The fight over the controversial clause 9 of the Oil bill is inching closer to settlement. MPs yesterday agreed to push the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, and Production) Bill, 2012, to the committee stage, paving way for its passage into law.
However, there were protestations from opposition MPs, who argued that more consultation and debate was needed on the contentious clause 9, which, in its current form, gives discretionary powers to the minister for Energy to grant or revoke oil licenses.
The opposition MPs wanted that power vested in an independent Petroleum Authority. Their NRM counterparts however, wanted business to be handled expeditiously and were vociferous in urging the Speaker to move the debate forward.
Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who chaired the proceedings, ruled that those dissatisfied with some of the clauses would have a chance to seek amendments at the committee stage, where the wording and phrasing of each clause in the bill will have to be reconsidered and voted upon.
"We have not decided anything yet. Honourable members you will have the opportunity to make extra additions or subtractions at the committee stage," Oulanyah said.
Oulanyah's ruling came after two hours of acrimonious debate. Abdu Katuntu, the Bugweri MP and Shadow Attorney General, came up with a compromise proposal to clause 9. This, he said, would satisfy those who wanted the minister to have powers on licensing or revoking licenses and those who want this power to be vested with the envisaged Petroleum Authority.
Katuntu's compromise stated: "The minister shall be responsible for negotiating petroleum agreements in liaison with the [Petroleum] Authority and, with the approval of Cabinet, endorse petroleum agreements and grant licenses."
It also indicated that the minister shall also be responsible for revoking licenses on recommendation of the Authority and with the approval of Cabinet. Katuntu said the proposal was borne out of consultations he held with Irene Muloni, the minister of Energy and Mineral Development and other technical staff of the ministry.
He later withdrew the amendment after NRM MPs refused to warm up to it.
"I took time and sat with technocrats and the minister and came up with a proposal that will cater for both arguments. If you do not agree with it, I can withdraw it," Katuntu said as some NRM MPs stamped their feet.
Some NRM MPs, who had in earlier debates not warmed up to the proposal of giving the energy minister enormous power, were quiet. Not surprisingly, the change in tone came hours after President Museveni had met the NRM Caucus, in the conference hall. Sources who attended the meeting told us that Museveni lambasted Muloni for consulting with Katuntu over the Bill.
"Why do you discuss with Katuntu and not the NRM?" Museveni reportedly asked Muloni in the meeting that started at 9am and ended at 1pm.
On her part, Muloni apologized to MPs and vowed never to talk to rebel MPs without informing the caucus and the party chairman. We have also been told that although some MPs, like Vincent Kyamadidi (Rwampara) and Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), demanded that they debate the contentious clause 9 so that a general consensus can be reached, Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi dismissed it.
"If we debate, we shall be wasting time" because the issue at hand is that of recommitting clause 9 and the position of government is known," he argued.