By Anne Mugisa
Court has saved the Government from having to disclose details of agreements made with the multi-national companies prospecting for and exploiting oil in Uganda.
The Chief Magistrate at Nakawa Court on Wednesday dismissed the petition that journalists Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi and Angello Izama lodged to compel the government to disclose the oil agreements.
The journalistsâ€™ petition followed the refusal by the Attorney General (AG) and the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Energyâ€™s refusal to grant them access to the agreements.
on May 3, 2007, Mwanguhya and Izama wrote to the two offices requesting for certified copies of the agreements.
The PS wrote back saying that he needed to consult with the concerned government agencies and the stakeholders on whether he should avail the agreements.
However, the AG wrote stating that there was a clause in the agreements which called for confidentiality and that disclosure of the contents of the agreements would be in breach of the contract.
He stated that disclosure could only happen with the consent of the other parties in the agreements.
The journalists then went to court seeking an order annulling what the AG had said and forcing him and the PS to reveal the agreements.
They also sought a court declaration that public interest, in which they said they were acting, outweighed any harm the Government was talking about.
Mwanguhya and Izama argued that the public had a right to access the information in order to participate in the decision-making regarding the exploitation of the oil and keep the Government accountable.
The Chief Magistrate, Deo Ssejjemba, rejected the AGâ€™s argument of breach of contract, saying it is not sustainable if the disclosure is in execution of a court order.
He, however, also said that the journalists had not proved the public benefit they were arguing for.
Ssejjemba added that the journalists also failed to prove that disclosing the agreements to them would be disclosure to the public.
â€œThey did not bring out clearly how the public, other than the two of them, would use the information to make the Government more accountable, the Magistrate ruled.