Friday, 14 October 2011

Unearthing corruption in Uganda’s oil

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

For now, this week will go down in history as one of an emerging independent as opposed to rubber-stamp parliament  following a bubbling oil debate but also as a week when three ministers in President Yoweri Museveni’s government “stepped aside" from their cabinet posts as court began hearing their CHOGM corruption trial. Ministers Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira and Mwesigwa Rukutana “resigned to allow for the due process of the court and in interest of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) ruling party. In the same week Museveni was angry that his ruling party NRM-dominated Parliament went ahead to implicate and investigate his ministers without his approval. Hours before the special parliament session, the NRM legislators had had a caucus meeting which some dodged. A legislator who attended the caucus meeting said they put oil company bribery allegations to accused ministers. “The accused ministers told us incoherent things. We felt they were not confessing and said let’s meet in parliament,” the legislator intimated. While in the house the legislators were bi-partisan and handed the ministers to an adhoc investigations committee. 

A day after parliament resolved to investigate Ministers Sam Kutesa, Hillary Onek and Amama Mbabazi for allegedly receiving over 22.5 million Euros in bribes from Tullow Oil Company, President Museveni convened an impromptu press briefing. Museveni played down some of the documents on which parliament is investing the three ministers dismissing them as forgeries. Museveni was also bitter the NRM legislators had not listened to his views on the ministers. As such, the President has summoned the legislators of the ruling NRM party for a caucus meeting. Will the NRM legislators shift posts after the caucus meeting? Only time will tell.

So far the 9th Parliament is viewed as determined to fight corruption. Its fight has begun in Uganda’s oil sector. As the ugly face of selfishness and corruption in Uganda’s nascent oil sector has been exposed by parliamentary special session to debate oil, one can hope for unearthing more scandals. But some elitist skeptics are dismissing the “otherwise so far outstanding investigation by legislators” in the oil debate as hearsay. The oil debate led to sudden recall of the house from recess. Youthful members of parliament (MPs) unruffled the perceived mighty ministers who had been cutting selfish deals hobnobbing with oil companies’ top managers. Parliament warned implicated ministers to resign or face censure but none has resigned.

If the documents tabled in parliament by MPs are anything to go by, Board room and public discussions among the ministers and oil companies especially Tullow Oil have been brought to light. Apparently a small group of Ugandan politicians are thriving on corruption in the budding oil sector that is still shrouded with top-level secrecy. Several MPs, who subscribe to the ruling NRM party, from the oil rich Albertine region, were vocal in expressing their anger at the government officials implicated were backstabbing them in dubious oil deals. 

The shameless ministers have fronted their sons, daughters and relatives to benefit from oil sector as employees, dealers, suppliers and marketing agents as millions of Ugandans wallow in poverty, die in hospitals without drugs, lose their lives on bad roads, etcetera.  While Ugandans are looking at what government says is "our oil", its ministers are busy enriching themselves without remorse.
The people who are supposed to benefit from oil proceeds are wallowing in poverty, dieing curable diseases as public hospitals have no medicines, collapsing school blocks; kids are studying under trees as oil exploration companies’ managers are living in opulence, in luxury hotels, air-conditioned offices as the locals look in disbelief. Because of the early signs of corruption in the oil sector some experts are warning that Uganda could fall into the so-called oil curse.

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