By Nelson Wesonga
Posted Thursday, May 10 2012 at 12:28
A consortium of five faith-based organisations has asked Parliament to re-write some of the contentious clauses in two proposed laws that will govern the oil sector.
The petition comes on the back of a running parliamentary and wider public demand for greater transparency from the government on how it is handling the resource whose net value — for ascertained commercially viable deposits — has been estimated in excess of $13 billion in a recent press communication by President Museveni.
Representatives of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) said during a meeting in Parliament yesterday that as things stand, The Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill, 2012 (Bill No. 1) had merely “carried its weaknesses” to The Petroleum Refining, Gas Processing and Conversion, Transportation and Storage Bill, 2012 (Bill No. 2).
IRCU wants Parliament to be given a clear oversight role in supervising the signing of petroleum exploration licences and approving appointees to the proposed National Oil Authority, among others.
“IRCU recognises the government’s commitment to mainstreaming the oil and gas sector. We propose that Parliament plays a leading oversight role in the sector,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama, the IRCU chairperson.
While handing over a memorandum to Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee, he said the government should provide Ugandans with updates on the resource, whose commercial extraction is expected to start in 2017.
This, Archbishop Odama said, would ensure transparency and accountability since the population “owns” the oil.
The council also asked that when the law is enacted, clear provisions should be included to take into account compensation for Ugandans who will be displaced as a result of oil exploitation activity; appropriate remedies against foreign companies that will cause pollution and that Ugandans employed in the sector are adequately remunerated and protected.
In their current form, the proposed Bills, among others, give the Energy minister wide-ranging powers to grant and revoke licences, approve field plans, issue regulations, negotiate and endorse petroleum agreements and appoint members of the National Oil Authority. There are fears that this could potentially give rise to future conflict of interest, especially since at least two ministers are under investigation over allegations that they received bribes from oil companies to fix licensing deals.
IRCU has proposed that Parliament should approve the presidential appointees to the authority.
It also wants the National Oil Company to be a public limited company whose share equity should be floated on the Stock Exchange so that Ugandans could buy shares in the company.
IRCU added: “Application for licences should be made to the authority and not to the minister since the authority is a technical body in the management of the industry.”
Further, they also recommend that the laws align the licensing process to the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority Act, and that interested parties should not be allowed to apply for concessions in more than five blocks.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda is comprised of the Roman Catholic Church, Church of Uganda, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Seventh Day Adventist Uganda Union and the Orthodox Church.
Equality. IRCU says the Bill should provide for just and equal recruitment, remuneration and safety of Ugandans and that adequate safeguards be put in place to protect against inappropriate conduct by oil companies.
Compensations. It wants Part XI of Bill No. 1 to be amended to provide for compensation of persons who have interest in land in addition to land owners, and compensation beyond the value of land to include resettlement and compensation disturbances.
Pollution. IRCU also wants the law to address cases of pollution where the effect takes place, and provide for mechanisms to deal with pollution involving foreign countries.