Sudan plans oil audit to refute transparency fears
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's president will ask a foreign company to check how much oil the country produced from 2005 to 2010 to rebut allegations of a lack of transparency in the industry, state media reported on Monday.
Campaign group Global Witness in 2009 said it had found discrepancies in oil production figures from some Sudanese fields which meant Khartoum's government might not be paying south Sudan its full share of oil revenues.
South Sudan keeps half the revenues from oil drilled in its territory under the terms of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.
The issue of sharing oil revenues has come to the fore again after southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence from the north in a January referendum promised under the same peace accord.
The sides have not agreed how they will handle oil revenues after the split, which is due to take place on July 9.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has set up a committee to select a foreign company to finish the review by July 8 "to achieve transparency and the rebuttal of some of the claims raised by some quarters", said state media agency Suna.
In 2009, Global Witness said China's CNPC, the dominant oil firm in Sudan, was reporting higher oil production figures for a number of oil fields than Sudan's energy ministry.
The group said that did not necessarily mean the north was purposefully underestimating the oil to underpay the south. But it said it showed Sudan needed to be more transparent about how it collected and reported data.
On Monday Global Witness said it had heard Sudan had already drawn up a shortlist of auditors. "It's a great step forward ... but it has been hugely delayed," said campaigner Dana Wilkins.
Wilkins said Khartoum first announced it was going to hold the audit in 2009 and Khartoum had not fully kept other promises to publish daily oil production data and get southerners more involved in the ministry.
"I heard it (the audit) was supposed to take six to eight months which means it won't be finished before separation," she said.
Tensions mounted over the weekend after southern Sudanese politicians walked out of negotiations on handling oil revenues and other assets after secession -- accusing Khartoum of plotting to overthrow its government. Khartoum dismissed the allegations as "ridiculous".
Before the suspension of the talks on Saturday, the south said it would stop sharing oil revenues after secession but was ready to pay fees and other unspecified "grants" to transport its oil through the north to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
When the talks were suspended, senior southern official Pagan Amum said the south would look for alternative routes away from the north after July -- although it was unclear how it would do so given the lack of other pipelines.
A total loss of revenue from southern oil would deal a severe blow to the northern economy, already struggling with inflation and low foreign currency reserves.