News / 18 June 2024

Dutch government threatens to put human lives at risk again in infamous TotalEnergies gas project in Mozambique

The Dutch government threatens to blunder again by providing export support for TotalEnergies' controversial gas project in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. This follows from an analysis of 9000 documents from FOI requests, commissioned by Milieudefensie and Both ENDS. Anne de Jonghe, Both ENDS: “When the export support was issued in 2021, critical voices were minimized, while TotalEnergies was heard and trusted. That should not happen again."

In 2021 the Netherlands decided to provide an export credit insurance of 1 billion euros for work by dredger Van Oord, on TotalEnergies' gas project despite major security risks. The day before the Netherlands signed off on the export credit insurance, one of the largest terrorist attacks in history began: the so-called Palma Attacks resulted in over 1,500 casualties. In the province of Cabo Delgado, 800,000 people were displaced. In the aftermath of the attacks, the gas production was temporarily halted, but is about to restart with help from the Dutch government.

Civil society organizations in Mozambique warn that restarting the project increases the likelihood of new attacks. Dutch export credit agency Atradius DSB is already reassessing the insurance. But the process is once again shrouded in mist. Requested documents are not delivered, questions from Dutch MPs are not at all or only vaguely answered. There is no guarantee that the Netherlands will avoid getting it wrong again.

Anne de Jonghe, senior policy advisor Both ENDS: “The Dutch State and Atradius DSB went out of their way to give the green light for this project. Critical voices were minimized, while TotalEnergies was heard and trusted. When the House of Representatives or civil society organizations asked for more information, a fog bank was raised. For Atradius DSB and those in charge at the ministries, the economy takes precedence over the people of Mozambique. The Dutch government is now in danger of missing its chance to get out of this controversial project."

Marie-Sol Reindl, Researcher Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands): “TotalEnergies and the Mozambican government say they are addressing the conflict and insecurity in the region by sending in more soldiers. In doing so, they ignore the root causes of the violence. The uprisings in Cabo Delgado stem from structural poverty and social and political discontent among the population. The fact that the people of Mozambique are being locked out of the wealth generated by the gas project is fueling this discontent. And our government is contributing to it."

Key findings from the report:

  • Atradius DSB's review process for export insurance drives approval. Stakeholders seem so determined to get the green light for the project that they ignore the human lives at stake.

  • To this day, it is unclear if and how the Dutch State can withdraw the issued €1 billion export credit insurance. The ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance say withdrawal is legally impossible, but refuse to provide insight into the contract terms.

  • The ministries had serious concerns about security in the area beforehand. After strong pressure from TotalEnergies, the export credit insurance was approved anyway.

  • Atradius DSB and the Dutch ministries made the security situation in Cabo Delgado look better than it was by withholding worrying information. This is remarkable because FoI documents show that concerns were expressed within Atradius DSB and the ministries. In 2018, Atradius DSB staff visited the project site. For security reasons, it was decided to do this by solely flying over by helicopter, wearing bulletproof vests.

  • It is highly implausible that the Dutch ministries did not know about the Palma Attacks before they made them public. They must have had the option of withdrawing from the project.

  • The government put up every conceivable barrier to obtaining information about its involvement in the project. The Ministry of Finance has already been fined more than 50,000 euros for delays in processing FoI requests.

Final wake-up call

Dutch Members of Parliament continue to press for an improvement in Atradius DSB's assessment process, including after an independent report commissioned by the parliament. The new report by Milieudefensie and Both ENDS is a final wake-up call. It shows that the government and Atradius DSB are not taking the mistakes made earlier seriously enough. And that it is totally irresponsible to approve export credit insurance again under these circumstances.

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