Oil Bill passed but 198 MPs didn’t vote

Sunday December 9 2012

Busiro East MP Medard Seggona (L) chats with  Energy minister Irene Muloni after passing of the oil Bill on Friday at Parliament.

Busiro East MP Medard Seggona (L) chats with Energy minister Irene Muloni after passing of the oil Bill on Friday at Parliament. At least 198 legislators did not take part in the crusial voting exercise. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE. 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

The ruling party on Friday used its numerical strength in Parliament to overturn a House resolution that had clipped the minister’s powers in the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill, 2012.

At least 149 MPs voted to reinstate the minister’s full powers to grant and revoke licences, negotiate and endorse petroleum agreements. Only 39 MPs including five NRM MPs voted against the amendment in Clause 9 of the Bill, a key section that had held the passing of the proposed Oil law.

The five NRM lawmakers who voted against the government position accused President Museveni of blackmail and criticising their colleagues for bowing to government intimidation to pass what they called a bad law for Uganda’s nascent oil sector.

“My colleagues voted to give full powers to the minister because of fear,” Ms Monica Amoding (NRM, Youth) said. “I voted against the government position because it was the right thing to do. Even if President Museveni was watching us, I did not want to betray Ugandans.”

The NRM side had mobilised members to come and vote. However, there was drama in the House when the Speaker caught the Public Service Minister Henry Kajura snoozing yet it was his turn to vote. It was the Vice President, Mr Edward Ssekandi, who awakened him amid laughter from both sides of the House.

Other NRM legislators who voted against the party position are: Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Xavier Kyoma (Ibanda North), Raphael Magyezi (Igara West) and Vincent Kyamadid (Rwampara).
The NRM MPs, who had voted against their party during their Caucus meeting on Thursday were seven.
There was no abstaining although more than 100 MPs were conspicuously absent.

Earlier, deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who was in the chair, agreed to a motion moved by Dr Francis Epetit (FDC, Ngora) that the voting be by roll call for Ugandans to know each member’s position on a matter that had polarised the House. “We are going to vote by roll call on tally to ensure transparency. This behind the scenes games must stop. Everybody must stand up and be counted,” Mr Oulanyah said.

Abdul Katuntu (FDC, Bugweri MP), who has been leading the consultations with the Executive on the Bill, accused the government of duplicity and warned that reinstating the minister’s powers in Clause 9 would bring confusion in the proposed law. “We put up a good fight and I am sure Ugandans are happy and the industry will never be the same.

Even those who won, they are not happy. The battle has just began and we are going to keep our eyes on the ball,” Mr Katuntu said. “We are not going to rest until we see transparency in the oil sector. As leaders, we are ready to ensure that oil does not become a curse for our people,” Mr Katuntu added.

Mr Ssekikubo, the chairperson of the parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas, said no amount of intimidation would stop MPs from demanding accountability in the oil sector. “The government needs to know that oil belongs to the people of Uganda and as peoples’ representatives, we cannot allow the few individuals to benefit from this resource at the expense of our poor people,” Mr Ssekikubo said.

“The minister does not have the technical know-how to carry out the functions in the proposed law. This is why, in our wisdom, we had given the powers to the Petroleum Authority whose members are appointed by the President. I don’t know why the President wants politicians to confuse this sector.”

Clause 9 of the approved Bill gives the Energy minister exclusive authority to negotiate, grant and revoke exploration and production licences, to issue policy and regulations, and to approve field development plans.

Mr Ssekikubo told Sunday Monitor that the restoration of Clause 9 in the original Bill means that there will be undue concentration of Executive power, a greater administrative encumbrance than any politician could manage, and a potential invitation to bribery and corruption that might invite a curse in the country.

Mr Ssekikubo’s views are shared by civil society organisations. Energy Minister Irene Muloni who described the passing of the proposed oil law as “a big relief” assured Ugandans that the government is committed to ensuring that the oil is managed in a transparent and accountable manner for the benefit of the country.

On Thursday, the government disowned the consultation Mr Ktuntu had with Ms Muloni and closed the window for compromise on the Bill. It took six hours for the Speaker to adjourn the house and asked the Committee on Natural Resources to reconsider Clause 9 and report to the House. The Committee met on Friday and took a vote where 10 members supported the government position, five were against and three abstained.

There were jeers and taunts in the House as members voted to remove powers from the Petroleum Authority. The Bill is expected to be sent to the President for assent before it officially becomes a law. Two Bills were tabled in parliament in February for consideration. One Bill has been passed and the Petroleum (Refining, Gas Processing, Conversion, Transportation and Storage) Bill, 2012 is still at committee stage.