Many a times Ugandans have been taken to be people who don’t care what takes place in government engagements, and a handful who do, are the usual who may not, in most cases, get results from the government that hoodwinks them, or bullies them out of their positions without any tangible solutions to their problems or concerns. Sometimes, Parliament which is meant to be the voice of the people also joins in and dances to the tunes played by the executive.
For instance, during the 2014/25 budgeting period, a group of activists moved around the country and collected signatures petitioning Parliament not to increase the tax on kerosene, but to their consternation, Parliament dropped their petition, with some members of the Finance Committee referring to the twenty thousand signatures of the petitioners as an insult to their work. Had there been more, say a million, they would have probably had an audience from the Committee of Parliament.
In conjunction with Global Rights Network, Transparency International Uganda, ACODE and others, Actionaid Uganda launched a campaign calling upon the government of Uganda to bring to public knowledge the details of the several oil contracts signed between government and oil companies. To this effect, they are in search for endorsement from citizens around the country, calling upon the president to open the contracts.
Of course there are several benefits that the country would derive from having an open contract, among them being enhancement of accountability, value for money, and it would facilitate the fight against corruption in the sector. According to Actionaid Uganda, the Government of Uganda has given verbal commitment to joining Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which is an independent internationally agreed upon voluntary standard for creating transparency in the extractive industry.
The call for openness in the oil sector comes following the assertion made by the former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Amama Mbabazi (MP Kinkizi West), that he had not seen the oil contracts between government and the different oil companies during the televised Presidential debate held in January 2016. If the Leader of Government Business is not in the know of government contracts, be sure the Attorney General, (in charge of such contracts) is definitely going to deny any such knowledge, and leave you wondering whether we have ‘ghosts’ in this country responsible for negotiations and such engagements.
If Uganda is to successfully fight the corruption vice in the oil sector, it will call for a concerted effort from all players at all levels, starting from negotiation process. Also, the political office holders have to act in solidarity with the laws in place and promote transparency throughout the country. In matters of oil, several countries in Africa such as Nigeria have had a feel of what technocrats have termed the ‘Oil Curse’, which would have been circumvented if there was transparency from the onset.
The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda under Article 244 mandated Parliament to make laws regulating the exploitation of minerals, sharing of royalties therefrom, and conditions for payment of indemnities arising out of such exploitation. It is against this background that it would be prudent to assert that Parliament has a responsibility to make sure such details of the oil contracts are known. How could someone successfully carryout the provisions of Article 244 of the constitution without knowing the contents of the contract with the companies?
By the time the laws were debated in Parliament, no single Member could testify of having knowledge of the contracts. The Speaker of Parliament, Rt Hon Rebecca Kadaga further observed that the government had verbally committed to signing the EITI, while she was urging the Members to attend the conference organised by the Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas. They therefore legislated in ignorance of what the content of the contract was.
It could be true that the laws made by Parliament regulating the oil sector in Uganda could have been a postmortem, since some of the contracts had already been entered into, and the royalty thereof spent by government before such laws were made. However, it is noteworthy to assert that it is ridiculous to allocate one percent of an ‘unknown’ sum to the oil producing region. What if there are fluctuations in the royalty prices? This leaves so many uncertainties that could be addressed by openness in the sector from the side of government. It would be ‘a plus’, for Parliament to join the quest for the revelation of the oil contract details.