Oil Ministry opens to media [Archives:2006/976/Front Page]

August 28 2006

Nadia Al-Sakkaf
SANA'A, Aug. 27 ) Not only was he working on a weekend, but this minister had been in his office since 7 a.m. He's Khalid Bahah, Yemeni Minister of Oil and Minerals. Regarding his journey as a minister, he says, “It's been six hard months, but we've achieved a lot and we aspire for much more.”

With so much baggage in such an important ministry, in extraordinary time, Bahah has brought in new blood, restructured the organization, rearranged priorities, encouraged a new organizational culture and gotten an edge over the private sector – or so he claims.

However, the best part is that he's left it to the media to confirm. “Don't take it from me,” he said, “Come and see for yourselves. You'll find we have nothing to hide.”

Bahah is on a mission, saying he wants to remove the imaginary barriers between the ministry and the press. “Just six months ago, I was on the other side. I was one of you and I had my questions. Now that I'm in government, I'm adamant to provide answers and make things work right.”

This was why he visited the Yemen Times last Thursday and why he opened the ministry's gates to the media. Abdul Kawai Al-Odaini, the ministry's information general manager, said, “We have everything documented and we've held three press conferences so far in which we invited all media, including those who are always skeptical about us.”

Many media reports have doubted the actual amount of oil production. Last week, Al-Nas newspaper published a detailed review of official media reports about oil. The newspaper concluded that there's conflicting information and it seems a mystery whether oil production is increasing or decreasing.

Al-Odaini explained that current oil production is 380,000 barrels per day (bpd). Although that's a decline from 2004's announced figure of 400,000, he said there's hope to regain some of the exhausted fields soon. “Sector 4's production in Shabwa has declined from more than 2,000 bpd to less than 400 bpd, but we just licensed a Korean company to re-explore in that sector and initial indicators are promising,” he noted.

Whether oil production will increase or not remains to be seen; however, questions about where oil revenues actually go and how they're used remain.

“I made it a point to connect especially with opposition media and those who assume the government is wrong by default,” Bahah commented, and he's focusing on English-speaking media because he believes it will help promote the oil sector among the international community.

According to the ministry, 27 explorative or producing companies currently are in Yemen. In two weeks, the ministry will sign the first contract on ministerial extraction with a British company to extract copper and silver in the area of Nahm.

Regarding his ambitions for the ministry, Bahah said he hopes to have 'Yemenized' the oil and mineral sector workforce by 90 percent by the end of 2007. “I know this is a difficult aim, but we know Yemeni men and women have the potential – it's just that we need to empower and train them. Currently, 16 students are studying abroad on government scholarships,” he added.

Bahah also plans to automate the ministry and already has taken the first step in this project. In the area of human resources, the ministry is working on rapid development by imposing new standards for its staff. “We established a center to train our staff, stressing English and computer literacy. We even linked promotion with these two qualifications and you wouldn't believe the response we got. We're overwhelmed,” he noted.

With a total workforce of 14,000 male and female employees, the ministry also has a department for women in order to work on mainstreaming gender issues in budgeting and ministry plans.

When asked about environmental hazards some oil companies have caused, which the Yemen Times currently is investigating, Bahah admitted that there were mistakes. “I'm not going to lie to you and say everything is OK. No, there were mistakes, but we're working on them and we'll be happy to provide answers to anyone who asks.”