Ugan­da’s Oil: Who is the cus­to­dian of the con­tract de­tails

By: Isaac Okello

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.