23 January 2017

Uganda: Parliament Select Committee to Probe Shs.6 Billion Oil Cash Payouts, Bunyoro Leaders Infuriated

Photo: NB TV Uganda/Youtube
Some of Uganda Revenue Authority Staff who were given the part of controversial Shs6 billion payments known as "the Golden handshake".

Parliament of Uganda has set up a select committee to investigate the Shs 6bn oil cash payouts to 42 senior government officials. This is the second time the legislative branch of government has probed the executive on oil revenues.

Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga on Thursday last week directed the Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) Committee, chaired by Bugweri MP, Hon. Abdul Katuntu to handle the investigation and report to the House in two months.

The motion to set up a select committee was moved by Mbarara Municipality MP, Michael Tusiime last week in a stormy plenary session that extended into the night.

Hon. Tusiime stated that Government had hired a foreign law firm; Curtis Mallet-Provost, Colt and Mosle LLP to represent the country in the law suits and was already costly to the country.

"The American law firm was hired to represent in the $ 404 million capital gains tax dispute adjudicated in London at a cost of $ 10 million dollars," he argued, adding that it is prudent for investigate the oil cash payouts and especially the procedures that were followed to reward the officials.

According to Hon. Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal Municipality MP, the move to setup a committee is not to witch-hunt the beneficiaries but a move to create transparency on the issue.

Winfred Niwagaba, Ndorwa East MP concurred with Hon. Ruhunda arguing that it is time for government to demonstrate its tenacity to fight corruption.

"We will be glad to see the perpetuators not only appear before the Anti- Corruption Court, but refund the Shs 6bn back to the Petroleum Fund," he said.

However, William Byaruhanga defended the payouts, arguing that the case was the first of time in the history of the country, both in terms of complexity and the magnitude of the money involved. Kadaga said, when the team won the case, she wrote a letter thanking them for fighting for the interests of the country.

This is the second time in less than five years that parliament is instituting a probe committee to investigate issues of corruption and alleged misuse of oil revenues.

In 2011, Parliament set up an Adhoc Committee, chaired by Michael Werikhe, the then chairperson of Natural Resources Committee, to investigate alleged corruption in the sector.

A dossier had been tabled before the House by MP Gerald Karuhanga that implicated Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Ministers Sam Kutesa and former Energy Minister, Hilary Onek in corruption. The committee report exonerated the politicians of corruption. The country waits the speaker to name the select committee.

BUNYORO LEADERS UNHAPPY

Buliisa county Member of Parliament, Hon. Stephen Mukitale Biraahwa revealed that his constituency, despite housing over 26 oil wells has not benefited from the Capital Gains Tax recovered by government.

"The money would have been ploughed back in the oil sector to prepare for Uganda's journey towards commercial oil production," Hon. Biraahwa who sits on the parliamentary committee on National Economy told Oil in Uganda.

He added that the revenues earned so far should be in improving roads in the oil region, training the population, conducting systematic survey and demarcation of land, building capacities of local suppliers and environmental compliance among others.

"What is surprising communities hosting oil and gas activities is that the money is being shared in Kampala by government officials without considering the interests of the industry and the communities" he said.

Bugahya County Member of Parliament, Hon.Pius Wakabi demanded that the beneficiaries who received the oil cash should refund it immediately.

Hon. Wakabi whose constituency has over six oil wells, stated that it is shocking that the money was shared at a time when teachers demand salary increment and lecturers striking over remuneration.

Litmus test for Uganda?

The management of revenues from oil is a litmus test for Uganda. Many activists have questioned whether the petroleum resource will be a blessing or a curse to the country citing scenarios in oil-producing countries in Africa such as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Sudan, Chad, and Nigeria among others.

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