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Secrecy plague invades Tanzania too

The price governments pay for transparency is much lighter and affects only the minority-specifically rogue politicians and connected greedy business people.

By Chris Musiime

Lawmakers in Tanzania have vowed to cause the removal of their Minister for Energy and Minerals, Prof. Sospeter Muhongo, for refusing to disclose contracts the government signed with oil and gas companies operating in the country.

The Minister angered the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament last week when he told them he could not divulge details of 26 agreements due to “technical reasons.”

But the legislators would hear none of that, and threatened to remove the Minister from office, arguing that the privilege of withholding such information lay solely in the hands of the President.

The Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) is now pleading with the MPs for more time to consult with the oil and gas companies before releasing the agreements, citing strict confidentiality clauses contained therein.

Surprisingly, Tanzania is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership, both globally accepted standards for transparency and public accountability.

But this apparent reluctance to open up its oil and gas sector to parliamentary scrutiny places it at the same unenviable non-transparent footing as its neighbour Uganda, which neither belongs to EITI nor OGP.

Kenya appears to have picked some lessons from Uganda as well, and their draft oil contracts contain those dreaded non-disclosure clauses. But by far, Uganda remains the most secretive of all.

A recent report by international campaigner Global Witness which revealed  that Uganda could have in fact got a good deal in some of the oil contracts got some people wondering why the government does not want to ‘celebrate’ this news with all Ugandans.

Secrecy comes with a price, both to the government and the extractive investments, as does transparency.

The price governments pay for transparency is much lighter and affects only the minority-specifically rogue politicians and connected greedy business people.

One would therefore expect any reasonable, democratically elected government to settle for the popular, less costly decision, one that improves the lives of the majority-the transparent decision.

East African governments are partly to blame for hyping the industry, rushing to the media to report new oil and gas discoveries and publicising their grand plans to set up multi-billion dollar infrastructure to commercialise those discoveries.

With analysts describing East Africa as the next oil frontier, citizens also joined in on the excitement, but it was not long before some started asking what exactly was in it for them.

But they are not likely to get answers soon because that oil ‘confidentiality’ plague, which arguably could have started from Uganda, has spread to the region, claiming more casualties in the five-member East African Community.

Image: Chris Musiime, Managing EditorChris Musiime is the Managing Editor, Oil in Uganda

editor@oilinuganda.org