By Mihary Velo Soa and Tiana Andria
In 2016, the project to build a hydroelectric dam at Farihitsara, in the rural district of Sahanivotry, was launched. This project, managed by the Italian company Tozzi Green, is perceived as the "biggest in Africa". However according to the Vakinankaratra regional chief, the risks of its implementation on the local population are considerable.
More Than 3.000 homes expropriated
On July 30, 2018, the local population sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Planning, the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Population, the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock and the Mayor of the Municipality of Sahanivotry. A copy of this letter was also sent to the direction of the Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission. The purpose of this letter, which has been signed by 807 supporters, is to expose the lack of transparency as well as the risks and consequences associated to the construction of the 53-meter-high dam in Farihitsara.
The signatories are also demanding the immediate cessation of work. According to them, seven religious buildings, three schools and a Primary Health Care Center (PHC) will be under water following the construction of this dam. In addition, 1,500 graves could be destroyed. This is the type of collateral damages that could result from the construction of this infrastructure. Consequently, the future remains uncertain for thousands of people in the Farihitsara and Ampamehana Fokontany, the Sahanivotry Manandona, Avarabohitra, Ambohitsimanova, Tatabe and Bemasoandro communes as well as the Tsarazaza Municipality in the Amoron’i Mania Region.
Having heard of this letter, the representatives of BIMTT together with experts have explored the location to observe first-hand and assess the risks generated by the construction of this dam. The results of the visit were concerning.
"Should the dam be 40 meters high, it could realistically flood 680 hectares of land. Should it be 60 meters high, the flooded area could be as vast as 1,985 hectares," commented Kotandrajaona Rajoelisolo, Secretary General of BIMTT. The Secretary General of BIMTT later argued that this project, "which is surely innovative, actually represents a threat to the environment and the social life of the population." According to the BIMTT, it could result in 3,000 families being evicted from their homes and land.
If we rely on the information provided by the project sponsor, Tozzi Green, the anticipated consequences are much different. According to the project data sheet, they intend to build “a reinforced concrete dam with a slightly arched shape. The dam should have a maximum height of 53 m and a length of 216 m with a maximum flooded territory of about 8.2 km² for a total volume of about 95 million cubic meters of water. The expected volume of water is comparable to Lake Mantasoa. The expected flooded area is 1,000 ha.” Tozzi Green reports that only 150 homes will be displaced, compared to the 3,000 reported by BIMTT.
Residential houses and rice fields will be flooded after the construction of the dam
A concerning lack of transparency
The core drilling process began without any prior consultation with the population. In addition, no official document was filed with the Fokonolona to confirm the legality of the project and to reassure the local population. For the moment, it is not possible to get hold of a document detailing the real costs and investments associated with the project nor to obtain any details related to the potential agreement between Tozzi Green and the Malagasy State. No contract also means no guarantees. It is to the least concerning and suspicious for a project of this magnitude not to be regulated by a public contract.
According to Tozzi Green, Hydelec Madagascar applied, on September 7, 2017, to the Ministry of Water, Energy and Hydrocarbons in order to obtain authorization to do a geotechnical study for the hydropower plant of Sahanivotry. The request was accepted by the Ministry’s General Secretariat. Hydelec Madagascar is a company that has recently integrated Tozzy Holding as a subsidiary of Tozzi Renewable Energy.
In any case, the mere authorization to proceed to a geotechnical study does not provide any protection in case of damages resulting from the project.
"The technicians briefly explained the project. But during a Fokonolona meeting, the villagers realized the potential consequences of the installation of this water retention dam in the village," reports a father. "This is a project that not only goes against the Malagasy morality with the destruction of family vaults, but also goes against human rights since the right to land is not respected," emphazises Kotondrajao Rajoelisolo.
Rumors are that the homes in the flooded area will be expropriated to the eastern part of the island. "Our ancestors were born here. We have the intention to set our root here and never to leave this place," mentions an angered villager in a letter.
"The state protects the habitats of turtles and lemurs. Are we less important than these animals?” they continued.
Another rumor implied that the victims of the expropriation will be moved just a few kilometers away from their current location. According to that rumor, the victims would also benefit from an irrigation system allowing them to increase their agricultural production once the dam is operational. The said rumor was, however, denied by a source in Tozzi Green’s company.
That information does not seem to alleviate the fears of the residents who have suspended their food crop activities which, according to BIMTT, add to the local insecurity.
A consideration from Hery Rajaonarimampianina?
According to our information, the installation of this future 20 MW hydropower plant in Ankaterena is part of a presidential project initiated by former President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
This project purpose is to accomplish the State's policy of increasing energy production and reducing deballasting. Thus, the Malagasy government's partnership with the private sector, in particular with the Tozzi Green company, is materialized by the construction of a second hydroelectric power plant in Sahanivotry. The electricity produced will then be integrated into the Interconnected Network of Antananarivo (RIA). Thousands of households will therefore benefit from constant energy supplies in Antananarivo and Antsirabe, according to Tozzi Green. On an economic standpoint, the leaders aim to find sustainable solutions in terms of energy for the consumer needs. The relationship between Tozzi Green and Hery Rajaonarimampianina raises questions nevertheless.
In 1995, Hery Rajaonarimampianina starts an accounting and auditing practice called "CGA Associate Auditors."
An article dated from 2013 published in the newspaper La Gazette de la Grande Île (which translates as The Big Island Newspaper) has revealed that "the CGA defends the interests of Tozzi Green and all of the company's accounting." The article also revealed that "all of Tozzi Green's financial operations are managed and controlled by this very renowned accounting firm .”
Hery Rajaonarimampianina would have used his influence as Minister of Finance and Budget with the Prime Minister at that time to facilitate the establishment and operationalization of Tozzi Green company.
But that’s not all - the same article mentions that he used his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors (PCA) of the company Air Madagascar to facilitate the establishment of Tozzi Green in Ihorombe.
The article emphasizes that "he would have used his former position as Treasurer of PCA Air Madagascar to facilitate travel between the project and the capital."
In addition, we know that Tozzi Green gave a financial contribution to Hery Rajaonarimampianina's election campaign in 2013 which may be the reason why the power plant project was admitted in Farihitsara. We should recall that the same company undertook the construction of another power plant of 28MW at Farahantsana Mahitsy.
With respect to the call for tender offer, or rather the lack thereof, the answer from the former Minister of Energy and Hydrocarbons (MEH), Lantoniaina Rasoloelison, is raising even more concerns.
"This is a site in Sahanivotry that Hydelec sold to Tozzi Green," he says. "Therefore, the call for tenders is no longer necessary. The site is owned by Tozzi Green. He has free reins to do what he wants without asking the opinion of others."
With regard to the expropriation and the future of the 3,000 homes, this senior official has a precise answer. "Is the interest of these 3,000 households more important than those of 25 million? What is the cost of rice fields and arable land compared to the benefits associated with the construction of this dam? If it is more expensive, there will be no need to expropriate them [...] This infrastructure will benefit farmers through water retention."
General William Rakotonarivo, Regional Chief of Vakinankaratra, reiterates.
"When you build a dam of this magnitude, there is always a surface that is flooded. People will be forced to leave the premises. Infrastructure such as schools, churches, tombs and rice fields will be submerged. However, measures have been taken for the displacement of the victims. A special budget was also set up by Tozzi Green to provide compensation. In addition, there is an association in place to help with mediation.”
A statement that is put into perspective by the BIMTT which emphasizes that "the efforts made in the training of peasants and technicians are reduced to nothing if the villagers are expelled from their lands." According to the Secretary General of this organization, the Regional Chief would have officially advocated the "Public Private Population Partnership," without first consulting the population and without seeking their involvement.
Former responsible minister Lantoniaina Rasoloelison and the Regional Chief of Vakinankaratra are not able to reassure the population about this project.
"The idea of expropriation, followed by moving to a place far from their own locality and from what they call their ‘ancestral lands, terrifies the villagers. If we are forced to be displaced, who will guarantee our security? What will we become in our new host community? Should the project bring benefits and positive repercussions to the village, the residents would have voluntarily approved the construction of the dam. But so far, we are not convinced, since the entire village will be under water," says Ms. Ravo, teacher at the Farihitsara public school, in the rural district of Sahanivotry, during the investigation conducted locally.
For the time being, the exact amount forming the special budget intended to compensate the victims, remains unknown.
The budget should form part of the, above-mentioned, contract. However, we cannot confirm, as the contract is not public.
Ongoing core drilling at the dam site.
According to Tozzi Green’s official, they decided on the location of the main structures of the development after completing a preliminary geological study with a hydrological and topographic study, in October 2016.
Another study, completed in January 2017 and integrating the final topographic survey, was conducted to establish the exercise levels and regulations. Based on the preceding information, in May 2017, they established the structure dimension as well as the type of work.
The results from the geotechnical studies, coring and seismic tests were to be obtained last December. The partial results of the coring campaign have already established " the presence of high quality level boulders and thus give a positive verdict on the geotechnical feasibility of the project," according to Tozzi Green.
"What's the point of implementing an electrification project if 3,000 households are paying in high price? Currently, the villagers have doubts and are undecided," insists Kotondrajaona Rajoelisolo who, alongside many potential victims, demands the cessation of this project.
Photo credit: USAID
This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translators: Cressida Mcdermot, Elizabeth Banerd, Lauren Meakin, Tiani Allen and Antonita Pratcher.