Parliament of Uganda has set up a select committee to investigate the Shs 6bn oil cash payouts to 42 senior government officials. This is the second time the legislative branch of government has probed the executive on oil revenues.
Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga on Thursday last week directed the Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) Committee, chaired by Bugweri MP, Hon. Abdul Katuntu to handle the investigation and report to the House in two months.
The motion to set up a select committee was moved by Mbarara Municipality MP, Michael Tusiime last week in a stormy plenary session that extended into the night.
Hon. Tusiime stated that Government had hired a foreign law firm; Curtis Mallet-Provost, Colt and Mosle LLP to represent the country in the law suits and was already costly to the country.
“The American law firm was hired to represent in the $ 404 million capital gains tax dispute adjudicated in London at a cost of $ 10 million dollars,” he argued, adding that it is prudent for investigate the oil cash payouts and especially the procedures that were followed to reward the officials.
According to Hon. Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal Municipality MP, the move to setup a committee is not to witch-hunt the beneficiaries but a move to create transparency on the issue.
Winfred Niwagaba, Ndorwa East MP concurred with Hon. Ruhunda arguing that it is time for government to demonstrate its tenacity to fight corruption.
“We will be glad to see the perpetuators not only appear before the Anti- Corruption Court, but refund the Shs 6bn back to the Petroleum Fund,” he said.
However, William Byaruhanga defended the payouts, arguing that the case was the first of time in the history of the country, both in terms of complexity and the magnitude of the money involved. Kadaga said, when the team won the case, she wrote a letter thanking them for fighting for the interests of the country.
This is the second time in less than five years that parliament is instituting a probe committee to investigate issues of corruption and alleged misuse of oil revenues.
In 2011, Parliament set up an Adhoc Committee, chaired by Michael Werikhe, the then chairperson of Natural Resources Committee, to investigate alleged corruption in the sector.
A dossier had been tabled before the House by MP Gerald Karuhanga that implicated Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Ministers Sam Kutesa and former Energy Minister, Hilary Onek in corruption. The committee report exonerated the politicians of corruption. The country waits the speaker to name the select committee.
BUNYORO LEADERS UNHAPPY
Buliisa county Member of Parliament, Hon. Stephen Mukitale Biraahwa revealed that his constituency, despite housing over 26 oil wells has not benefited from the Capital Gains Tax recovered by government.
“The money would have been ploughed back in the oil sector to prepare for Uganda’s journey towards commercial oil production,” Hon. Biraahwa who sits on the parliamentary committee on National Economy told Oil in Uganda.
He added that the revenues earned so far should be in improving roads in the oil region, training the population, conducting systematic survey and demarcation of land, building capacities of local suppliers and environmental compliance among others.
“What is surprising communities hosting oil and gas activities is that the money is being shared in Kampala by government officials without considering the interests of the industry and the communities” he said.
Bugahya County Member of Parliament, Hon.Pius Wakabi demanded that the beneficiaries who received the oil cash should refund it immediately.
Hon. Wakabi whose constituency has over six oil wells, stated that it is shocking that the money was shared at a time when teachers demand salary increment and lecturers striking over remuneration.
Litmus test for Uganda?
The management of revenues from oil is a litmus test for Uganda. Many activists have questioned whether the petroleum resource will be a blessing or a curse to the country citing scenarios in oil-producing countries in Africa such as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Sudan, Chad, and Nigeria among others.
Report by Edward Ssekika and our Hoima Correspondent.
Following the oil cash bonanza in which 42 top government officials were rewarded with colossal sums of ‘oil money’, activists want an audit of the entire oil sector.
This move follows a public uproar, over ‘the ‘scandal’ in which 42 top government officials, were paid Shs 6bn (about $1,656,000) as a reward for winning Tullow and Heritage cases over Capital Gains Tax.
Winfred Ngabiirwe, the Executive Director, Global Rights Alert, says the ‘oil cash bonanza’ speaks volumes of how oil money is and will be spent.
“This bonanza confirms our fears that oil revenues will not deliver the country from poverty,” she explains.
“The level of secrecy and the impunity of the key players in the sector only confirm that Uganda is creating her own model of oil curse. It appears, those in power have decided to eat what they can eat, uncertain when production will start and oil dollars start flowing,” she argues.
According to Ngabiirwe, all these are attributed to government’s delay or refusal to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global frame that promotes transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.
The EITI framework, she argues, would enable Ugandans to know how much the country is earning from oil and gas resources and how the money is spent.
“We need a forensic audit of the entire sector. First, we need to know whether the country is collecting the right amounts of money from oil companies, and are oil companies paying right taxes to our coffers and then Ugandans must follow the money. Short of that, we are dreaming that will benefit our country,” she demands.
Gerald Karuhanga, the Ntungamo Municipality Member of Parliament, concurs with Ngabiirwe echoing that the cash bonanza is a confirmation of how oil money will be put to waste.
He argues that the fact that government can extravagantly spent colossal sums of money on “a golden presidential handshake’, for simply winning a case, what will happen when the ‘real’ petro dollars begin to flow.
Defending the oil cash bonanza, Sarah Birungi Banage, Uganda Revenue Authority’s Assistant Commissioner for Public and Corporate Affairs, notes that the ‘presidential golden handshake’, was in appreciation of the exemplary performance by the team and a standard international best practice.
“….. government granted the team involved an honorarium or bonus or golden handshake totaling Shs 6bn. This represented less than 1% of the amount brought in or defended,” reads in part a statement from URA.
“The team brought in a combined total of $700m into government coffers after a series of court battles in Uganda’s Tax Appeals Tribunal, High Court, Court of Appeal and High Court of London, Court of Appeal of UK, and two international tribunals. This was from the Heritage transaction and the subsequent Tullow transaction. The two cases were an unprecedented win for the country, and the first of its kind in Africa in the sector of Oil and Gas Taxation,” the statement further notes.
The officials who benefited from the ‘presidential golden handshake include; former Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Energy Fred Kabagambe Kaliisa, URA’s Commissioner General Doris Akol, former URA’s head of legal affairs and ED KCCA Jennifer Musisi, Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi, former Attorney General Peter Nyombi and his deputy, Fred Ruhindi, Lawrence Kiiza from Ministry of Finance, Ernest Rubondo, the executive director of PAU, Francis Atoke, the Solicitor General. Others include lawyers; Ali Ssekatawa (URA), Martin Mwambutsya (then State Attorney), Peter Muliisa among others.
In November, 2015, President Yoweri Museveni wrote to the Minister of Finance, Hon. Matia Kasaija authorizing cash payments to the 42 government officials.
“I met with a team of officials that handled the case and they requested to be considered for a reward in appreciation for the work done. Given the amount of money that was recovered for the government, I agreed that government pays them some money as a token of appreciation. I therefore direct that a team of 42 government officials be paid Shs 6bn only,” Museveni wrote in his authorization letter.
The oil cash bonanza comes after, the ‘first oil money’ was allegedly illegally released from Bank of Uganda, purportedly on the orders of the President to buy fighter jets in 2013.
Report by Edward Ssekika
Stephen Wafula is a happy gold miner in Nakudi village, Banda Sub County, Namayingo district. The 27-year-old, father of 2 children, says, he switched from agriculture to gold mining last year, after witnessing his colleagues ‘prosper’ from mining. “Unlike farming, there is some money in gold mining. I don’t wait for a season, I earn per day,” he narrates, though hesitant to reveal how much he has earned from gold mining.
Byakatunda Katib who also mines in the same area, says they can earn as much as 20 Million shillings ($5,500) a week from Gold mining, if the season is good.
Like other artisanal miners, the use of rudimentary tools like hoes and spades are used in this area to dig deep underground and extract ore with traces of gold. After extracting the ore (soil containing gold) from the ground, the miners normally have two options; to dry, crush, wash and extract the gold or sell the iron ore to other people who can wash it and extract gold for themselves. Either way, the ore is sun dried and then put into a grinder and grounded into fine soil that is then mixed with water and mercury to attract gold dust (particles).
“Without mercury, it is difficult to extract gold particles because we do not have proper mechanization,” Wafula explains. He adds that after extracting gold, the remaining ‘soil’ containing mercury is disposed of in the open ground or sold for further processing using cyanide.
The use of mercury and cyanide is common in all gold mining area like Busia, Mubende, Moroto and Buhweju among others. These hazardous chemicals are mainly used to attract gold particles from the iron ore.
Mercury is a thick, waxy silver chemical that is used in the extraction of secondary gold. This chemical is used to purify gold from ore in a process called amalgamation. During this process, the vapour from the amalgamation (burning of gold particles mixed with mercury) is inhaled by the miner who often does not have protective clothing.
Many miners like Wafula are not aware of the risks of using mercury. Furthermore, they do not have proper healthy and safety gears for protection.
In the latest value for money audit report into the mineral’s sector, the Auditor General, recommends that government should slap a total ban on the use of mercury in gold mining due to health and environmental consequences. The report covers the period between 2011 to 2015.
“The use of mercury and cyanide in gold recovery is a health hazard and should be discouraged else safety precautions should be taken. There is bound to be serious environmental impacts and health issues related to pollution of streams and rivers of Mubende. According to the report, the tailings containing mercury is disposed of in the open, and when it rains mercury finds itself in water streams where the local people fetch water for domestic purposes.
It takes more than 5 years for mercury to completely dissolve into the soil, while it takes 10 years for Cyanide to dissolve into the soil. The Auditor General findings are similar to the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) internal inspection report that also noted illegal mining and ‘harmful mining practices’.
According to the DGSM internal inspection report for June and July this year, the inspection team visited several artisanal mining sites where people were using mercury to recover the gold and the remaining tailings are then washed with cyanide in a makeshift processing plant which is a threat to the environment.
In Namayingo district, the inspection report notes that there is a company known as Lujiji Processing Company that has installed a gold procession plant and uses Cyanide to extract gold from tailings left behind by the artisanal miners who are also using mercury to recover the gold.
“The gold processing operations of Lujiji Processing Company should be halted until an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is finalized and approved by NEMA,” the report recommends.
According to Oguttu Bonventeur Stephen, LC3 Chairperson Banda sub-county, the mercury being used in the mining sites are imported from Kenya through Busia and even as far as from Tanzania. He blames the porous borders and lack of enforcement on the use of the harzadous chemical.
“This mercury is being used a lot here. In a day, I am told they can use about 15-20 kgs of mercury and all that ends up in our water streams,” he told Oil in Uganda during a meeting.
Oil in Uganda has also established that artisanal miners in the mines buys 1 gram of mercury at 600 Uganda shilling at whole sale price and 1000 shillings at retail price.
Emmanuel Kibirige, general secretary, Singo Artisanal Gold Miners Association and a gold miner at Kitumbi, Mubende district, argues that the problem is improper disposal of tailings. He concurs with Auditor General Report, that when it rains, mercury is washed away and end up in streams and water sources.
“The problem is not mercury itself, but its improper disposal. It is disposed of anyhow. I think, we need to find a place, where we can dispose the mud containing mercury, and then treat,” he explains. However, he explains that many miners continue to use mercury without wearing any protective gear. “People here don’t use gloves, they use their bare hands and feet, yet there is mercury,” he said.
During an impromptu visit to some of the mining sites in Bugiri and Namayingo districts respectively, Oil in Uganda also found out that there was limited knowledge on the dangers of mercury and cyanide use.
At Byewunyisa Gold Mining Company in Budhaya Sub-county, the miners had removed their gumboots and were handling the tailings with bare hands, despite the fact that they had just used cyanide to get the gold particles.
The story is not any different from situation at Nsango B mining site where children are engaged in washing crushed iron ore with mercury. Recently, Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) revealed the use of mercury by miners exposes them to contract diseases like lung and kidney problems.
MINING POLICE The inspection report observes that miners have been sensitized against the use of mercury and environmentally friendly mining, there is very little change and recommends stringent enforcement mechanism. “Government should increase security in all gold rush areas including the establishment of Mining Police to enforce compliance,” the internal report recommends.
Of recently, the government has established units in police to hand specific tasks. For instance, there is the oil and gas protection unit and environment protection unit among others, and therefore the ministry wants a specific unit for mining to enforce compliance with good mining practices.
Report by Edward Ssekika and Collins Hinamundi. Additional information by Beatrice Ongode.
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