Palma (Mozambique) (AFP) – The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique’s glittering future, transformed by one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas projects.
But construction has fallen far behind schedule and the town’s fate is uncertain after gas prices fell and the government became engulfed in a $2 billion debt scandal.
Tucked between the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and thick tropical forests, Palma remains a sleepy village of 3,000 people, still waiting for the promised arrival of new jobs and infrastructure.
The discovery of gas reserves in 2010, estimated at 180 trillion cubic feet (five trillion cubic metres) in the surrounding Rovuma Basin, was the biggest natural gas find in recent decades.
Experts have predicted that Mozambique could become the world’s third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) — and an African version of wealthy Qatar.
Plans to exploit the reserves moved fast, and Palma’s residents were soon looking for opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty in one of the world’s poorest nations.
“It’s only through such projects that we will get proper jobs because otherwise we just depend on the sea,” said 46-year-old fisherman Pedro Abuda-Nchamo.
Since the discovery of the gas, the face of the town has started to change.
Excavators and construction vehicles are working on the planned liquefaction plant and export facilities.
A gated residential complex for the anticipated influx of skilled workers is almost ready, and the town’s first shopping mall is being built.
But the much-touted gas project has run into strong headwinds.
Initial estimates were that the first LNG would come on stream in 2016 but now it is expected in 2023 — or later.
The plunge in global gas prices has led energy companies to slow down capital expenditure.
Meanwhile the government in Maputo is caught up in a debt scandal that has triggered an economic crisis unseen since the end of the southern African…