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Parliament adjourns to consider ‘consensus’ on oil Clause 9

A defiant Parliament yesterday again refused to vote on the controversial Clause 9 of the Petroleum Bill it has been debating for the last month, but agreed to stand-over the clause for one more day to allow both sides to study a compromise position.

It emerged that Energy Minister, Hon. Irene Muloni, together with some key MPs from the ruling and opposition parties had met at length on Monday and agreed on a ‘win-win’ position to propose to the House.

At first, however, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga asked legislators to proceed to the Division Lobby to take the vote. While most MPs from the NRM side obediently walked out to the lobby, a handful of them besieged the Speaker, together with their colleagues from the opposition, and pleaded with her to allow the vote to take place from inside the Chambers.

At this point it emerged that several opposition MPs, including Hon. Abdu Katuntu and Hon. Odonga Otto, had met with the Minister and senior civil servants and agreed on some sort of middle ground. The Speaker therefore recalled the legislators from the lobby and informed them she was temporarily suspending the House in order to allow both sides to digest this new position.

Energy Minister on the spot

There was drama when the Speaker asked the Minister of Energy to outline the new consensus position. Hon. Muloni was reluctant to respond and the Speaker had to repeatedly call on her to rise and inform her colleagues. She did so only after several minutes, having consulted with the Vice President, Hon. Edward Ssekandi, and the NRM Chief Whip, Hon. Kasule Lumuba.

However, Hon. Muloni threw the House into confusion when she read out a different  script  from the one earlier agreed with the select group of MPs.

Hon. Abdu Katuntu, visibly riled by this move, expressed his disappointment with Hon. Muloni. “We sat with the Minister, her Permanent Secretary and other technical staff up to midnight yesterday. I thought she would now sell the [agreed] position to the House,” he said. “Why is the Minister silent on these consultations? For us, we have walked all the way to create consensus, if some anarchists want to take over, so be it,” he added.

It appears that following the consultations the Minister had changed her position and reverted to the original stand of her party—that Clause 9, concerning ministerial powers, be restored in its original form.

The consensus

According to interventions from Hon. Abdu Katuntu, the so-called consensus was that the powers of the line minister responsible for petroleum should be reduced to some extent, by allowing the Petroleum Authority and the Cabinet to check his or her decisions.

The new amendments would include:

  • The minister to negotiate petroleum agreements in liaison with the Petroleum Authority.
  • The minister to endorse petroleum licences with the approval of cabinet and revoke them with the approval of the Petroleum Authority
  • The Petroleum Authority to recommend to the Minister the revocation of a licence but with the approval of the Cabinet.

Although it was evident that MPs from the ruling National Resistance Movement had come ready to vote, the majority of the MPs seemed to favour some sort of middle ground.

However, if the Cabinet dismisses this amended position, it is likely that the opposition side and like minded MPs from the NRM will lose this battle, even after putting up a spirited fight.

President Museveni is set to address Parliament this Thursday and the matter may have been shelved by then. It is believed that the president has personally lobbied NRM MPs to vote for the recommittal of Clause 9, effectively handing the control of the oil and gas industry to the responsible line minister.

Discipline delayed

Speaker Kadaga also agreed yesterday to a request by the Chairman of the Rules, Privileges and Discipline Committee, Hon. Fox Odoi, for the Committee to be given ten more days to complete investigations into last Tuesday’s fracas in Parliament.  The Speaker had ordered the committee to investigate rebel MPs who disrupted proceeding in order to stop a vote on Clause 9 being rushed through without debate.

Hon. Odoi revealed that so far, his committee had identified 239 MPs—some of them members of the committee itself—who the committee proposes to interview.

Report by CM