Wednesday December 5 2012

House fails to agree on oil Bill debate again

By Isaac Imaka

After another failed attempt to vote on the controversial Clause 9 of the Petroleum Bill, the Speaker of Parliament yesterday asked Cabinet to study a new proposal from the energy minister for a possible harmonisation.

MPs opposed to the proposal to give the minister unlimited powers in the oil sector objected to the Speaker’s call to the House to vote on the matter, saying they had met Energy Minister Irene Muloni who had presented a new proposed clause to replace the contentious one.

“We met yesterday (Monday) with the minister and the vice president up to close to midnight. The minister herself typed a new clause which we agreed to sell to our members but I am surprised she has not told the House so,” Shadow Attorney General Abdu Katuntu (FDC, Bugweri) told the House, prompting a postponement of proceedings.

The Speaker had, on the request of Ms Muloni, first adjourned proceedings for 15 minutes so that those with different opinions consult and agree. However, when they returned, the minister did not report to the House on the discussions, forcing the Speaker to call for voting.

It is this move that caused the disagreement and eventual standing over of the clause. “This kind of behaviour is unprecedented. The rules are made to achieve justice, do not rely on technicalities. How can a government indulge in foolery? How can a government be dishonest with its own Members of Parliament? We have worked all the way to create consensus. If some anarchists want to take over oil, so be it,” Mr Katuntu said.

New proposal
The new proposal from the minister of energy does not leave the minister as the sole decider in the management of oil. It states: “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.” It also indicates that the minister shall also be responsible for revoking licences on recommendation of the Authority and with the approval of Cabinet.

This is an improvement from the present proposal which states that the minister will exercise the power to grant and revoke oil licences, as well as, to negotiate and endorse agreements. Parliament had stripped the minister of this power weeks ago, vesting it in the Authority whose decisions would have to be approved by Cabinet and Parliament.

Muloni’s argument disregarded
Disregarding Ms Muloni’s argument that her meeting with the Katuntus was only to persuade them to support the government position, the deputy Leader of Government Business, Gen. Moses Ali, asked Parliament to stand over the matter to allow Cabinet to examine the new proposal.

“That document is not binding,” said Gen. Ali. “The minister has not completed the procedure of bringing that document to Cabinet so that we take a collective decision. I move that we postpone this debate to allow Cabinet to study the proposals and report back.”