PARLIAMENT. President Museveni yesterday accepted that he made mistakes while approving the payment of Shs6b to a clique of 42 government officials who were involved in helping Uganda win two oil cases against British firms.
Mr Museveni told a parliamentary committee that is investigating wide-ranging irregularities in the Oil Sector that he would have acted differently had he been advised otherwise by the Attorney General Fred Ruhindi on which procedures to follow in rewarding government officials for a job well done.
Filing his defence during the inquiry into what has become popularly referred to as a ‘presidential handshake’ or oil cash bonanza, Mr Ruhindi argued that “the necessary procedures and laws were followed and [that] it is the prerogative of the President to make a reward of this nature.”
On whether he authorised the payments, Mr Museveni admitted that although he directed Finance Minister Matia Kasaija to reward the 42 officials, he did not instruct that he dip their hands into URA’s coffers to facilitate the payment.
During the inquiry, Mr Kasaija revealed that he was left with no option but to pay the Shs6b after receiving a letter from the President directing that officials who were involved in the Oil cases be rewarded.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr Kasaija promised to respond to the President’s remarks today.
The President, however, insisted he was rewarding what he called “economic heroes” and talked of pressures he weathered to settle the case out of court but said technocrats from the Justice Ministry and URA insisted they had a winnable case.
But Mr Museveni flatly rejected a critical demand by the MPs who moved the motion to investigate the payments demanding that the officials who received the money refund it and instead promised that he will look into the presidential budget to reimburse the money to URA.
The MPs who attended the closed-door session said Mr Museveni was particularly furious over why neither the Uganda Revenue Authority(URA) nor the Justice Ministry have filed a $10m bill of costs to Tullow, three years after winning the cases.
Committee chairman Abu Katuntu, who is the only one authorised to speak on the record about the proceedings of the inquiry, declined to divulge any details of the meeting with the President.
“We met for two hours and we will resume today,” Mr Katuntu crisply said.
Mr Don Wanyama, the Senior Presidential Press Secretary, also declined to comment on the meeting, saying State House had agreed with the MPs that the Committee would issue a statement.
During the meeting, Mr Museveni also admitted he only learnt that a bill of costs for the money is yet to be filed after Solicitor General Francis Atoke acknowledged during the on-going inquiry that the government is yet to recover money from Tullow despite being entitled to it.
Mr Museveni was also angry that bureaucrats from the Energy Ministry inserted a clause in the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) between Tullow and Uganda where the British oil firm would be entitled to a $157m tax waiver by the government if an out-of-court settlement was to be reached over the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) dispute.
The meeting will resume today after it was prematurely adjourned in the afternoon to allow Mr Museveni meet visiting Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who arrived in the country yesterday for a two-day official visit.
Mr Museveni will today be asked to explain whether the officials who met him at his country home in Rwakitura on May 17, 2015, demanded any reward contrary to the Uganda Public Service Standing Orders.
Mr Museveni will also be asked to justify the “extra-ordinary” duty the 42 officials undertook to merit payment after some of them, including Mr Ruhindi, former URA Commissioner General Allen Kagina, and former Commissioner Legal and Board Affairs URA admitted that they did not do work outside their normal duties during the Oil cases.
Oil cash probe
Mr Museveni told a parliamentary committee that is investigating wide-ranging irregularities in the Oil Sector that he would have acted differently had he been advised otherwise by the Attorney General Fred Ruhindi on which procedures to follow in rewarding government officials for a job well done. On whether he authorised the payments, Mr Museveni admitted that although he directed Finance Minister Matia Kasaija to reward the 42 officials, he did not instruct that he dip their hands into URA’s coffers to facilitate the payment.