Kampala — Parliament Friday evening passed the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill 2012 after voting on clause 9 of the Bill, which gives the minister of energy full powers in granting and revoking oil licenses.
The Friday voting followed failed attempts, the latest being Thursday, when MPs opposed granting the minister full powers.
The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, referred the contentious clause to the committee on natural resources to seek a harmonious position between government and the Members of Parliament.
The opposing MPs had agreed that the minister of energy shares her functions with the Petroleum Authority in granting and revoking oil licenses and negotiating petroleum agreements, but the Government wanted the minister to have exclusive powers.
Friday morning, the committee on natural resources held a meeting which was attended by ministers and the opposing MPs, but failed to agree.
The MPs' concern is that granting and revoking oil licenses is a technical matter and that for a minister to solely handle oil deals could expose them to corruption.
On Friday afternoon, Michael Werikhe, the chairman of the committee, told the House that their attempts to reach a consensus had failed.
He said the government side, led by the energy minister Irene Muloni, had refused to change their stand. He added that Abdu Katuntu, the shadow attorney general, had proposed that the minister shares her powers with the authority in granting and revoking oil licenses.
Werikke said the committee had decided on a vote of 10 out of 18 members in favour of giving the minister full powers. Five voted against and three members abstained.
Katuntu presented a compromise amendment, where he said the functions of the minister should be negotiating petroleum agreements in liaison with the authority and with the approval of Cabinet to endorse petroleum agreements and grant licenses.
He said the minister should revoke licenses on the recommendation of the authority and with approval of Cabinet.
But energy minister Irene Muloni said a directorate would be created in her ministry to advise on technical issues relating to petroleum. She said the Bill also provide for a relationship in functions between the minister and the petroleum authority.
Oulanyah said the committee had failed to create a harmonious position and asked Parliament to vote on the contentious clause. A total of 149 MPs voted in favour of the government, re-instating the powers of the minister to negotiate, grant and revoke oil licenses. Only 39 MPs voted against it.
The original Bill
In the original Bill, Parliament had given the powers to the minister, but after a protracted debate, parliament transfered the powers to the petroleum authority to negotiate, grant and revoke licenses with the approval of the minister. But when Cabinet later met, it rejected that position and referred the bill back for discussion.
However, voting had failed to take place because MPs kept making attempts to raise technicalities to block it. After four vain attempts, it was proposed by Francis Epetait (FDC) that the House votes by roll call so that Ugandans get to know who voted for what.
Oulanyah accepted and ruled: "We are going to vote by roll call. Everybody should stand up and be counted and own up to their decision. The business of going behind the scenes should stop."
As voting was going on, MPs kept jeering and making warning gestures at each other in an attempt to influence voting.
MPs looked on with a lot of curiosity whenever an army MP or an independent MP's name was read out to see how they would vote.
All the army MPs present, who included Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, Lt. Gen Katumba Wamala, Maj. Gen. Charles Angina, Captain Suzan Lakot and Maj. Sarah Mpabwa voted in favour of the government.
The NRM party chairman, President Yoweri Museveni, on Thursday convened an NRM caucus meeting at the Parliament conference hall, during which 123 MPs voted in favour of the government position and seven voted against it, while one MP abstained.
Now that the House has passed the Bill, it will be sent to President Yoweri Museveni for assent.Once he assents, it will become law.