The discovery of oil in Uganda in 2006 brought with it many promises - of economic growth, development and prosperity. These promises were particularly important to the two thirds of Ugandan citizens living on less than $2 a day.
Yet you only need to look at other resource rich countries to see how oil can bring with it corruption and conflict rather than prosperity and peace. In order to avoid the resource curse and ensure that oil benefits all citizens, transparency and accountability need to be integrated into the exploitation process from the start.
Despite the challenges Uganda faces, it discovered oil at a propitious time as new international rules (such as those contained in the EU Transparency & Accounting Directives, obliging all extractive EU-listed companies to publish their payments) mean there is more opportunity than ever for a transparent extraction process. For more on current transparency legislation and what it means for Uganda, please read a briefing from Global Witness.
Ugandan civil society organisations, including Publish What You Pay Uganda, have been pushing the government to join the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative since oil was discovered. Joining the initiative will enable citizens to see how much money has been paid to government by extractive companies and how much money the government has received. EITI’s new standard, which includes a more robust reporting system including project level payments, will make these figures even more useful. For Ugandan civil society, it is a chance to prepare itself for the flood of extractive data which the EU Directives will yield in a couple years. For the government, this is an opportunity for them to make good on their promises of an accountable sector. It will also support a smoother extractive process – the palaver over Tullow Oil’s contacts and bribery claims from a few years
back demonstrated how the mistrust opacity arouses can harm business.
The Ugandan government has on occasion declared its intention to join EITI and indeed EITI membership was an explicit part of the 2008 National Oil and Gas Policy. Last week, Ugandan civil society had hoped to hear a more concrete commitment from the government at the Getting it right from the start conference, which brought together various multi-stakeholders to discuss the need for transparency and accountability in Uganda’s oil & gas sector.
Yet at the conference Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka did not give a solid timeline for when the government will start preparing itself for EITI candidacy, though she reaffirmed the government’s decision to eventually join the initiative.
Speaking in reaction to statements made at the conference and in relation to next steps for the national civil society coalition, PWYP Uganda’s Winnie Ngabiirwe said:
“PWYP Uganda is disappointed with the Finance Minister's non-committal statements. We had higher expectations believing that phase one of EITI was starting today. However, we are glad that the government of Uganda still believes in EITI. We wish to express our continued commitment to advocating for EITI implementation in Uganda, and we shall continue engaging the government and Oil Companies over the same. We hope that these engagements will enable us to appreciate each other’s concerns, so that we can work on addressing them jointly. Since Hon. Maria Kiwanuka has assured us EITI is still on the government's menu, there is no better time than now to have it as a starter before oil production starts.”
To keep up to date on this topic, we’d thoroughly recommend Oil in Uganda. This fantastic website has plenty of resources and articles and is regularly updated. You can also find out more about the oil sector in Uganda by reading the Uganda wiki-oil.
Photo by Stefan Gara from flickr