SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT:TRIPARTITE MINISTERIAL MEETING ON GERD   January 16, 2014.

Setting the Record Straight

What really transpired during the third tripartite ministerial meeting of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan

At the end of 2010, the Ethiopian Government (GoE) commissioned the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project (GERDP) which is well under way through a turn-key contract arrangement with an internationally renowned contractor.

 

Egypt and Sudan, albeit in the absence of detailed information, have concerns on the impacts of the dam upon them. Accordingly, upon the initiation and invitation of the GoE, the Ministers of Water Affairs of the three Eastern Nile Countries agreed to establish an International Panel of Experts (IPoE) with the objective of building confidence among the three countries around GERD. It is to be underlined that the initiative Ethiopia undertook to consult and share information with the two downstream countries is unprecedented in the Nile basin and, indeed, in other international watercourses, in the absence of a specific agreement to determine the use of international watercourses.

The IPoE was launched during May 15-18, 2012. After a year of deliberation that included review of study and design documents and project site visits the IPoE produced its final report on the 30th of May 2013, as a consensus report signed by the representatives of the three countries Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and the four international experts.

The IPoE Final Report has reconfirmed Ethiopian assertion that the design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam is based on international design criteria and standards, codes, guidelines and engineering practices. The IPOE has also shown that the GERDP does not have significant impact on the downstream countries and in fact will provide huge benefits to all the three riparian countries, namely Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan

The IPoE recommended to conduct two studies, in the context of the Eastern Nile System, (a) water resource system/hydropower model and (b) transboundary environment and socioeconomic impact studies through appropriate arrangement as agreed by the three countries, by employing renowned international consultants through international bidding process.

The three countries agreed to set up a mechanism for following up on the implementation of the recommendations of the IPoE and initiated a series of tripartite meetings. The first and second meetings took place in Khartoum during November 4 and December 8-9, 2013. The 3rd meeting took place once again in Khartoum during January 4-5 2014.

Right after the conclusion of the 3rd meeting the Egyptian delegation embarked on media campaign and released distorted information regarding the deliberations and outcome of the 3rd tripartite meeting. We present the facts with the aim of setting the records straight and providing the international community and the Egyptian people with the true and accurate proceedings of the tripartite meeting, which can be corroborated by all who were present at the meeting.

The third meeting was chaired by Sudan and the main agenda was to discuss on the remaining pending issues that were not agreed upon in the last two meetings. It is worth mentioning that during the first tripartite meeting on November 4, 2013, all parties of the meeting have submitted their respective proposals on the "Framework for Establishing a Committee of Experts for the Follow up on the implementation of the Recommendations of the (IPoE) on GERDP".

 

The discussions during the first and second tripartite meeting focused mainly on the framework for establishment of a committee of national experts, composition and mandates. During the two meetings the parties have agreed on setting up a national committee of experts, composition and number of delegates from each country including on most of the mandates proposed by the Ethiopian delegation.

 

The outstanding issues postponed for the 3rd meeting included:

  •  Establishment and commissioning of international panel of experts(IE)

  • Principles of confidence building
  • Data and information quality and validation

 The issues discussed at the third tripartite meeting focused mainly on two issues tabled by the Egyptian delegation. The first issue concerns the setting up of an international panel of experts. Egypt proposed:
  • to employ an international panel of experts (IE) in parallel to the establishment of committee of national experts,
  • the IE to start work at the same time with committee of national experts,
  • in the event there are differences among the committee of national experts the three ministers to resolve the differences and if they fail the issues of differences to automatically be referred to the IE, to provide technical opinion to the ministers,
  •  the IE will also assist the committee of national experts,
  • the IE will be established not by consensus of the three countries.

Ethiopia on the other hand did not see any justification for employing an international panel of experts in addition to the international consultants that are to carry out the two studies recommended by the IPoE. However for the sake of compromise and promoting cooperation, the Ethiopian delegation agreed to employ an international panel of experts on the following conditions:

  • The committee of national experts to prepare the procedures on how to employ the IE and rules of procedure for the functioning of the IE,
  • To engage the IE after completion of the two studies,
  •  In the event of difference on the issues raised in the final report of the two studies, the ministers to resolve them amicably and if the issues can not be resolved by the ministers to refer them to the IE, to provide technical opinion to the ministers.
  • The IE to be employed by the three ministers by consensus.

The Egyptian delegation did not provide sufficient justification as to why the IE is to be engaged in parallel to the establishment of the committee of national experts. During the first meeting the Egyptian delegation argued that the IE can resolve differences among members of the committee of national experts. They even suggested the IE can be an adjudication body whose decision should be binding on the three countries. These arguments were unacceptable and were found to be illogical by the delegations of Ethiopia and Sudan. Egypt withdrew these arguments during the third meeting and suggested the role of the IE to be to technically assist the committee of national experts but they could not provide any situation in which the IE can play such a role.

In a situation where the two studies recommended by the IPoE are going to be undertaken by international consultancy firms and the necessary follow up to be made by 12 national experts of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the motive of Egypt's insistence to employ additional international experts is not clear.

The second issue tabled by Egypt refers to "principles for confidence building."The principles refer to issues that contradict with the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) which Ethiopia has recently ratified and which is also signed by six other upper Nile riparian countries. Ethiopia declined to discuss on the so called confidence building principles on account of their irrelevance to the agreed agenda of the meeting and the mandate of the delegations present at the meeting. The delegation of Ethiopia and Sudan repeatedly explained to the Egyptian delegation that the mandate of the third tripartite meeting is to establish appropriate mechanism for the follow up of the implementation of the IPoE and to resolve issues that were not agreed upon in the last two meetings. The delegations further explained that confidence building measures should be expressed in actions and not in meaningless phrases that have nothing to do with the issues at hand.

The Ethiopian delegation underlined the fact that the Ethiopian government in an unprecedented move opened up the GERD project by providing over 150 study and design documents to the two downstream countries including providing opportunities of project site visits. The GoE has also shown its commitment by accepting the report of the IPoE and is implementing the recommendations that are related to dam engineering and safety in a timely manner and agreed to jointly conduct the two studies recommended by the IPoE. These are practical confidence building measures that are lacking on the part of Egypt.

On the other hand Ethiopia acknowledges and appreciates the positive role that the government and people of Sudan have played since the commissioning of the GERDP. We admire and appreciate the hospitality and kindness of Sudan in hosting all the three tripartite meetings and the genuine effort and commitment of the past and current Ministers of Water Resources and Electricity for the success of the tripartite meetings.

 

We noted in a recent publication of Egypt Independent numerous deliberate distortions of what actually transpired during the 3rd meeting.

 
It is regrettable and counterproductive for the Egyptian delegation  to accuse Ethiopia of being "intransigent", and making saber rattling statements such as "all options are open; escalatory measures; and will not return to the negotiating table". The statement also included careless and unsubstantiated assertions such as "the inadequacy of the technical studies carried out on GERDP; its risks on the resources of the Ethiopian people; the Ethiopian government is facing problems financing the dam."

The above discourse adequately demonstrates who actually was uncompromising and blocking progress of consultations by submitting unreasonable proposals. While the meeting involves three countries, the Egyptian delegation distorts the situation as if the differences were between Egypt and Ethiopia alone. As a matter of fact in almost all issues of discussion Ethiopia and Sudan have the same stance and have together appealed to Egypt to finalize the discussions and move forward to the main tasks of conducting the two recommended studies. We are left wondering if there is a hidden agenda behind Egypt's focus on two non-issues that have little to do with the main task of conducting the two recommended studies by the IPoE.

We were confident the same empty rhetoric of the past government of Egypt will not be repeated but it seems such stance as expressed by "all options are open" is still on the table. As always we advise Egypt to once for all denounce the option of conflict and promote peace and cooperation.

The GERDP is a flagship project of the government and people of Ethiopia. The project is based on detailed studies by renowned international consultants and the decision to commission the construction of the project was made after ascertaining the project's technical and socio-economic viability. The timing of the commissioning of the GERDP has nothing to do with the turmoil in Egypt, as it is asserted by some uninformed individuals in Egypt.
We condemn the self righteous attitude of some Egyptian authorities in attempting to remind the Ethiopian people on the risks involved in self financing the project. 

The People and Government of Ethiopia are financing the GERDP. The GERDP will be completed as planned and no one should be in any illusion that this resolve of the Ethiopian people will change.

We would like to note that the third tripartite ministerial meeting held in Khartoum was concluded by agreeing to continue the consultations in order to finalize the setting up of a mechanism for the follow up of the implementation of the recommendations of the IPoE. Ethiopia is committed to the success of these consultations.
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