19 November 2012

Uganda: Parliament Criminalizes Leaking of Oil Details

  As the oil bill gets closer to being passed into law, Civil society organizations have joined members of parliament who are against the ... ( Resource: Civil Society to Demonstrate Over Oil Bill in Uganda

Civil servants working in the oil sector will be prohibited from revealing details about the sector for some time after retirement or termination of their employment.

In a move that some MPs saw as an attempt to enshroud the sector in secrecy, the house passed clause 150(4) of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill, 2012 which provides for a five year jail term, sh10m fine, or both for public servants who disclose information obtained in the course of their employment, less than ten years after leaving their jobs.

However, Minister of Energy, Irene Muloni and Attorney General, Peter Nyombi were overrun by MPs, who called for exemption of punitive action in cases where information is disclosed in "national interest."

"It will defeat our sense of justice if someone is jailed for disclosing information about an oil company whose waste management policies show no regard for the environment," Ssekikubo said on Friday.

Sseggona pushed for exemption of prosecution in the event that information is disclosed in public interest, citing the needs to expose activities like fraud, which are inimical to the "common good."

Muloni and Nyombi had earlier rejected Sseggona's amendment, citing "commercial interests of the investors" who would be jittery at exposing their trade secrets.

However, there was some remarkable compromise as both Muloni and Nyombi acceded to the amendment subjecting denial of information in government hands about the sector to the Access to Information Act, 2005.

This means that the sector minister will have to prove, in case of denial of information, that such information fits within the limitations provided by the Act; prejudice to national security and breach of personal privacy.

In November last year, the executive and parliament clashed over refusal by the sector minister to table production sharing agreements government had signed with oil companies.

Meanwhile, oil companies will be mandated to give preference to goods and services produced in the country.

Where such services are lacking, they should be provided through joint ventures, with Ugandan firms owning a 48% stake.

Ugandan firms have stridently lobbied for affirmative action in the oil sector during the drafting of the oil bill, expressing fear that foreign companies are most likely to edge them out in the provision of services in the lucrative sector.

Parliament passed all the 189 clauses of the petroleum Bill on Friday, save for the 13 that were stood over after failure to generate consensus.

Although the house has already significantly clipped the powers of the sector minister, majority of the remaining contentious clauses still pertain to ministerial powers and whether to consider decommissioning costs as recoverable costs.

Among the clauses that are up for consideration this mourning is whether the sector minister should be given discretionary powers to grant a license.

Government has contended that it's in national interests in event that all bidding companies are from 'hostile countries.'

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