Wednesday February 6 2013

Has Uganda’s 9th Parliament already become a paper tiger?

By William G. Naggaga

Parliament finally passed the controversial Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill 2012 in the form President Museveni wanted it. There was a lot of grandstanding by MPs, both from the opposition and the ruling party who vehemently opposed Clause 9 in the Bill, giving unlimited powers to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development to negotiate, grant and revoke licences.

The raucous from these MPs turned into open rioting in Parliament against their Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, the hitherto ‘iron lady’ of Kamuli. She was so incensed that she adjourned the House and caused an inquiry to identify among the MPs, those responsible for the chaos and have them punished. Before the Committee assigned that task could complete its impossible task; given that almost everyone in Parliament was rowdy, including some ministers, Parliament was convened, presided over by the Deputy Speaker Mr Jacob Oulanyah and approved the Bill.

Many well informed citizens of this country realised long ago that the goose had already been cooked and President Museveni would have his way, come rain come shine. To these citizens, the MPs were only playing to the gallery and indeed the moment the proverbial ‘fat lady’ took to the floor, the party came to an end and our MPs were made to eat humble pie.

Museveni, a master card player, arm-twisted the NRM caucus. The Bill later sailed through Parliament with 149 for and 39 against, while 198 MPs simply did not turn up. President Museveni’s strategy had worked. He had used a mixture of cajoling, intimidation and good old bullying and even bribing.

Mr Abdu Katuntu, the opposition legislator from Bugweri, had proposed what was no doubt a sensible amendment to Clause 9; giving emphasis on liaison between the minister, Petroleum Authority, Cabinet and Parliament in the matters to do with licensing, etc.

The Minister of Energy, Ms Irene Muloni and many other NRM MPs were actually attracted to his proposal but at the NRM caucus the Minister was reprimanded for consulting the opposition instead of the caucus. That marked the end of Katuntu’s balancing act. Not that it would have made any difference on the ground where the President appoints the minister, the Petroleum Authority, the Cabinet and has control over the NRM dominated Parliament.

The puzzle or question is why the President went to all this length when he already had everything in the bag? Was he looking ahead to a time when Parliament will actually rebel against him, as opposed to the pseudo rebellions we have so far witnessed? I don’t see that happening in the near future as Parliament has increasingly ceded its authority to the Executive in the NRM era.

It has also been argued that the Production Sharing Agreements the government had signed with international oil companies earlier were a bad deal for Uganda, in fact a rip-off by those companies who undoubtedly were negotiating with ‘amateurs’. The passage of the Bill in its current form must be a cause for celebration for these companies and an invitation to others to follow suit. The chances of the yet to be established Petroleum Authority to review them are now dead and buried.

On a related matter, there is the question of the 7 per cent of the royalties (not revenue) to go to the local governments where the oil is extracted. Is it a compensation for the environmental degradation they will suffer from the oil production process or a payment for the good luck of having oil oozing out of their districts?

I believe its for the latter in which case the same treatment should be accorded to districts producing hydropower, copper and other minerals and those keeping forest reserves for our common good.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador