By Harald Eraker
Oceanor first got in touch with Thai authorities in 1989, when a delegation of ministers visited Norway and were presented for the Seawatch system. Two years later, a contract was signed by Oceanor and Thailand, represented by NRCT (National Research Council of Thailand). The agreement was to place 7 buoys in the Thai Bay, with an additional project related training programme. The whole project was estimated to cost a total of 49 million NOK, of which the support from NORAD amounted to 14,4 million NOK worth of export credits and training support.
The project was to be completed over a two-and-a-half-year period. However, as the project period was over in November of 1994, the situation was everything but clear with regard to Oceanor completing its engagement.
- When I visited the Seawatch project in May of 1995, the activity had practically stopped, since 6 of the buoys were onshore and the seventh gave unreliable information, because of insufficient maintenance, says Tor Gjerde with NORAD's section for human resources and institutions.
Gjerde is the man behind the report Technology Transfer and Institutional Learning, which is a study about the Seawatch project in Thailand. The report was written as a thesis for Gjerde's master at the technology and social study at the University of Oslo, while at leave from NORAD, and is consequently not a NORAD report.
«Of all the environmental projects that have been presented for NORAD, this is the stupidest»
NORAD source to NorWatch
Gjerde's report raises a number of problems related to the Seawatch project, both with regard to maintenance and reliability of the system, the relevance of the data from the buoys and training of local personnel.
- When one is to evaluate technology transfer, one has to look not only at «techno», which means item, but also look at the «logy», which is the human knowledge. In my judgement, neither NORAD nor Oceanor have done a satisfactory job with regard to the latter, namely institutional development in the receiver country. In our part of the world, the institutional infra-structure is so good and the level of knowledge so high, that the Seawatch system may be used effectively. But all of a sudden this high technology is transferred to a developing country like Thailand, without a sufficient analysis made on whether the receiver has the knowledge and the resources to make proper use of it, Gjerde sums up.
In the report he refers to several of the users in Thailand, who find the Seawatch technology complicated, and that there has been problems using it. NRCT, buyer of the Seawatch system, places the responsibility with Oceanor:
«It is Oceanor's project, they have to come and solve the problem.»
Oceanor director Stein Atle Andersen disagrees with Gjerde and other critics of the Seawatch project.
- We do not think the technology is too complicated, and it functions excellently in Thailand. That the buoys were onshore for a while was due to maintenance, says Andersen.
After a while it appears that the real reason why Oceanor put the buoys onshore, was to wait for Thailand to get financial support for phase 2 of the project.
«We needed a glass of water, but got a bucket down the throat»
Local project manager about the Seawatch system in Thailand
New NORAD millions
The contract for phase 2 of the Seawatch project in Thailand was made in late 1994, and estimated to cost approximately 54 million NOK. This time, Oceanor received 20 million NOK worth of various export credits from NORAD.
Phase 2 also implied 4 new Seawatch buoys, as well as training and further operation of the project.
- It has to be admitted that Tor Gjerde's report opened our eyes; we now put far more into institutional development in Thailand and Indonesia. But what kind of possibilities do developing countries have if they don't get the opportunity to use technically advanced equipment? Are they supposed to just paddle along and hope that the weather stays calm? Oceanor's marketing director Tom Ivar Bern asks. He informs us that all the buoys are now in place.
Oceanor director Stein Atle Andersen will not go as far as Bern:
- I will not call Gjerde's report an eye-opener. Institutional development was planned for phase 2 prior to his report, says Andersen.
Gjerde, on the other hand, points out that NORAD granted support to the Seawatch project without there being any talk of a phase 2. Quite to the contrary, Oceanor had to continue its engagement with the project in order to mend the problems - problems that should have been analysed, predicted and prepared for prior to starting the project. Gjerde places the responsibility with both NORAD and Oceanor on the Norwegian side, and with NRCT on the Thai side.
Bucket down the throat
When Oceanor applied for NORAD support for the Seawatch project in Indonesia, Kystdirektoratet, among others, was asked to make an evaluation based on a visit to Indonesia. Its conclusion is that there «has only come up information that confirm the importance of the project», and that it could «be of great significance for Norwegian industry».
Kystdirektoratet's report also deals with the criticism of the Seawatch project in Thailand:
«It seems to be beyond any doubt that work and progress in Thailand have been according to plans as defined.», Kystdirektoratet's report, dated 11th of July 1995, concludes.
A few sentences further down, though, it says:
«Due to natural causes, the investigations are based on conversations with and reports from Oceanor.» In other words, Kystdirektoratet grants Oceanor's Thailand project outstanding grades based on what the company itself tells them about the project.
Incidentally, Gjerde's short comment is that NorWatch has shown that there exists a difference of opinion between him and Kystdirektoratet on the evaluation of the Seawatch project in Thailand.
- Seawatch became a little too much technology a little too fast, or as the local project manager put it when I spoke with him during my visit to Thailand: - We needed a glass of water, and got a bucket down the throat, Gjerde concludes.
Oceanor and NORAD in Indonesia
In the autumn of 1996, Oceanor signed a contract with the Indonesian authorities, worth 105 million NOK, to supply the environmental monitoring system Seawatch. NORAD supported the project with 30 million NOK worth of various export credits. It is to be implemented by Oceanor over the three-year period 1996-99. Oceanor is a company based in Trondheim, which was established by researchers from NTH in the early 80's.
NORAD's closed doors
Sadly, the work NorWatch has done has shown that it is not merely the industry that needs to carefully be monitored. NORAD's increased emphasis on supporting the Norwegian industry has resulted in a situation where Norwegian development aid is involved in projects with dubious records as well as aid work.
It is consequently a shame to report that it is often easier for NorWatch to get information from the industry than from NORAD on cases we investigate. This is something we have pointed out earlier, and the problem re-arises in the matters covered in this issue.
NORAD's support to Oceanor's Seawatch technology sale to Indonesia and Thailand has been an extremely difficult matter to deal with. NorWatch has met closed doors at NORAD's on many essential areas in this case.
«Internal documents», «not open for public insight» etc. have been the general respond.
Seawatch is presented as an environmental project. Why, then, can we not get insight into the only environmental evaluation that has been made, namely the evaluation of the Oceanor Indonesia application by NORAD's expert section?
Is it because it was negative to the NORAD support, as we reveal in this issue?
Oceanor and NORAD in Thailand
In 1991, Oceanor signed a contract with Thai authorities, worth 49 million NOK, to supply the Seawatch system. The project received 14,4 million NOK worth of various export credits from NORAD. In 1995, phase 2 of the project was started, and it is estimated to cost 54 million NOK. NORAD support for phase 2: 20,9 million NOK worth of various export credits.
Norwatch Newsletter 11/96