The Observer (Kampala)

23 March 2014

Uganda: Term Extension Plot a Threat to Oil Governance

Photo: Amnesty International
Oil firms in Uganda accused of human rights violation (file photo).

From proposing ridiculous laws to accepting bribes from the executive, Uganda's Parliament cannot be accused of credibility.

But the icing on the cake has got to be the recent campaign to have their term, along with that of the president, extended for a further five years. The excuse is that they need more time to finish projects they began and make some money to dig themselves out of debts they accumulated while serving their constituents.

Now, together with the executive, which is reportedly considering giving the MPs Shs 150 million each as a "loan bailout", they are determined to consolidate themselves in power and stay close to the national coffers.

Oil revenue is an important part of these coffers. Estimated at 3.5 billion barrels and capable of producing enough revenue to finance the country's budget for 30 years, Uganda's oil could turn the country around and solve chronic poor public service delivery. But for this to happen, there must be proper systems in place to ensure accountability and transparency.

A parliament that abrogates the Constitution to consolidate itself in power, against the wishes of the electorate, cannot be entrusted to put in place and oversee such systems. Experience and empirical evidence show that poor governance is a major precursor for the notorious oil curse.

The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego) and other NGOs have been pushing for systems, policies and structures that would ensure that oil brings the expected benefits - as laid down in Vision 2040- including better social services, access to basics such as food, clean water and electricity, and indeed a better life for communities in the oil region and Uganda as a whole.

The inception of progressive laws such as the Uganda Petroleum and Production Act, and the yet-to-be passed Public Finance Bill, as well as policies such as the Resettlement Action Plan, happened only after intense lobbying to ensure that there are safeguards for human rights and public accountability.

The proposed Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Extension Bill 2014 is a slap in the face of these efforts and very reminiscent of the 2005 removal of presidential term limits that has seen President Museveni stay in power for 28 years. The move also reminds us of the pre-1986 era when allegations of rigged elections and eventual suspension of elections led to coups that left the country handicapped.

Now, suspending elections just before the country begins oil production would only serve to cause suspicion and exacerbate problems in the already troubled oil sector. President Museveni is on record for referring to Uganda's oil as "my oil" and fear is rife among local communities in the exploration areas that they shall not be adequately compensated for property lost after government acquired land for the refinery, and that benefits associated with oil may never trickle down to them.

Today, 86 people are still complaining of inadequate compensation and are planning to file a suit against the government. They argue that government has violated their right to own property as guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution and as stipulated in other laws such as the Land Act Cap 227 and the Land Acquisition Act Cap 226.

It is against this backdrop of poor oil governance that parliamentarians now seek to extend their term by disenfranchising voters.

The proposed term extension is a sign of growing dictatorship in Uganda and an abuse of human rights under Article 59 of the 1995 Constitution that guarantees every adult citizen the right to vote. Article 59 (4), in particular, enjoins the state to take necessary steps to ensure that citizens qualified to vote register and exercise their right to vote; while Article 79 gives Parliament power to make laws on elections.

This power is given to MPs in their capacity as representatives of the people and must be exercised in conformity with the Constitution which, under Article 2, is the supreme law of the country.

Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of democracy. While Uganda has had a history of flawed elections, not having elections would harm the country even more. It would also greatly provoke the public, cause hostility and create a sense of betrayal from the populace.

As Ugandans gear up for an economy dependent on oil, it is important that we progress rather than regress on the political achievements.

The writer is the legal and communications officer, AFIEGO.

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