Wednesday October 17 2012

Government to approve all foreign oil workers


The Ministry of Energy will vet all foreigners for jobs in the oil and gas companies before they are hired, the petroleum commissioner said yesterday.

Mr Ernest Rubondo, the commissioner for Petroleum Exploration and Production, gave the assurance when he appeared before the parliamentary ad hoc committee investigating the oil sector. Mr Rubondo, whose department is charged with running the oil and gas sector, said the aim was to ensure that Ugandans do not lose out on jobs to expatriates. “The ministry will check whether the jobs are advertised and recommend to the Immigration office who to issue work permits to.”

He was responding to members of the committee, who questioned the ministry’s commitment to ensuring that Ugandans and local companies fully benefit from the oil sector. “If a company does not find a qualified Ugandan, it will be allowed to hire a foreigner. But it will be compelled to employ a Ugandan to the same job to gain experience and take over from that expatriate so that more foreigners do not come here.”

However, Mr Rubondo told the committee that the biggest challenge for Ugandan companies was lack of capacity to provide goods and services and access funds to enable them compete with foreign firms. “I believe the companies we have are improving. There are 77 wells so far and the Well Pads constructed by local firms,” he said. “But there is a consultancy firm we hired to design a strategy and plan on how best to achieve local content.”

The MPs have been complaining about the lack of local employment in the oil sector, saying most foreign employees earn higher salaries than the Ugandans on the same job.

However, the Tullow Oil president and chairperson of the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, Mr Elly Karuhanga, said: “This has been the practice because the government has an agreement with foreign firms to bring in specific foreigners with specific expertise.”
He added: “It is good that Ugandans are employed to understudy the foreigners. There are many foreigners whose work permit applications are still pending.”

He said Tullow Oil employs between 15 and 20 per cent foreigners out of a workforce of about 200. “Some oil companies are too technical and they are always under pressure to fulfill the stringent requirements to complete their jobs.”

Total E&P Spokesperson Ahlem Friga-Noy said: “We have been submitting our requests for foreign employees to the Ministry of Energy for work permits and for them to see if the persons fit the jobs. We have a strong policy on local content.”
“We are trying to recruit Ugandans as much as possible and even take them for further training.”

Ms Friga-Noy said Total employs about 800 people, both directly and indirectly, 80 per cent Ugandans.

The seven-member parliamentary ad hoc committee was formed late last year, with a three- month mandate, following a two-day October debate, to investigate the oil sector.
The committee yesterday completed its sessions with witnesses before it takes the investigations to international level at the weekend.

Others who appeared before it yesterday included Junior Energy Minister Peter Lokeris and URA Commissioner-General Allen Kagina. The committee will visit Kenya, Malta and the United Arab Emirates to investigate allegations that over €17 million was given to Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa and his Internal Affairs counterpart Hilary Onek, as bribes for helping oil firms secure contracts in Uganda.

MP Grace Kwiyucwiny asked Mr Rubondo why the ministry didn’t have a strategic plan for an oil refinery yet government said it would construct an oil refinery rather than have pipelines to export the oil. Though he admitted that there was no strategic plan yet, Mr Rubondo said the ministry was carrying out studies to enable it formulate one.