By Ronald Musoke
Ugandans will only benefit from its oil and gas resources if the country’s Parliament comes up with a nationalistic oil and gas legal regime which is futuristic and inter-generational to ensure transparency and accountability.
According to Arthur Benomugisha, the executive director of the Advocates Coalition on Development and Environment (ACODE), a Kampala-based policy think tank, Uganda’s oil laws should also have an East African regional outlook since Uganda is moving towards an East African political federation, be equitable and distributive since the country is just emerging from war.
Benomugisha was among the panel of discussants of a documentary titled, “Uganda’s Black Gold: A Blessing or Curse,” which was screened by the Refugee Law Project on Nov 14 at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala as part of its national transitional justice audit study.
The documentary highlights current tensions and conflicts triggered by oil exploration; discovery and its exploitation in the Albertine rift in western Uganda where up to 3.5 billion barrels of oil have been discovered according to the government’s most recent update on the sector. It presents and analyzes the hopes and concerns of the oil host communities in western Uganda and at the heart of the discussion are issues of conflict-mitigation, community sustainability, and the central question of whether the oil belongs to the government.
Norbert Mao, the President of the Democratic Party noted that while Ugandans agree that oil can liberate us and make us pay the national debt, the way we handle it will determine our destiny.
He asked: “Will it bring prosperity for the majority or for the few?”
Benomugisha advised Ugandans to remain vigilant even when President Museveni says that the people should trust government to deliver on oil.
“My advice is never trust individuals, trust the legal regime, policies and institutions,” he said.
The Parliament too must help the country put in place a good legal regime but it must also help in policy implementation by providing strong oversight to check the powers of the executive.
Gerald Karuhanga, the Youth MP for western Uganda who last year gained fame for whistle-blowing on corruption allegations in the oil sector briefed the audience about what the Parliament has been debating on the two oil bills; the Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill (2012),and the Petroleum Refining, Gas Conversion, Transportation and Storage Bill (2012). He called the debates over the last couple of months a protracted process but noted that it had been worthwhile.
Karuhanga said three quarters of the oil bills are ready and he was happy the MPs had made the best proposals for the country.
“We shouldn’t legislate for the party or the individual but for the country and the people,” he said.
However, Dorothy Kabugo, a private lawyer advised Ugandans to change their overall attitude towards oil, arguing that since oil is already here with us, Ugandans need to embrace it if they are to benefit from it.
“If we persistently view oil in a negative way, it will be a curse. If we don’t embrace oil, then Ugandans are going to miss out to the international oil companies and expatriates,” Kabugo said. In response to Kabugo’s plea, Mao said until Ugandans find reasons for not being pensive about the oil and gas sector, they should not be blamed for the dim view they have towards the fledgling oil and gas sector.