By Joseph Kizza
WHAT has turned out to be the biggest oil debate in Uganda’s history involving oil deals and bribery allegations reached its climax Tuesday late-night in Parliament when legislators settled for a probe into the matter.
The nation has closely followed a two-day-long debate in which 3 senior government ministers and officials have been implicated in the oil transactions involving a host of oil companies in line for the oil production contracts.
Following a call for government transparency in the oil agreements involving the contracted oil companies, Ugandan Parliamentarians pressured the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, to recall Parliament from recess to debate the oil question.
Western region Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga (NRM) accelerated the momentum on the debate recently by accusing cabinet ministers Sam Kutesa and Hilary Onek of receiving billions as bribes from Tullow Oil, one of the companies lined-up for the oil production.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was whirled into bribery triangle with the accusations of having received funds to front for Italian oil company ENI to buy off Heritage shares. His daughter, Nina Mbabazi is said to have owned a company doing business with oil companies.
The three ministers have denied the allegations against them.
Foreign affairs minister Kutesa said he did not receive bribes from Tullow Oil. Kutesa is alleged to have received 17m Euros, which translates into about sh65b.
In his defence, the minister applauded the Parliament for its vibrancy but noted that it was of essence to debate the oil matter ‘factually and responsibly backed by a desire to set a correct record.’
Internal affairs minister Onek also dismissed the bribery allegations, citing foul play by some people, whom he did not name, who wanted to stain his reputation.
He pledged to resign if discovered guilty of the said claims, adding that some people last year blackmailed him over the matter, which forced him to seek the police’s help.
The Premier, Mbabazi, distanced himself from accusations that he was recipient of any bribes from the oil companies.
As many could have beforehand predicted, the motion, which was flagged off in Parliament on Tuesday, right away raised the dust.
Lwemiyaga MP, Theodore Sekikubo, one of the petitioners of the motion, stood out when he expressed his fears that Uganda’s properties might be under threat if foreign oil companies are involved in the current oil agreements with the Ugandan government.
Sekikubo and several other legislators said that the current Ugandan oil sector is geared by a machinery of unfair dubious and covert deals.
He urged for the regularization of the oil operations so that information on all agreements are made public.
Day two of the debate was no much different – a fully packed House, tempers rising, the Speaker calling on the unruly MPs to cool down, bitter exchange of words, revelation of letters, names cited.
Despite their defence, other legislators preferred the three implicated ministers temporarily out of office to keep clear the way for a commission of inquiry into the oil deals matter.
It took two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) of heated debate within the confines of the Parliament for the MPs to finally drive the nail into the coffin – a resolution to commission an investigation into the matter.
For now, the House passed a resolution to institute a probe committee to investigate the oil matter and the accused officials. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga will name the committee which will be approved by Parliament.
They agreed to forward a petition to the government to halt executing further oil contracts pending the passing of the necessary laws.
As a matter of fact, the House asked the government to withhold approval to Tullow Oil’s sale of stakes to Total and CNOOC under a deal worth 2.9 US dolllars.
The MPs also said the new oil agreements should not include provisions or clauses barring the government from revealing contents of the signed agreements.
Later in the day, President Yoweri Museveni is set to address a new conference at State House Nakasero in Kampala but it not certain whether he will tackle the same subject.