Uganda Parliament Continues To Argue Over Oil

Jim Burroway

December 5th, 2012

Today’s Order Paper (DOC: 37KB/1 page) has Parliament taking a pause for a memorial observance. The momentary respite will probably be welcome among members of Parliament after failing yesterday to come to an agreement over a highly contentious clause in one of the Petroleum Bills. President Yoweri Museveni’s government is trying to push changes to Clause 9 of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill to strip a commission answerable to Parliament of its powers to negotiate, sign and revoke contracts for exploration, drilling and refining, and hand those powers over to a single person, the Energy Minister– who just happens to be a presidential appointee. Because the proposed changes would cut everyone else out who could provide oversight or transparency into that process, it will effectively legalize the wholesale theft of Uganda’s potential oil wealth.

The first item on yesterday’s agenda was supposed to be a presentation from the Rules Committee of the results of its investigation into the events that led to last week’s breakdown in Parliament. That session ended in chaos when several M.P.s erupted in open rebellion as a vote to approve the changes to Clause 9 was about to take place. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga ordered the Rules Committee to determine those responsible for the rebellion for possible sanctions. But when the Committee reported that it wasn’t finished with the investigation, Parliament moved on to its next order of business, Clause 9. That’s when, according to Daily Monitor, several opposition M.P.s rose to announce that they had ironed out a compromise with the Energy Minister:

“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.

There’s a lot of inside baseball here, but it seems to sum up this way: the opposition said they had a compromise solution worked out with the Energy Minister, while Government ministers countered that there was no such agreement. The phrase “eventual standing over the clause” refers to Parliament’s decision to “stand over the matter” — in other words, to metaphorically stand and wait but in practice to suspend discussions — until the Petroleum Minister is available to respond. Which means that Parliament has kicked to can further down the road on Clause 9 until later this week or next.

So what does all of this mean for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill? Parliament could take this downtime in its debate over the Petroleum Bill to move the Anti-Homosexuality Bill up from its first place standing under “business to follow” and begin debate, but the House appears uneager to do so. While Ugandan human rights advocates are carefully watching to see whether that might happen, there appears to be little political incentive to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill right this minute.

As I’ve argued before, I don’t think you can look at the timing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill without looking at the broader political context in Uganda. And right now, the Museveni government is locked in a power struggle with some members of Parliament over who gets to control (and steal, given Uganda’s reputation as the most corrupt country in eastern Africa) the country’s newly discovered oil wealth. As a sign of how important that struggle is, Daily Monitor reported that Museveni will address Parliament himself on Thursday. “Although Mr Museveni’s address is supposed to be listened to in silence with no questions and debate, he is expected to meet resistance from MPs over his position to grant the energy minister unilateral powers over key areas of the oil sector,” Daily Monitor reported. (The pro-government New Vision says he will address Parliament Friday.)

Museveni’s fight to control Uganda’s oil isn’t the only black mark against the government these days. Germany’s recent announcement that it was joining Britain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden in cutting direct government-to-government aid to Uganda following the discovery that nearly US$20 million has ended up in the private bank accounts of Prime Minister  Amama Mbabazi and several of his cronies. Britain also expanded its announcement to cover all bilateral aid to Uganda, which includes funding for programs and NGOs. Daily Monitor reports that the government is about to announce several budget cuts because of the drop in donor aid. While most of that aid was intended for structural support of basic government functions, Ugandan officials are threatening to cut delivery of services to the people who need it the most.

So with that, coupled with the controversy over Clause 9 of the Petroleum Bill, I suspect that Parliament will wait until after Clause 9 is dealt with and the entire bill is passed before turning to the unifying distraction for everyone that is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Parliament could conceivably turn to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill now during this lull, but I don’t see the political advantage for it. Sure, it could unite Parliament and take everyone’s eyes off of Clause 9, but the advantage of that distraction would only be temporary, ending when Clause 9 resurfaces again. What’s more likely is that Parliament deals with Clause 9 first, then looks for a handy issue that everyone can rally around and distract them from what Museveni has done with the country’s oil wealth. That appears to be the real purpose of bringing up the Anti-Homosexuality Bill now. While all of that could happen this week — Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement controls more than 70% of Parliament — next week now appears much more likely.

Update: The Uganda Parliament ordinarily does not meet on Mondays and Fridays, although a quick look at past Order Papers shows several exceptions over the past few months.

Hyhybt

December 5th, 2012

Thank you for continuing to cover this in the depth necessary for understanding the internal politics of a foreign nation. It would be nice, if larger news organizations can’t or won’t do that themselves, if they’d point people here.

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