The Monitor (Kampala)

13 February 2012

Uganda: Outsmarted, MPs Seek Response to Museveni

Lawmakers critical of the current status of the management of the Oil sector in Uganda have accused the president of making attempts to abrogate the ... ( Resource: MPs Move to Expunge President's Address

Kampala — MPs who led the oil debate in Parliament last year are expected to address a press conference this morning after President Museveni outmaneuvered them to sign fresh contracts with oil company Tullow.

Early indications are that the MPs will try to hold Energy Minister Irene Muloni responsible for side-stepping parliamentary resolutions on the matter but a lot of it is likely to be a case of shutting the barn door after the horses have bolted - or more appropriately, crying over spilled oil.

This high-stakes game of money and politics goes back to the night of February 2, when a Western diplomat based in Kampala called one of the MPs who, a few months earlier, had led Parliament to debate allegations that top ministers received bribes from oil companies and pass several resolutions on the matter.

The diplomat had, through his country's intelligence service, learnt that government was scheduled to sign two new Production Sharing Agreements and a production licence with Tullow Oil the next day and wanted to know if the MP was aware, since one of the resolutions imposed a moratorium on signing new agreements or contracts with the oil firms.

The MP was not aware. He made a couple of phone calls to other MPs and none of them had a clue. They agreed to meet the next morning and apply for an injunction against the signing, which was scheduled at 2pm the next day.

Intelligence agents monitoring their conversations quickly alerted President Museveni who, as he later confessed publicly, ordered the signing to be brought forward to between 9 and 10am. By the time MPs finished drafting their application for an injunction, news of the deals was already on radio and international wire agencies.

On Friday President Museveni addressed a special session of Parliament to explain the hurried signing and - ostensibly - explain why he had connived with a foreign firm to sabotage the MPs' plans.

The President argued that it was important to move quickly to unlock the oil production process and maintain a pro-investor reputation. He cited oft-repeated delays to the Bujagali Dam and to defence spending and said the MPs came close to committing the country to a "historic" mistake by delaying Tullow's $2.9 billion farm-down to Total and CNOOC, which will pave way for oil production.

Sources familiar with the matter say the Chinese and the French have been getting restless over the delays and threatening to walk away from the deal. However, the President's speech was silent on the fact that the delayed resolution of the parliamentary inquiry is due, not to the MPs, but to a constitutional appeal orchestrated by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, one of those accused in Parliament of receiving bribes from the oil companies.

Mr Museveni's speech was also silent on the Executive's failure to draft and table comprehensive oil legislation within 30 days of the resolutions passed four months ago. A related Bill was tabled days after the signing with Tullow but the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, Production and Value Addition) Bill 2010 is yet to find priority in the House.

The President's speech was triumphant and self-congratulatory, casting Mr Museveni as "the one who successfully makes fire using wet firewood" and in so doing inadvertently echoed concerns about presidentialism and the lack of institutional oversight over the oil sector.

Not only did the President decry the oversight delays introduced by the 1995 Constitution (wistfully hankering back to the NRC days when decisions were made by hand-picked comrades), he casually dropped details of the Production Sharing Agreements which government has previously declined to make public, claiming that they were confidential.

In fact the 5,178-word speech did not have a single mention of "transparency" or "accountability", although it mentioned "NRM" at least eight times. That will worry many who have, over the past four months seen promising signs of parliamentary bi-partisanship eroded by caucusing within the ruling NRM party.

President Museveni met NRM MPs in Kyankwanzi in October and December to try and convince them to allow the signing to take place. However, some NRM MPs led by Theodore Ssekikubo stayed away from the meetings and accused their colleagues who attended, of hypocrisy.

With a comfortable majority in the House and after working his charm over the months, President Museveni found little resistance in Parliament on Friday.

"You made those decisions, we went to Kyankwanzi and NRM caucus said no, we cannot go by those mistakes," he told MPs who hang onto every word he said and chuckled at every joke and face he made.

Today's press conference will give the few dissenting MPs a chance to respond, albeit belatedly. "What is the relevance of Parliament if we can debate and come up with resolutions only to be disregarded by the President with impunity?" an MP asked afterwards.

Another, asking not to be named, added: "We resolved that ministers who pocketed bribes step aside immediately and the President said no. Then we resolved that no oil agreements should be signed until oil laws are put in place, again the President defied Parliament on this. This is a clear indication that the President doesn't respect people's representatives."

However, State House Publicity Secretary Tamale Mirundi told this newspaper that the President was acting in the best interests of the country. "It is insensitive for any serious president to wait for a decision of a Parliament that has not even bothered to ask court to expedite its ruling on a case challenging the proceedings of its ad hoc committee on oil," Mr Mirundi said.

"We are dealing with oil for the first time; those MPs who are blaming the President for ignoring parliamentary resolutions don't know how to handle oil. In any case, oil is not only in Uganda, if we delay, these companies will go somewhere else. Parliament failed to do its work and we cannot wait forever; even a pregnancy has a time limit beyond which the doctors can recommend a caesarean."

Ugandans will be hoping that in its haste to produce oil government does not throw the baby out with the bath water.

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