Tuesday February 14 2012

MPs want Museveni oil speech nullified


By Yasiin Mugerwa


Disagreements between State House and Parliament over Uganda’s oil yesterday dipped to a new low with a cross-section of MPs from the ruling party and opposition asking that President Museveni’s last Friday statement to the House be removed from the legislative record.

Foreign companies which choose to deal directly with the President outside the country’s institutions were also warned that such oil transactions risk being reversed in future. The unprecedented call to expunge a sitting President’s speech from the record was made at a press conference in Parliament by MPs who led last October’s heated debate on corruption in the oil sector. They ridiculed the speech as a “pack of lies” which posed a threat to constitutional order.

Chief petitioners Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM, Lwemiyaga) and Abdu Katuntu (FDC, Bugweri) demanded that Mr Museveni explains his interest in the country’s oil, and why he appears to be shielding Tullow Oil plc, a British oil company, from competition. “(Today) we are going to move that his statement be expunged from the House. It spells doom for this country,” Mr Ssekikubo said.

“The 1995 Constitution is a brainchild of President Museveni yet in his speech he pours scorn (on it). The President is slowly drifting towards abrogating the Constitution and we are not going to allow dictatorship to emerge.”

Mr Museveni was in Parliament on Friday to repair broken bridges with an explanation of why he ordered, contrary to a House resolution, the signing of fresh production sharing agreements allowing Tullow to finalise a delayed $2.9 billion asset sale to France’s Total and China’s CNOOC.

With the introduction of the 1995 Constitution, the President lamented that “decision making process slowed down and indiscipline in the political class increased,” leading to “a number of strategic mistakes, such as sabotage of the electricity development programme by delaying Bujagali. These mistakes cost our country dearly”.

His Press Secretary was reportedly too busy to respond yesterday but had told this newspaper at the weekend that the President acted in the best interests of the country.
As the storm over Mr Museveni’s action persists, House Rules Committee chairman Fox Odoi last night said a motion can be tabled in which disapproval of the speech can be expressed because the Rules of Procedure are silent about expunging a President’s speech.

“If the President’s speech offends the Constitution, members can go to court to expunge it from the records otherwise, the rules only empower the Speaker to expunge members’ views and not the President’s speech,” Mr Odoi said.

Tullow signed a deal in March 2011 to sell two-thirds of its assets to CNOOC and Total, but a contractual dispute with government had held things up. Now, less than a week after Mr Museveni gave the nod, this deal is being denounced as illegal because of the government’s disregard of House resolutions freezing signature of new agreements until Oil laws are in place.

Mr Katuntu accused the President of backing an illegal transaction involving the transfer of interests by Heritage Oil to Tullow. He quoted former Energy Minister Hilary Onek’s August 17, 2010 letter to Heritage which said the period within which the company should have applied for a petroleum production licence for the Kingfisher field expired in February 2010, and as such it had nothing to transfer.

Mr Katuntu said this meant the Tullow-Heritage transaction was null and void since the oil wells had reverted to government. Meanwhile, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga is today expected to respond to the MPs demand that she explains Mr Museveni’s insinuations that she was consulted prior to the President’s new dealings even after Parliament resolved otherwise.

On Friday, the President had asked MPs to bear in mind that a Chinese minister, who visited him recently, said in 20 years’ time oil and coal prices are likely to go down because at that time cleaner energy sources will be viable.

This, the MPs said, is evidence of conflict of interest as CNOOC is from China. DP’s Dr Lulume Bayiga (Buikwe South) and Brenda Nabukenya (Luweero Woman) then warned foreign oil companies dealing with President Museveni of future reversals.

The exchange is the latest test to the principle of separation of power as Parliament seeks to claw back the independence it started to show four months ago during the Oil Debate but which has withered under sustained Executive flesh pressing and caucusing of ruling party MPs.