Government remains non-committal on when Uganda will embrace transparency in its oil sector management although ministers insist they are on track.
Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka said last week that there were plans to enforce transparency beyond the basic requirements of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), but could not say when this would happen.
"Government is in discussion and in fact we had proposed to take it further to have the oil and mining companies, apart from disclosing the revenues they pay to governments, [they should]have their accounts available for scrutiny on their websites in the interest of transparency," Kiwanuka told a conference organized by Global Rights Alert and Oil in Uganda.
The conference, at Golf Course hotel in Kampala, was mainly attended by MPs, civil society and diplomats.
The EITI is a brainchild of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and was launched during the 2002 Johannesburg summit on sustainable development, setting global standards for transparency in the extractive industries (mining, oil and gas). Under the EITI mechanism, companies publish what they pay, and governments publish what they receive and these receipts are independently audited and made public.
The idea is to help the citizens to hold their governments accountable. The disclosures also give citizens a clear view of how much is produced, how much is stored in government reserves and how much is expended.
Some 35 countries worldwide have signed up to the initiative. In East Africa, Tanzania has already joined the EITI, while Kenya which only recently discovered oil, and South Sudan, have expressed interest in joining the transparency initiative.
Pressed on the matter, Kiwanuka said Uganda was not opposed to joining the EITI, arguing that some of the transparency and accountability issues are already covered in the Public Finance Bill 2012.
"I cannot go into a narrow checklist but EITI is on the government menu, it is something that is happening but I'm very sorry I cannot give dates and time now," Kiwanuka said. "It is never too late to join the EITI. The US just joined in 2013; some other countries had just joined the year before."
In the bill, currently before Parliament, oil revenues are to be audited twice every year by the Auditor General and reports submitted to Parliament. The minister continued her bid to assure the meeting that the EITI measures would be met.
"We have learnt the good, bad and ugly experiences around the world. We have been lucky enough to come to the petroleum scene after our African sisters; so, we can learn what to do and what not to do in order to get it right," Kiwanuka added.
The minister of state for Minerals, Peter Lokeris, conceded that government was already drafting the EITI protocol, to be discussed by cabinet and then approved by Parliament, but was also non-committal on when this would happen.
The Executive Director Global Rights Alert (GRA), Winfred Ngabiirwe, was concerned that whereas the 2008 National Oil and Gas policy committed the government to joining EITI, nothing had been done five years down the road.
Weighing in, the Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner to Uganda, Patrick Edwards, appealed to government to join the transparency initiative for better management of the oil sector. He argued that because of EITI, his country's oil benefits were trickling down to the people, including free health care and free education from primary to university level.
"EITI is good for governance, but is also good for business, since it becomes an important source of attraction by investors," Edwards said.
The chairperson of the parliamentary forum on Oil and Gas (PFOG), Theodore Ssekikubo, asked where the government has kept money that accrued from the farm-down (sale by Heritage to Tullow and from Tullow to Total and CNOOC).
"The president said the money was going to build Karuma [dam], but now Karuma is being built on a different arrangement; so, where is this money?" he asked.
The director of programmes at the Centre for Constitutional Governance, Sarah Bireete, said unless the country first achieved good governance, transparency in the oil sector was impossible.