9 December 2012

Uganda: Controversies Behind Delayed Oil Bill Passing

Photo: New Vision
Parliament passes the petroleum Bill.

Parliament, on Friday, finally passed the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill 2012 after voting on Clause 9 of the Bill, which gives the energy minister full powers in granting and revoking oil licenses, but not without a fight.

In the voting exercise, 149 MPs voted in favour of the Government position to re-instate the powers of the minister to negotiate, grant and revoke oil licenses while 39 MPs voted against it.

When commercial quantities of oil were discovered in Uganda, it was great news for both policy makers and ordinary citizens.

People got excited and many predicted that once the oil export starts, it would be the end of poverty, but no one was prepared for the battle lines that would be drawn.

First battle

Economists immediately swung into action and started planning for the revenues that would accrue from oil. Unfortunately, the excitement did not last. Conflicts emerged and war started.

At first it was with the oil effects on the environment given the fact that most of it is located in the Albertine Graben, the home of Uganda's biggest national parks.

The environmentalists were up in arms, but somehow the Government managed to swim against the tide and convinced them that precautionary measures have been put in place to protect the environment.

But that was only one battle. The heat turned to the oil agreements. The production sharing agreements were nowhere to be seen until Parliament demanded that they be tabled.

When they were eventually brought to the House, they were reportedly only given to a few selected MPs due to their sensitivity.

MPs soon raised dust and demanded that the energy minister tables all the agreements. The minister did, but with conditions that members should only read and not reveal any information.

A House divided:

Although the issue also died down, it divided Parliament into five major groups:

MPs on Oil and Gas Forum led by Theodore Ssekikubo, Abdul Katuntu, Wilfred Niwagaba and Gerald Karuhanga.

The Executive, with the President as the central point, backed by his cabinet and the NRM Caucus.

NRM MPs supporting the Government position.

A combination of NRM and opposition MPs opposed to the Government position.

Civil society organisations mainly led by the Inter-Religious Council, Association of Environmentalists, Oil Watch Network, Oil Host Communities and many others.

The others are the oil companies.

This time round, the tables were turned to the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill.

Earlier, both sides had agreed to all the clauses, including the controversial Clause 9 which grants the energy minister powers to grant and revoke the license of oil companies.

Initially, all the groups agreed that the power should be vested with the National Oil Authority. The President, however, objected saying the management of oil is an executive function and, therefore, the powers should be given to the minister.

The President quickly met the NRM Caucus and convinced them to reverse the decision and recommit the clause.

While the opposition was busy in Namboole voting for a party president, Parliament sat and agreed to recommit the Article. However, they failed to get the required number to vote on the motion.

When their colleagues returned, hell broke loose. They demanded that the matter be debated. Those on the side of the Government refused and insisted that the House casts a vote.

Then chaos ensued, leading to the suspension of the House. The Speaker ruled that members who misbehaved appear before the committee on discipline.

While all these groups argue that they are fighting for the interest of Ugandans, the question is why then do we have endless wars?

Each group blames the other of advancing their own selfish interests and causing confusion. While addressing the caucus last week, President Yoweri Museveni accused Ssekikubo, Katuntu and Karuhanga of being used.

"Where there is Katuntu, Ssekikubo and Karuhanga, expect confusion," the President reportedly complained.

Senior political advisor to the President, Moses Byaruhanga, and press secretary Tamale Mirundi say the President as, head of state, has a right to intervene and guide the country in dealing with strategic issues such as oil.

"As the head of the executive, the President has to follow and see how the Bill is moving. That is not interfering. He is doing his duties," Byaruhanga said.

"The President is not a thief. He is the one who has been behind this oil issue. If he had personal interest, he would have influenced the establishment of a refinery in Rwakitura," Mirundi said.

Mirundi accused oil companies of using some MPs to cause confusion.

"Currently, there is a scramble for oil. In fact, the oil companies have found Parliament vulnerable. They are experienced in this game. Otherwise they know they can't deal with the President and succeed," Mirundi added.

On the other hand, the legislators and civil society accuse the President of interfering in the work of Parliament.

Appearing on the rules and disciplines committee probing the behavior of members during the fracas two weeks ago, public accounts committee Kassiano Wadri argued that the Government has never done things in the people's interest: "The Executive is composed of individuals who always want to advance their own interests. This whole chaos was caused by the fact that people no longer have trust in the Government and their officials."

Oil and gas forum members say they are protecting Uganda's oil. They dismiss allegations of being used by oil companies.

"We know why we are fighting. Those reports by the Government that we are being used are baseless. Those are tactics aimed at dividing us and also bring us down," Ssekikubo said.

They argue that oil is a strategic resource and Parliament has a role to legislate laws that the future generation will not regret.

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