Minister of Petroleum and Energy Interview with Foroyaa


By Madiba Singhateh and Yankuba Jallow

The Honourable Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Fafa Sanyang Monday, 27th April 2020 granted Foroyaa Newspaper exclusive interview at his office. The topics discussed include their role, intervention areas, projects and plans. Here is the verbatim questions and answers between our two reporters and the Minister.

QUESTION: The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy was established in 2007. It is responsible for the implementation of government policy in relation to electricity supply and distribution, water management, petroleum products and renewable energy in the growth areas such as tourism and hotels in The Gambia. Can you briefly tell us more about these areas of intervention especially renewable energy?

ANSWER: As you rightly stated, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy was established in 2007 and charged with the mandates of Petroleum, Energy, Minerals and urban water supply by default, since NAWEC which handles urban water supply is under the supervision of the Ministry.

In terms of the interventions in the respective areas, we start with Energy, which includes electricity and renewable energy sub-sectors. For electricity sub-sector, following the successful democratic change of government in 2016, the government with support from partners updated the electricity roadmap, which outlined projects in both Generation and Transmission & Distribution up to 2025, as well as the investment requirements. The Transmission and Distribution projects were earmarked for public sector financing, while the Generation projects, which is typically seen as a business were earmarked for private sector participation.  The roadmap also included the importation of electricity from Senegal and the sub-regional energy project of OMVG.

Since the approval of the electricity roadmap, the Government has been working with all the partners to gradually implement the roadmap. So far, we have seen the rehabilitation of some old engines, the cross border interconnection with Senegal in the North Bank of the country, emergency power contract with Karpowership and some new engines installed and commissioned. All these efforts have significantly boosted and stabilized the power supply situation in the country, compared to 2017 when there was serious power crisis in the country.

With regard to the remaining projects in the roadmap, they are all work-in-progress. The OMVG energy project is ongoing, which will interconnect the Gambia with Senegal, Guinea and Guinea Bissua with a high voltage line that will avail The Gambia the opportunity to initially import a capacity of 47 Megawatts. As complement to the OMVG energy project, the World Bank and African Development Bank have provided US$ 66 million and US$ 17 million respectively for electricity access program for communities with 100 KM radius of the two OMVG sub-statins in Soma and Brikama. The Transmission and Distribution Project is also ongoing and will upgrade the National Transmission Line to 225 kV, thus providing a robust electricity backbone with a potential of significantly reducing the technical losses. The grid tied 20 MW solar photovoltaic project is being tendered and the other generation projects earmarked for private sector participation are also being prepared for tender.

For renewable energy sub-sector, it looks at both renewable energy for on-grid and off-grid. For on-grid, I have already mentioned that. For interventions in the off-grid renewable energy, we have two main program, that is the solarization of 1100 schools and health facilities in the off-grid areas and the Green Mini-Grid Country Program. The Government has a target of universal electrification by 2030. But since some of the areas are too far from the grid and grid extension may not be a viable option for now, to provide electricity to all, the Government with support from partners is working on programs to deploy decentralized energy systems that will provide access sooner than the arrival of the grid.

Urban water supply is a critical and a major challenge for the country when it comes to public utilities. This is why the Government has prioritized the sector and is working with partners to improve the service. A major water project funded by Indian line of credit is being implemented and if completed, will significantly improve the water supply situation in the Greater Banjul Area. The government is also working with French Development Agency and Organization of Islamic Conference on water supply project in the GBA.

Petroleum Subsector comprises of Upstream and downstream components, each regulated by a separate body. Upstream, encompassing exploration, development and production, is governed by the Petroleum Act 2004 and regulated by the Petroleum Commission. They are involved in data management, licensing and licence management.

Downstream, encompassing importation, storage, transportation and distribution of Petroleum Products, is governed by the Petroleum Products Act 2016 and regulated by PURA. They are trying to sanitize a sub-sector whose regulatory landscape until 2016, was at best insufficient, incoherent with separate legislations and institutions dealing with different components of the supply chain.

Minerals (solid) are governed by the Mines and Quarries Act 2004 and the regulatory division is the Geological Department.  They are involved in the management of mining and quarrying licenses.

QUESTION: The Ministry is also tasked with providing adequate, reliable and affordable supplies of energy to Gambians in a sustainable way. What is the Ministry doing towards attaining these objectives?

ANSWER: The mandate of the Ministry is to ensure the provision of adequate, reliable and affordable energy services to Gambians in a sustainable way. In carrying out this mandate and to achieve the objectives of sustainable energy for all by 2030, the Government has recognized and is mobilizing the efforts of all actors towards attaining these objectives. For the public sector actors, the Ministry supports and supervises their activities and programs, just like in the case of the electricity roadmap, to ensure that the programs are not only in line with the policy objectives of the Government, but they are effectively implemented. For private and non-government actors, the Ministry supports their initiatives and projects and ensures that they are in line with the policy objectives of the sector.

QUESTION: The Department’s overall objectives also for the energy sector are to increase petroleum exploration in The Gambia; improve and expand efficiently existing energy supply systems through private sector partnership with the public sector. How is your Ministry partnering with NAWEC and other private partners in order to promote efficient and reliable energy especially GREEN Energy to the populace?

ANSWER: As the Ministry is tasked with the mandate of the energy sector, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy partners with all the actors to provide energy services to the economy. The Ministry does this by formulating policies and strategies, regulatory frameworks to ensure level playing field and national programs, like the electricity roadmap, Green Mini-Grid program and the Solarization of schools and health facilities that is opened to the participation of both public and private sectors. Then the Ministry provides the necessary support and supervision to the operators where necessary to ensure that national targets are met. 

QUESTION: Increased reforestation and protection of forest resources and the promotion of alternative domestic fuels to reduce heavy dependence on fuelwood is part of your agenda. How can the Ministry’s policy minimize the practice of fuelwood use for energy and cooking since fuelwood can also contribute to environmental impact such as pollution, degrading of the ecosystem especially terrestrial ecosystem?

ANSWER: Increased reforestation and protection of the forest resources are not directly part of my Ministry’s agenda, but they are concerns of my Ministry as the forest is a source of domestic energy or fuel in the country. As a result of desertification and heavy dependence on forest for fuelwood, we are rapidly losing our forest cover. This is a looming environmental calamity, which needs to be addressed. As a responsible state actor and an institution in charge of a sector that benefits from the forest, we have a moral obligation to protect the forest. The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has policies and programs, which advocate and promote alternative and efficient cooking solutions (devices and fuels). Through these policies and programs, there is decreased use of fuelwood as domestic energy, thus reducing the dependence on the forest.

QUESTION: Is the Ministry collaborating with the Forestry Department and the Ministry of the Environment on reforestation hence forests are starting to disappear in this country and some are used for Agricultural purposes or being cut down for charcoal production, which is detrimental to the environment?

ANSWER: As I mentioned before, the protection of the forest cover is a major concern for the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, as the forest is a source of domestic energy (fuel wood) in the country. As a result, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy collaborates with both the Department of Forestry and the Ministry of Environment on many programs on reforestation and the protection of the forest cover. In the past, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy collaborated with Department of Forestry and the Ministry of Environment to implement a CILLS Program for the Promotion of Domestic and Alternative Cooking Energy in the Sahel. Currently, the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Petroleum and Energy are working together on the development of a Regional Participatory Forest and Domestic Energy Management Project, involving The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal.

Question:  A three-day Joint ECOWAS Meeting of Ministers of Hydrocarbons and Environment ended in Ouagadougou, can you tell us what issues were discussed at the meeting?

Yes, the ECOWAS Commission held a three-day meeting in February 2020 for Ministers of Hydrocarbons and Environment with their experts in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The Ministerial meetings were preceded by a meeting of experts who then presented their recommendations to the Ministers for their endorsement.

For the sake of clarity, let me separate the ministerial meetings which were also held on two different dates. The first Ministerial meeting was jointly attended by both Ministers of Hydrocarbons and Environment, and dealt mainly with three important topics:

  1. Gasoline Fuel Specifications
  2. Diesel Fuel Specifications
  3. Recommended age limits of all imported vehicles into the ECOWAS region

The second meeting for Ministers of Hydrocarbons dealt mainly with the following:

  1. Review and Endorsement of a Regional Strategy for Use of LPG as Domestic Cooking Energy
  2. Updates on the West African Gas Pipeline

Question: Can you tell us about the discussion on Harmonization of Petroleum Products and the Age Limit for Imported cars/old Vehicles which could minimize emissions to the atmosphere.

You are perhaps aware that all gasoline products contain different compounds, some of which occur naturally but others are added to improve the performance of motor engines. Most of these compounds could have severe environmental or health impacts if they are not regulated by setting limits on them. One such compound is sulphur, which occurs naturally in all petroleum products. Sulphur can permanently harm our respiratory organs if inhaled above a certain concentration. It is also a highly corrosive compound which damages paints and most metal objects.

The Ministers therefore agreed to set a new standard of 50 ppm on all gasoline and diesel fuels. All importers of gasoline and diesel fuels are required to apply these new standards byJanuary 1st, 2020. The refineries within the ECOWAS however have been granted a grace period until January 1st, 2020 to comply. The grace period is to allow these refineries to make the necessary heavy capital investments in order to be able to extract the natural sulphur from the crude oil that is to be refined.

Other compounds affected these new ECOWAS standards include Benzene, Manganese and Cetane. I wish to add all these measures are geared towards reducing air pollution and their health effects on the general population. Benzene in particular is highly carcinogenic.

On the issue of the recommended age limit of imported cars, the Ministers approved the recommendations to limit the age to 5 years for imported light vehicles (cars and pickups) and 10 years for heavy vehicles. These measures will not be implemented immediately. Instead, all ECOWAS countries are allowed a transition period of 10 years to implement these new measures.

Question: Adaption of study for promotion of LPG as domestic energy was also discussed. What were the outcomes of this discussion since the majority of households in Africa including the Gambia use fuelwood and charcoal for heating, boiling and cooking?

Answer: At the final meeting for Ministers of Hydrocarbons, the two main topics discussed and

approved, one of which was a strategy document on the popularization of LPG for cooking.

You may already know that Nigeria is a major producer of natural gas which was previously flared and thereby wasted into the atmosphere. Their natural gas is now piped to be sold within Nigeria and in Ghana, and now extending the pipeline to Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. With Senegal and Niger soon coming on board as major producers of natural gas, the ECOWAS intends through the West African Gas Pipeline to supply LPG to all ECOWAS countries. The main benefit of LPG use for cooking is that it will reduce deforestation caused by cutting biomass for cooking. But due to affordability issues, the size of cylinders to be promoted more vigorously than others at the initial stage is the 9 kg cylinder.

It has to be admitted that there are numerous challenges, because cylinder standards are not exactly the same across the region, and there is also widespread smuggling across borders. With some countries heavily subsidizing their LPG cylinders whilst others do not, this encourages cross-border smuggling from countries with significant subsidies to those with none, including Gambia. Gambians are buying gas LPG cylinders cheaper from Senegal because these are subsidized by the government there, while they are not in The Gambia.

However, the Ministers have tasked the ECOWAS Commission to conduct further comprehensive research to find sustainable solutions to all the existing challenges. The ECOWAS Commission will also prepare a payment structure within the region in the framework of a regional natural gas market.