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Analysis: New law fails to ease oil concerns in Uganda


IRIN NEWS

KAMPALA/NAIROBI, 13 December 2012 (IRIN) – Uganda’s parliament recently passed a law to govern the exploration, development and production of the country’s estimated three billion barrels of oil, a resource whose extraction will directly affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.

While the law streamlines the burgeoning industry, analysts have raised concerns over transparency and over who controls the sector.

“The new law helps set clear guidelines under which the oil sector is to be run and managed, and makes clear who is in charge of what roles,” said Tony Otoa, director of Great Lakes Public Affairs (GLPA), a Uganda-based think tank focusing on oil and governance. “However, there are some concerns about transparency and too much power within the oil industry in the hands of the president.”

The bill was passed on 7 December after weeks of wrangling over its controversial Clause 9, which gives the energy minister wide-ranging powers, including authority over the granting and revoking of oil licenses, negotiating and endorsing petroleum agreements, and promoting and sustaining transparency in the petroleum sector. Many members of parliament (MPs) felt these powers should be held by an independent national oil authority.

“Essentially, the standoff, which has ended, was about the withdrawal of trust from a government that is battered by corruption scandals. Also the way the cabinet operates is that, in the past, the feeling has been that some key ministries, like finance, are effectively run by the presidency after being stuffed by yes-men or -women. The pushback against Clause 9 also comes as the Central Bank opened its vaults to a large withdrawal in 2010 [US$740 million to buy six fighter jets] only for approvals to be sought retrospectively,” said Angelo Izama, a Ugandan journalist and oil sector analyst.

“Loss of trust”

“This loss of trust is behind the resistance to greater control by the executive,” he added. “The executive has not been a bad shepherd of the process so far. Uganda’s negotiating position has been tougher with the oil companies, ironically, without the oversight of parliament. However, public scandals elsewhere have negatively affected the ability of the president to convince lawmakers – especially of his party – that he means well.”

A number of donors – including the UK and Ireland – recently suspended aid to Uganda following allegations of deep-rooted corruption in the Office of the Prime Minister. The prime minister, the former energy minister and the foreign affairs minister were all accused of taking kick-backs from oil companies in 2011, charges that remain unproven but that nevertheless damage the reputation of the government.

“The country lacks trust in the state… Institutions and officials have lost legitimacy, and for such an important bill to vest too much power into a political appointee is a recipe for disaster,” said Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University Refugee Law Project.

“Granting and revoking licenses and negotiations are technical in nature. We need an independent commission or authority made up of people of good competence, technical ability and experience, and good morals to guard our oil,” said Frank Gashumba, a local businessman and social activist.

Proponents of Clause 9 say licensing powers are safer in the hands of the cabinet than under an oil authority. “The authority is open, easy to bribe and manipulate. Cabinet is bigger than the authority – members of the executive are answerable to Ugandans because they are elected leaders,” said Kenneth Omona, a ruling party MP.

Those opposed to it say they will challenge the law, which was passed with 149 votes in favour and 39 against; some 198 MPs did not turn up to vote.

“The fight is not complete; the passing of the bill is liable to be challenged in courts of law,” said Theodore Ssekikubo, ruling party MP and chair of the parliamentary forum on oil and gas. “If we fail to go to court, we shall subject the matter to a referendum for all Ugandans to pronounce themselves on this strategic resource. We want to ensure transparency and accountability in the oil sector.”

Transparency

There are also concerns about the law’s confidentiality clause, which limits the amount of information accessible by the public.

“The law is lacking transparency – it imposes confidentiality on officials working within the sector, even after they leave office, so there is no opportunity for whistle-blowing or for the public to have access to information on, say, production-sharing agreements,” GLPA’s Otoa said.

He noted that Uganda still hasn’t joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international scheme that attempts to set a global standard for transparency in oil, gas and mining, further compounding the sector’s lack of transparency. As a member of the EITI, Uganda and oil companies involved in the country would be required to publish all payments and revenues from the industry.

While Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), two of Uganda’s major oil partners, are listed on Wall Street and are therefore subject to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – which requires disclosure of payments relating to the acquisition of licenses for exploration and production of oil, gas and minerals – the Irish firm Tullow Oil, another of Uganda’s main oil partners, is not under any similar obligations.

“I am worried we [legislators] and the public can’t access and scrutinize these agreements. You can imagine the recently negotiated and signed oil agreements have not been accessed by the public, not even by members of parliament,” Beatrice Anywar, former shadow energy minister, told IRIN.

The impact of the oil sector has so far been most acutely felt by communities around Lake Albert, thousands of whom have had to move – some willingly and some forcefully – to make room for an oil refinery, which is expected to take up 29sqkm and displace some 8,000 people.

Land issues

“The government is prosecuting the refinery resettlement by the book. However, managing public expectations and the process of multiple decision makers in Uganda’s complex land legal system [Uganda has multiple land systems, including customary, leasehold and freehold] has contributed some volatility to the process… What is adequate compensation? And who determines that? Is it the market or should this be done by the government?” said journalist Izama.

“As a partner to the oil companies, it’s questionable too if the government can make the best decisions for the affected people as it would look to keep project costs fairly low,” he continued. “It is still a dilemma which is jurisprudential as well as political.”

He noted that much of the oil is in game reserves and a sensitive basin with lakes, rivers and a rare biodiversity, and borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, which could also pose challenges for peaceful production; there has already been some tension between the two countries over their boundaries within Lake Albert.

“The process of consensus-building is still weak, and regardless of how it’s arrived at, displacements will create uncomfortable realities, including land and job pressure.”

According to Otoa, Uganda’s lack of a comprehensive land policy makes compensation issues more complex. “We need clear land policies to ensure people are properly compensated – there is a Resettlement Action Plan in place, but it has not been implemented, and a draft land policy has not been actualized, leaving these communities vulnerable,” he said.

He noted that the lack of education among the local population, both in the oil-rich areas and the rest of the country, had contributed to the continued problems in the sector.

“We have focused too much on educating MPs on the implications and importance of good oil governance. We need to move to people-centred approaches and encourage dialogue in the public sphere, which will lead to people demanding accountability from their MPs and the government,” he added.

Ultimately, Izama said, responsible actions by the government will be the difference between Uganda’s oil making a significant impact on the country’s economy or causing conflict and greater poverty.

“Pressure on public institutions prior to commercial oil production is an effective way of counteracting the resource curse. If this public engagement falters, if the transition [from President Museveni to his successor] is volatile, some of the scenarios of the so-called oil curse are possible,” he said. “Overall the tensions are high, but responsible actions by public and political institutions like the past debate show progress is possible.”

Uganda: Museveni’s hand makes graft fight a harder task


The Observer, Uganda

By Hussein Bogere

April 22, 2012

When MPs this week release their report on the troubled national identity cards project, one name that will feature prominently is that of President Yoweri Museveni.

The report, by Parliament’s committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, will include claims by government officials that Mr Museveni instructed them to award the IDs contract to a German company, Muhlbauer High Tech, without following standard procedures. The project, worth about Shs 219bn, has since stalled amid accusations that some government officials are frustrating Muhlbauer.

This is the latest government procurement contract to degenerate into a scandal about management of taxpayers’ money. It all begs the question why the government can hardly execute major contracts without flouting procedures, corruption and loss of public funds.

In his latest report, the Auditor General (AG), John Muwanga, reveals that taxpayers have lost more than Shs 1,000 billion in just 12 months to fraud in various forms and at various levels.

While many people blame this on the culture of greed, our analysis shows that State House regularly comes up in cases of massive loss of public funds. In fact, President Museveni stands accused not just of handling high-level fraud with kid gloves, but also of giving directives that tend to torpedo financial oversight mechanisms.

Botched Deals

Only recently, businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba was in the news for receiving Shs 142bn in compensation after his Haba group lost contracts to operate some city markets and the Constitution Square. Both directives – to cancel the contracts and to compensate Basajjabalaba – came from State House. While the President has since dissociated himself from the figure of Shs 142bn, and two of his ministers resigned over the saga, this matter has left State House’s reputation in tatters.

Early this year, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that government lost Shs 40bn to a ghost company, Dura Cement, after President Museveni cancelled its contract to produce cement at Dura in Kamwenge district. While meeting PAC, Museveni said he could not recall the person who advised him to cancel the contract.

But following that advice from that forgettable individual, Museveni wrote a letter to the then minister of Energy and Mineral Development Daudi Migereko, instructing him to terminate the lease after considering mutually agreed terms. But the history of troubled contracts has not just started.

In 2001, the Ugandan government got excited after signing the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) that would see it export to the United States market, among other products, fabrics, tax free. The government guaranteed bank loans for the hand-picked Sri-Lankan-owned company Apparels Tri-Star in the hope that it would lead to increased revenue from garment exports, create jobs, and revive Uganda’s cotton industry. It didn’t take long for the textile machines to go silent, and government to lose nearly Shs 33bn after dfcu and Uganda Development Bank seized securities that had been guaranteed through bank of UgandaRead more.

Uganda: Parliament irrationality and oil contracts


The Independent

BY DENIS MUSINGUZI

March 11, 2012

It is painfully clear the problem is not lack of laws and policy frameworks but lack of implementation efficiency.

The signing of the PSAs on February 3, 2012 by Tullow, CNOOC, Total and government despite standing court cases and resolution by parliament slapping any oil transactions until comprehensive legislation is made, has attracted a lot of uproar. At the height of it has been the parliament which accuses the government of contempt of parliament, and a host of other civil society organizations, both of which have threatened to petition Ugandans, including pregnant mothers in hospitals contesting against the agreement.

Their agitation sounds credible at first since the discovery of 2.5 billion barrels of oil in the Albertine region in western Uganda holds potential for significant economic transformation for Uganda. Estimated at $74 per barrel, it means the oil is worth $148 billion, the money believed to be enough to run the present national budget for about 42 years without donor funding. This certainly turns the oil management into a hotspot; poor governance of the oil wealth is globally known to evoke a curse.

On the second thought however, Andrew Mwenda has provokingly presented the argument, that by blocking the signing of oil contracts the 9th Parliament will not improve but rather worsen the nascent sector, in such a profound manner that makes one to deeply rethink parliament’s posturing at fighting corruption. It should be recalled that parliament made the resolution following bribery allegations based on unfounded documents. Incidentally, Mwenda’s candid criticism of parliament comes at a time when public faith in the 9th Parliament has been greatly reduced by their unanimous and shameless acceptance of Shs 103 million each, to purchase sleek cars.

The acceptance of the money in the name of performing their “public” role, with utter disregard of the needy civil servants such as doctors and teachers who even do not enjoy a small portion of the hefty benefits and privileges enjoyed by parliamentarians makes one doubt their resolve at fighting corruption. The possibility that parliamentarians are fighting to leverage their personal and not public benefit is evident; the likelihood of them being purchased is clearly high. It is helpful to recall that the majority Constituent Assembly delegates who provided constitutional term limits are the same who lifted them, barely ten years later, at a shameful price of Shs 5 million, without any substantive justification.

What makes one even all the more suspicious is that the MPs’  posturing is not about the merits and demerits of the PSAs, but more insignificantly about making enabling legislation for leveraging public benefits from oil. I say insignificantly because any keen Ugandan is painfully aware that Uganda’s problem is not lack of relevant laws or required policy frameworks, but lack of implementation efficiency in the delivery of public goods and services, which parliamentarians are quiet about. Uganda has in fact become a cemetery of dead laws, dusted in law books, never in reality, but scarcely applied, if not selectively…Read more.

Uganda: Can MPs improve oil contracts?


The Independent

By Andrew M. Mwenda

February 17, 2012

We should be suspicious of parliamentary interventions in lucrative government contracts because they often make a bad situation worse.

Recently, President Yoweri Museveni ordered government of Uganda officials to sign oil Production Sharing Agreements with companies. This was in spite of a resolution by parliament stopping all new agreements. Many Ugandans are rightfully sick and tired of corruption and genuinely suspicious of the executive. They support parliament in its self-proclaimed fight against the problem. Yet I am much more inclined to side with Museveni on signing PSAs.

The signing of oil agreements is important as a signal that investment in the sector can begin. This allows companies interested in investing in downstream and upstream activities feeding into and from the industry to bring in money. For many countries, this leads to increased employment and economic growth. In Ghana, upon signing the agreements, economic growth was 20 percent that year. In Equatorial Guinea, it was 30 percent. The challenge for Uganda actually is to examine the benefits against the costs of delaying these contracts through protracted parliamentary investigations.

I have been a journalist in Uganda for almost 18 years now; my first major story was published in The Monitor in January 1994 when I was a first year student at Makerere University. This has been a fulfilling practical craft given my love of storytelling. It has also been an intellectual journey; my interest in the complexity of social phenomenon has taught me to reflect. So I see a mismatch between the theory of democracy as presented in textbooks and the reality of its outplay in the politics I cover as a journalist.

For instance, democratic theory teaches us that when exercising its functions, parliament seeks to hold the executive to account. It seems theoretically obvious that in passing a resolution suspending signing oil contracts, the House was trying to check any abuses the executive could have made. Yet from my experience, such democratic contestations are often driven by more complex motivations. Even when well-intentioned, they often produce results at odds with the proclaimed purpose. In the case of most government contracts I have covered, these contests undermine the state’s ability to negotiate better deals for the country.

Many Ugandans genuinely believe this parliamentary intervention will stop the corruption of the executive in oil contracts. This faith is largely because many people want to have hope in the destiny of Uganda. Yet my experience shows parliamentary intervention is more likely to make the situation worse. The oil barons who come to Uganda are not fools. They have worked in many other African countries and beyond. They know that Uganda’s 9th parliament is not simply made of selfless MPs tirelessly fighting for the public good. They also know that even when MPs feel for their country – and many do – they also have personal interests…Read more.

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