Anti-Homosexuality Bill Update: Parliament Stalled Over Petroleum Bills

Jim Burroway

December 7th, 2012

As I’ve said before, the question of the hour isn’t “What is the status of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?”  As second in line in the Ugandan Parliament’s order of business, its status is what it always was: it’s on standby as a handy distraction to unite the country once Parliament completes President Yoweri Museveni’s oil grab.

Which means that the real question is “What is the status of the Petroleum Bill?” That’s the bill which, if Museveni gets his way, will place the entirety of nation’s newly discovered oil wealth into just one pair of hands: Museveni’s hand-picked Energy Minister. And with no one looking over his shoulder as he negotiates and signs lucrative oil exploration and drilling licenses, Uganda will enter a whole new era of corruption, the scale of which will make some of the more recent scandals look like round-off errors.

And so what is its status? Well, things are more or less stalled. Parliament typically doesn’t meet on Fridays and Mondays, but human rights observers in Uganda speculated that there might be an exception today, especially since Parliament is expected to break for Christmas on December 14. But no order papers were posted on Parliaments web site this morning, which means that MP’s continue to haggle over the contentious Petroleum Bills. With no new progress this week, Museveni personally intervened yesterday and convened a special meeting of the National Resistance Movement caucus yesterday. He lectured the NRM, his ruling party which makes up more than 70% of Parliament, on his demands to approve a controversial change to Clause 9 which would cut the independent Petroleum Authority out of its oversight role in awarding oil licenses and concentrating that power in the Energy Minister. Museveni even walked his caucus through a mock vote as some kind of a training exercise:

Ruling party MPs turned up in large numbers following a morning caucus meeting addressed by their chairman, President Museveni. Sources said the MPs were whipped into line, held a mock vote in which Mr Museveni’s wishes for the Energy minister to retain near-unilateral powers to grant and revoke licences, and to negotiate agreements, carried the day.

That was how the independent Daily Monitor described the meeting. The pro-government New Vision’s description was somewhat more detailed:

The NRM caucus seating at Parliament has overwhelmingly voted in favour of empowering the Energy minister to grant and revoke licenses to extract oil. Over 130 MPs voted in favour, 7 voted against while 1 abstained.

…According to the Minister of State for Luweero Triangle, Rose Namayanja, who is holding the portfolio of the information minister, Cabinet resolved that the original provisions of Clause 9 of the Bill must be maintained. “We do not want to make a law that is vague. He who hires must have powers to fire,” said Namayanja, adding that Cabinet believes it is not good to make the minister share power of granting and revoking licences with the authority.

The headline this morning in the pro-government New Vision.

But as the NTV report indicates at the top of this post, there are more than 260 NRM caucus members but only about half of them showed up for the caucus meeting. “It is not clear if some boycotted the caucus meeting, only to turn up in the House and oppose the government position,” NTV Television reported. MP Waira Kyewalabye Majegere (NRM-Bunya County East) appeared on NTV to say that he was among those who wanted to be assured of “some checks and balances.”  Speaking of the NRM’s 70% majority in Parliament, Majegere said, “We have the numbers, but there is also the issue of convincing the brains. It’s not just a matter of having the numbers.” When the House session resumed after the caucus meeting, dissenting NRM members joined the opposition to block a vote on Clause 9, resulting in the current stalemate.

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