June 1, 2006
Corruption and cynicism—these were the characteristics used to describe KPO, B.V. and the government administration during a public hearing on the subject of relocating the village of Berezovka. The bureaucrats and investors answered each of these accusations with a smile.
The public hearing took place on May 25th in Uralsk. The organizers were activists from the environmental organization, “TAN” and the international organization, Crude Accountability. As a result of the hearing, it has become clear who is who. For the participants of the public hearing it was like watching the developing solution for a roll of film. Before the hearing, one could only guess at the position of the others; now—with the exception of KPO, B.V.’s position—everything is crystal clear. The leadership of the company accepted the invitation to the public hearing, but they sent a young man who introduced himself as simply, “Manager.” The Manager immediately stated that he did not have the authority to address the hearing; he came only to listen. And he sat, speechless, smiling occasionally.
The first to speak was Amanzhan Zhamalov, Deputy to Parliament. Prior to the hearing, he sent an official request to the Ministry of the Environment asking for information about the emission levels at the Karachaganak Field. The Ministry replied that during the past three years the volume of emissions at Karachaganak increased threefold. The level of zinc, nickel and steel in the soil exceeded the maximum allowable concentrations, and the amount of fines the investors were required to pay for polluting the environment had grown from 1.4 billion tenge [over US$10 million] in 2004 to 5.2 billion tenge [over US$42,200,000] in 2005.
The Deputy finished his presentation with the following sensational statement:
“I believe that the reduction of the radius of the Sanitary Protection Zone (SPZ) around Karachaganak is proof of corruption. The decision of the Republic’s Senior Sanitary Doctor to reduce the radius of the SPZ directly contradicts our law, which clearly states: for a facility like the Karachaganak Field, the SPZ must be no less than five kilometers. And we have a situation where it has been reduced to three kilometers.” (In 2003, the reduction of the SPZ was used as a reason to deny the relocation of Berezovka. EDS.)
Elmira Umargalieva, from the Uralsk Environmental Prosecutor’s Office, supported the Deputy.
“By reducing the radius of the SPZ, the Senior Sanitary Doctor made an illegal decision giving preference to the commercial structure, KPO, B.V. By doing so, he created prime conditions for corruption,” she said.
“We are trying to present the situation, which is far from ideal, to KPO, B.V. I wrote to Paulo Campelli [General Director of KPO, B.V. Crude Accountability note], but so far I have not received a response from him.” The Deputy gave a demanding glance to the Manager, who looked at the representative of the Ministry of Economy and again smiled enigmatically.
“By the way, their answer is already well-known to everyone. Therefore, I came today to listen to the villagers. Tell me what you would like. I know that there is not a unified opinion in the village about the future of Berezovka. Some would like to leave, and some would prefer to stay.” The Deputy’s glance fell on the five Berezovka residents. The five members of the village who came to the hearing rustled their papers. Because they have little experience in public speaking, the villagers had written down their comments. But, reading their prepared texts, several of them became confused. Not from nerves, but from shame. The women, reading data about the numbers of sick children in the village were unable to maintain their composure and began to cry. The Manager and the representative of the Ministry of Economy again looked at each other and exchanged smiles.
“Calm down. Everything is all right. But I don’t want to hear about that from you. I understand that your children are sick, but can you tell me: is their a unified opinion in the village?”
Svetlana Anosova, the leader of the Berezovka Initiative Group came to the assistance of her fellow villagers.
“A variety of opinions does not mean that we can be denied relocation. The people have the right to choose what they would like. We are required to demand relocation. But we are not happy about having to relocate. Furthermore, we insist that the opinions of the villagers be taken into account as relocation is considered since we do not want to repeat the sad experience of the village of Tungush, when the villagers were pulled out of their homes and relocated to the city. For people who are used to rural life, that type of relocation was stressful and its negative impacts are still being felt,” said S. Anosova.
Finally the representative of the Ministry of Economy stopped smiling and asked to speak. He stated that the attacks by the Berezovka villagers on KPO, B.V. were unfounded. He reminded everyone that the investors provide $10 million annually for social projects and that they provided thousands of dollars for the reconstruction of the running water pipe in Berezovka, into the repair of the village school, the community center and the construction of a dam. Listing the special services provided by KPO, B.V. before the country and the villagers, the bureaucrat possibly hoped to say, “Have some honor, gentlemen! You should be grateful.” But, for some reason, the Berezovka residents didn’t feel grateful, and even started to object. It seems that of the $10 million for social projects, not one cent has made its way to Berezovka. The repair of the running water pipe is still not complete; after the construction of the new dike, the amount of water in the village is much less than it used to be; and after the first rain the repairs were washed away at the village school and in the community center.
“We have the impression that all KPO, B.V.’s money is distributed so that they can report: We are saving Berezovka. All of their words are cynical assurances. Even the fact that they sent a manager with no authority to this hearing, who just came to listen, demonstrates the relationship of the company to the villagers. They treat us as if we are dogs that are barking at a caravan,” said Svetlana Anosova.
The floor next went to Kate Watters, founder of the international organization, Crude Accountability. This organization has been helping the Berezovka residents protect their right to relocation for several years. During this time, the local authorities have blamed both the organization and its founder for a whole series of deadly sins. It was not surprising that Kate Watters started her presentation with the words, “Why do international organizations work in Kazakhstan?”
“Because the environmental problems connected with the development of the Field impact the entire world. Global warming is an accepted fact. Transnational corporations, including KPO, B.V., receive profits that are higher than the budgets of several countries in the Central Asian region. The company has signed agreements binding it to the highest environmental standards, which allowed it to received $150 million in loans from the World Bank. This money is not private money; it is taxpayer money and I have the right to know how they are using it and for what purposes.
“Today natural resources provide the high profits of transnational corporations. And natural resources provide us with our high standards of living. But, if our comfort is built at the expense of the lives of other people, then we should pause and think about that. We should think about the sad circumstances this causes in the countries of Latin America, Africa and other regions of the world where the exploitation of natural resources leads to the impoverishment of the population. We all need to understand the truth about the actual costs of oil and gas,” said Kate Watters.
The next speaker was Vladimir Khon, a specialist of the Territorial Administration of Environmental Protection. Listening to him, it seemed that he, along with the representative of the Ministry of Economy, was very concerned about the reputation of KPO, B.V. Vladimir Khon tried to convince everyone that the emissions from Karachaganak did not exceed the maximum permissible concentrations (MPC) of any substance. Vladimir Khon repeatedly characterized the activity of KPO, B.V. as “normal”.
“You seem sure that the MPC was not exceeded. How do you explain that the official letter from your Ministry states that the MPCs were exceeded?” asked Amanzhan Zhamalov.
V. Khon could not answer the question.
The public hearing ended with a discussion of draft recommendations for the Kazakhstani authorities. In part, it was recommended that environmental NGOs and residents of the village of Berezovka be included in a special commission of the Ministry of Health. The second recommendation involved a final decision regarding the Production Sharing Agreement. The organizers of the hearing recommended that the government of Kazakhstan reveal part of the agreement so that it can be reviewed for content regarding environmental safety. And, of course, it was recommended that the villagers of Berezovka be relocated to a safe area as quickly as possible. Whether or not the authorities will pay attention to these recommendations is unclear. However, the very fact that the public hearing took place is the first step to victory for the Berezovka villagers.
Translation by Crude Accountability