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December 10, 2012

Uganda Opposition Leader Decries ‘Corrupt’ Oil Bill

by James Butty

The leader of Uganda’s main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) said corruption in the government of President Yoweri Museveni is pervasive and systemic.

Kizza Besigye cited as evidence a petroleum bill passed by the parliament, which gives full powers to the Minister of Petroleum to grant and revoke licenses, as well as negotiate and endorse petroleum agreements.  

A House resolution earlier reduced the minister’s powers in administering Uganda’s emerging oil sector.  But, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) used its numerical strength to overturn the resolution.

FDC Besigye said giving that much power to the oil minister leaves no room for public scrutiny and would eventually lead to corruption.

“Corruption is no longer ordinary corruption.  It is systemic; it is pervasive, and it is sanctioned from the highest office of the presidency.  As you know, the oil bill had already been passed by parliament without contention where they were providing some checks and balances on how it would be managed.  It is Mr. Museveni, the president, who ordered that the bill be taken back to parliament and changed to give him power to manage the oil,” he said.

Besigye said the law should have established ample checks and balances to make sure that the temptation to corruption is minimized.

Butty interview with Besigye

“That’s what the original law that has been torpedoed attempted to do.  It attempted to establish an authority that would be controlled by parliament. Secondly, it is important that the receipts from the oil be put in a separate account that is managed for the development of the country," Besigye said.

But, he added that, as long as Uganda has a government that is not accountable to the people, any good laws will always be overridden by the government.

Senior presidential advisor Kirunda Kivejinja said the Uganda oil bill is no different from what’s done in other countries.

Butty interview with Kivejinja

“In the whole of the western world, and all the countries which are producing oil, the one who decides is the minister because he’s the one who’s politically accountable, and ministers don’t act on their own volition," he said. "A good minister should never do things without ascertaining from your technical staff.”

Kivejinja said the opposition should win elections if it wants to have a say in how Uganda is run.

"The question here is that the majority must be able to dictate to the minority.  There is a ruling government, it was mandated, it has the majority in parliament.  That’s the normal way democracy works.  But, you cannot be a minority and then try to impose your views,” he said.

Besigye said his criticism is about how the government is managing the country’s resources and not about sharing power.

“As I have said, the entire parliament of NRM had passed a different law.  It is the president who is not part of the legislature who ordered that the law be returned to parliament and changed, and then started using the usual intimidation and harassment until most members of parliament actually ran away from parliament,” he said.