successfully. A part of Sudan in the south chose to be separate. But after the separation, oil produced there has to pass through the north. We tried to negotiate with South Sudan for an agreement to ensure there was no interruption. We have to agree on the transit fee for allowing the passage of oil through Sudan. All facilities like pipelines, terminals and other infrastructure are in Sudan. Unfortunately, when we made the proposals, the other side came and said ‘no’, but oil was still being moved. This proposal is being supported by the African Union. We wanted to take the fee in kind until we reached an agreement. For one and half months, we took the fee in kind, but people in South Sudan shut the pipeline. That was a big mistake, since South Sudan relies entirely on oil revenue. That was a bad decision because it impacted companies. So, they came back for negotiations.
How important is the transit fee for Sudan?
Under the agreement, Sudan has already cut expenses. The agreement takes care of Sudan’s deficit for three years. With part of the oil in South Sudan unavailable to Sudan, there was a big deficit in our budget. That is now being taken care of in three ways. First, Sudan should cut expenditure. Second, a share should be paid by the government of South Sudan and third, a share would come from the international community.
With the South Sudan Parliament approving the agreement, how is Sudan planning to take this forward?
Sudan has also presented the agreement before parliament. We do not see any problem. All nine agreements should be implemented together to prevent any insecurity. A part of the charges is aimed at compensating Sudan, while the rest of the money is for transit.
OVL wants the fee to be lower from what is currently proposed.
South Sudan should pay $15 a barrel for three and a half years so that about $2 billion comes from it. We would cover the second share and the international community would pay $3 billion.
Sudan has been accused of human rights violations. Besides, the civil strife has crippled the economy. Do you think the partition would help improve the situation?
The civil war started in 1954, before the British left the country. There were ups and downs all the time. Since 1997, we have been under sanctions. This government wanted to stop war. We wanted peace. Unfortunately, war is still going on, though it is confined to the southern border. The rebels are being defeated at the border and after that, they come for negotiations. We feel both sides should work for unity and peace. The impression of Sudan being engulfed in war and human rights violations has been created by the media that is pushing vested interests.
Your country is the only one to be partitioned in recent times. Seeing the experience of partition in India in 1947, do you think it is possible for both sides to attain peace?
We agreed to the partition to bring peace. South Sudan relies only on oil for economic development. Maybe in the future, they would realise this and come back to us.