Ugandan Parliament Sparks Controversy over Oil Moratorium
Nov 9, 2011
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Ugandan anti-corruption sign

Oil has historically been a difficult resource to manage responsibly, and Uganda’s developing reserves are no exception. In 2006, oil was discovered near Lake Albert, with proven reserves to be over 2 billion barrels. The amount of money which could be earned from such wells could not only dramatically reduce the amount of oil Uganda imports every year, but it could also finance the country’s social and structural development.

Reports of corruption come as no surprise in Uganda, which was demonstrated again recently by President Yoweri Museveni’s electoral victory when many critics claimed he paid people to vote for him. However, it seems Uganda’s people are tired of fraudulent government practices. After reviewing evidence that several Government Ministers were receiving bribes from oil companies such as Tullow Oil and CNOOC, Uganda’s Parliament is taking a stand.

A Resolution to Stop Corruption

On October 11th, Parliament passed a resolution to halt oil production until proper revenue management, empowerment and participation of Ugandans, and environmental regulations are achieved. It also called for the abdication of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hillary Onek, and the Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, pending investigations of possible bribery. 162 representatives signed the resolution.

Until these changes are made, Parliament has rescinded its consent to continue oil production. Parliamentary resolutions are technically non-binding to the executive branch of Uganda’s government, but are a clear sign of discontent and a push towards transparency.

Tensions over Revenue Become Clear

Those in the seat of power have put up quite a fight in response to Parliament’s allegations. President Museveni stated openly that the supporting evidence was forged and he will ignore the suspension of oil deals by taking charge of the industry himself. Tullow Oil has also denied the charges, calling them “baseless allegations.”

On October 23rd, the Ugandan President proposed to his own political party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), that it votes to overturn the Parliamentary moratorium on oil. Outraged, seven Members of Parliament (MPs) boldly walked out on the President. Afterward, Mr. Ssekikubo, himself an MP, stated that several other MPs had supported Museveni, even knowing full well the NRM caucus does not have the power to overturn resolutions of Parliament. After walking out in protest, a motion to allow the President to proceed with a 2.9 billion dollar deal between the government, Tullow and CNOOC was passed by the NRM caucus. Though the vote has no legal authority, Museveni took it as an opportunity to ignore Parliament’s resolution.

Four days later, Parliament announced that a seven-person panel, headed by NRM lawmaker Michael Werikhe, would investigate the allegations against oil corruption and bribery concerning Tullow Oil by examining the eight areas highlighted in Parliament’s resolution. The panel must report back with unbiased findings within 90 days, but Werikhe’s ties suggest his information could favor Museveni and the NRM, and hint at possible executive influence over the selection of panelists.

Even now, the saga continues to unfold. On November 1st, Museveni announced outright that he would ignore the call for his Prime Minister to resign, stating it would be premature for such an important official to leave his post without an official hearing. As of yet, no such hearing has begun.

Suggestions for Uganda

With such a strong resistance, what are the next steps in the conflict over Parliament’s resolution? Regardless of the allegations and the corruption itself, we believe the people and the representatives of Uganda should have a say in the way their resources are being managed.

If President Museveni and his executive branch were to recognize that the moratorium on Ugandan oil stems from specific demands within the resolution, they could agree to regularize the oil sector through an Oil and Gas Policy in return for Parliament’s full support. Parliament’s stand does not have to result in loggerheads between executive and representative government; it does not have to be a frenzied pointing of fingers. If President Museveni is confident that the evidence is false, he should let his Ministers face a fair investigative tribunal and, most importantly, let the resolution inspire an improved legal framework for government and oil companies to be more accountable as oil production continues.

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