Thursday, 28 November 2013

My vote on Uganda’s oil money goes to Good Governance

William odinga is now a blogger courtesy of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Probably this is the best opportunity I have to thank those two institutions and my facilitator Johnson Opigo. How to successfully juggle blogging and my traditional journalism will be determined by my level of commitment – they played their part! 

I am now a blogger, or call me an upcoming blogger – and that is how I last week ended up at ACMEfor a 2-day training in blogging on Oil & Gas. Uganda expects to start oil production in 2018 so you had better positioned yourself to tap from the oil and associated businesses, if you had not yet done so. I am told experts in the world’s oldest trade have been flocking the Albertine Rift (Uganda’s oil region) since 2006 when commercial oil deposits were confirmed. You can visit Hoima town, which locals have renamed the Oil City, and verify this information for yourself.

Odinga interviews a fisher woman at Wanseko

Colleague Wilson Emusaga films in the Oil region
Back to the money: Uganda expects over 2bn dollars annually from this oil. Expected total oil volumes are 3.5bn barrels of which 1.2bn barrels is recoverable oil. I hope you have understood that. CNOOC Uganda has already got a production license for Kingfisher fields. Tullow Oil plc and Total E&P should get theirs in due course. The question is; what is in this oil for Ugandans? Is it money, roads, schools, hospitals, democracy, diseases, starvation or teargas and kiboko? Of course everyone wants to know about the Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) between the International Oil Companies and the Ugandan government but government prefers to keep this a secret probably because this is the real money sharing issue. I have no idea how much will end up in my pocket because my positioning is still very remote – and I am not sure I will be welcome near the sacks, but as always, I am thirsty for information.

Civil Society Organization (CSOs) can burst secrets but not always. There is a lot more they don’t know in regard to the oil sector. Henry Bazira, Executive Director of the Water Governance Institute and former Chairman of the Civil Society Coalition on Oil & Gas thinks CSOs have scored just about 20% in monitoring what the oil companies are doing in the oil region. Whether they are following procedures to reduce the negative impacts of oil related activities on the environment and the communities is a matter of trust.

Bazira addresses bloggers at ACME

“We are relying on government information. We should have done benchmark studies but we have not achieved that. We are establishing community based monitoring teams but we even have no money to buy them telephones,” Bazira tells bloggers.
So here we are: a broke civil society acting as watchdog to rich oil companies and a leadership that prefers to keep some information to itself. Interestingly Bazira turns his pleas to equally broke journalists (bloggers inclusive): “Even the Ministry [of Energy and Mineral Development] only does quarterly monitoring - quarterly? You go there to do what? If our media does not bring out some of these cases we shall not succeed,” he says.

So whom can we rely on for correct information about the oil exploration and extraction activities? The oil fields are in a remote region, really difficult to access. Most of us (journalists) cannot make it there on our own. Like CSOs, we also rely on some donations to be able to get there. These days securing a few dollars from a donor is like squeezing blood out of stone. I don’t know if they are tired of our begging or are just afraid to admit that they too are broke. Whom should we trust? Oil companies, our Parliament, or the Executive? 

No Ugandan would wish for wrong outcomes from the oil opportunity. We always wish and hope for the best but the reality can be the opposite. I fear a hush reality. 

A few years ago while I was at FAONILE we produced very interesting scenarios focusing on agriculture in the Nile Basin. We saw four different futures among them one of Unintended Consequences. In such as scenario (replace agriculture with oil), we can consider that Oil companies are transparent and remitting whatever is due to our government but our government is unprepared to put the money to collective benefit, just to avoid the words corruption and mismanagement. What will happen?
In another scenario we saw Double Burden. I just can’t imagine what will happen when the two, Government and Oil companies, either connive to devour the resources or each fight to pull the biggest share to its side. Will the population just look on?

Our President has told us that he wants the oil money to go to the
President Yoweri Museveni
followings strategic areas: Energy, including electric power generation and transmission; Road and railway upgrading and construction; Agricultural irrigation schemes; and Science and Technology capacity and training. Does he really mean it, or is it what we (Ugandans) want with our money?
Certainly not everyone’s view can count but we still can grant ourselves the opportunity to have our say: I vote to put a significant amount of the oil money towards GoodGovernance because when we get that right there is no way we can fail to get the others correct! How do you think Uganda’s oil money should be spent?

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