Shell denies Nigeria report is secret ­ but it sure is missing

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Shell, the oil giant, yesterday denied that a critical independent report it commissioned on its community projects in Nigeria had been kept secret - but then it could not produce the document.

Shell, the oil giant, yesterday denied that a critical independent report it commissioned on its community projects in Nigeria had been kept secret ­ but then it could not produce the document.

At its annual meeting in London yesterday, Philip Watts, the company director due to become chairman this summer, said: "We are happy to present the results to interested parties." The present chairman, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, added: "It is erroneous to suggest that we have kept this secret."

However, following repeated enquiries from The Independent, the Shell press office said that no copy of the report existed in London and that it could not be made available.

The company, which has spent more than $150m on local development schemes in Nigeria, eventually faxed over an executive summary of the report, which said just 27 per cent of the schemes inspected were "considered fully successful".

Also, a Shell director said at the AGM for the first time that domestic politics were behind the Australian government's move last month to block Shell's bid for the country's Woodside Petroleum. There is an Australian election this year, and Robert O'Neill told the meeting that the government had suffered setbacks.

Professor O'Neill added: "We were caught by a change in tide of local politics.... There is in Australia a very nasty party [One Nation] that is primitive and racist, which has quite a few members of the ruling coalition worried about their seats. They said, for God's sake, don't give Shell Woodside. That was enough to swing it."

In response to a question, Sir Mark said Shell has no plans for exploration in the Sundarbans forest reserve in Bangladesh, habitat for endangered Bengal tigers. But Craig Bennett, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The reserved forest is only a small part of the Sundarbans region. Most of it is the Ramsar wetland, ... recognised by the UN as of international importance for wildlife. They haven't said they have no plans for Ramsar."

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