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`We don’t trust the President’

By Haggai Matsiko

The bottom-line of the chaos over Clause 9 of the oil Bill

On Friday Dec. 06, President Yoweri Museveni presided over an unusual caucus of MPs from his ruling party, NRM, in parliament.  Altogether, there were 130 MPs. Museveni, looking somber, Museveni asked each of them to rise up and state whether they oppose or support Clause 9 of The Petroleum (Exploration, Development And Production) Bill, 2012.

It was the fourth time, the President was meeting the MPs over this clause which reads: Clause 9: “The minister shall be responsible for – (a) Granting and revoking of licences;”

Rarely have so few words created so much acrimony as seen recently in parliamentary debate. Of the 189 clauses in the Bill, only a few, including Clause 9 above had held the passing of the Bill for about 12 months since October 2011.

Over this time, oil exploration firm Tullow Oil and its farm-down partners, CNOOC of China and Total have been anxiously awaiting, not the outcome of the debate – which has always been obvious, but its end and aftermath.

Irene Muloni, 52, the young minister of Energy, almost got her hands burned over the clause until Third Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. Moses Ali, on Nov. 04 controversially  parried a consensus position she had with opponents of the clause.

Muloni and opponents to Clause 9, led by Bugweri MP, Abdu Katuntu, wanted it replaced with a clause seeking to clip the Energy minister’s powers to issue and revoke oil licenses.

Their mumble-jumble read: “The minister shall be responsible for; negotiating petroleum agreements in liaison with the [Petroleum] Authority and with the approval of Cabinet endorse petroleum agreements and grant licences.”

Museveni’s fear

Museveni rejected it, but he knew the MPs could spring a surprise if they were not firmly beaten into line.

During the Dec.06 caucus meeting, 123 NRM MPs voted in favour of the Bill. Only seven voted against it. For a vote to be passed in the House there must be a quorum of at least 125 MPs. The NRM has over 200 MPs in the House but if the numbers stayed this way, Museveni feared, Clause 9 might not be passed.

On Dec. 07 therefore, despite a bit schedule including an engagement at the East African Community headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania, Museveni was back in parliament. This time he was huddled in the Parliamentary Library and called in the NRM MPs, one-by-one, to demand their loyalty and vote.

That same day, according to Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, the President was scheduled to address parliament. He did not. The atmosphere was getting tense. That evening, the Bill was voted on and passed by 149 votes against 39.

Ado over nothing?

As usual, allegations that some MPs, especially the most vocal ones; Ndorwa East’s Wilfred Niwagaba, Bugweri’s Abdu Katuntu and Lwemiyaga’s Theodore Ssekikubo, had been bribed by the Executive were going around. Other MPs said members of the executive had taken bribes from the oil companies, while the executive accused members who were persistent on the matter of being driven and funded by international forces aka oil companies.

Sekikubo dismissed the allegations. He said they were being peddled by those who wanted to divert parliament’s attention. Still many wondered why there was such a struggle over Clause 9.

It was clear that based on the wording of the Bill, President Yoweri Museveni would retain control over the issuance and revocation of oil sector licences. It would not matter if it is a minister, like Muloni, or an authority as that proposed under the Bill that had the power. Museveni appoints and controls the minister and would do the same for the authority’s board and its executive director.

Already, Uganda had numerous de jure autonomous statutory bodies and authorities, but President Museveni has de facto power over all of them.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has been grappling with political influence from the line ministers. It is alleged that the Electricity Regulatory Authority is run by the ministry of Energy and ministry of Finance’s Privatisation Unit, according a former boss.

So why would Museveni fear that the Oil Regulatory Authority would be different?

Clause 9 is part of a Bill that deals with the implementation of the Oil and Gas Policy of 2008. It deals with negotiation and endorsement of petroleum agreements, approval of field development plans and promotion and sustaining of transparency in the petroleum sector.

When the government tabled the oil bills, the MPs scrutinised them and suggested changes to ensure Uganda has a good law for what they call a strategic resource; now standing at 3.5 billion barrels, with potential to turn around the country’s fortunes or bury it in a so-called resource curse.

The MPs move to expunge clause 9 got the President worried and the fight got as nearly as physical as it can get on the floor of Parliament on Nov.27.  The President, his Energy Minister, Irene Muloni and Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi had claimed that expunging the clause would lock the executive and the President out of the oil sector. But the MPs insisted their move would ensure accountability and transparency in the sector.

On Nov.27, the MPs turned rowdy over a decision to vote on recommitting the clause. The MPs wanted to first debate it contrary to a move by the government to have the clause recommitted without debate. President Museveni had summoned and reportedly made calls to MPs urging them to vote for the re-committal of the clause.

But over-powered by angry MPs chanting, “No vote! No vote!” the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga stormed out of the House unceremoniously. When she convened the House again the following day she ordered the parliamentary Committee on Rules, Discipline and Privileges to investigate and punish MPs behind the rowdy behavior.

But the MPs on the Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas, vowed not to falter.

“We stand by our position that clause was overcome and all this you are seeing, these are symptoms, these are maneuvers to want us to drop our concern with clause 9,” Theodore Ssekikubo, the chairman Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas said at a press conference.

Abdu Katuntu, another member of the forum and the Shadow Attorney General was more succinct.  “We will do everything that is humanly possible to ensure that we pass a transparent law…” Katuntu said, “When we fail to agree, we resort to the people, we want to take this issue for a referendum; we are not going to be party to this decision.”

They argue that expunging clause 9 puts institutions, not individuals, in charge.

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