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Uganda Parliament Pushes for Public Disclosure of Oil Contracts


Uganda’s parliament is considering oil bill

This is Part Four of a five-part series on Oil Contracts in Uganda
Continue to Parts: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Uganda’s nascent oil sector has been marked by secrecy and allegations of rampant corruption. In this second part of our series on oil in Uganda, Douglas Mpuga looks at the clash between the executive and members of parliament over the lack of transparency in the oil deals.

Most members of parliament say the government is not being transparent in the way it has signed oil agreements and even accuse senior government officials of corruption.

They allege that Uganda's prime minister, Amama Mbabazi and two other ministers have accepted bribes from oil companies. The ministers deny the accusations saying the MPs are just involved in a witch hunt.

In fact, this alleged oil-bribery corruption scandal led MPs to vote against any new oil deals until new laws have been passed.

The government ignored the will of parliament and signed new agreements with the Britain-based Tullow Oil Plc.

“It is not only that there was a standing parliamentary resolution halting such a deal, there was also a matter in court by a concerned citizen,” said Wilfred Niwagaba, a member of parliament for Ndorwa County East.

“The deal, he added, “was signed in utter disregard for two [branches] of government – the judiciary and parliament, [those branches ] of government [which] tend to resonate more with the people”

Niwagaba also says it is difficult to know what is in the oil agreements that government has signed with the oil companies as government is unwilling to share the details.

“Of course, that is our problem with the executive arm of government. The agreements are too secret, they are only known by few in the executive arm of government,” the MP said, [None of us have a copy of] the recent agreement with Tallow Oil.

The whole line of handling this oil is secrecy and no transparency, no regulations because there no laws as we speak. These companies are only dealing with the president and specific individuals in the ministry of Energy.”

Niwagaba says the government has failed to consult other stakeholders in the deal have not been consulted -- despite the executive branch’s claim to the contrary.

As a result, he says there are few environmental protections in the contracts in the areas where oil drilling and processing will be taking place.

“The deals before us have some provisions on environmental protection but the problem is that most of the provisions are heavily tilted in favor of supervision and enforcement by a minister who is a member of the executive, he said.

”The community and other institutions are largely absent in their respective roles as far as environmental protection is concerned”

In March, the Government of Uganda introduced two petroleum bills to the parliament. Between them, they set the parameters for governing the country’s oil sector, including rules covering the allocation of exploration rights, transportation and refinement and the management of revenues from the sale of oil.

However, some analysts point to problems with the legislation. They include tight ministerial control, the failure to publicly release or debate the terms of the contracts, and an absence of parliamentary oversight of the deals.

Critics say these problems should be addressed if the bills are to meet the criteria for internationally-accepted “best practices” which would help provide a solid foundation for Uganda’s petroleum sector.