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Oil, Gas, Minerals: How UGEITI Turned Enemies into Friends :: Uganda Radionetwork

Oil, Gas, Minerals: How UGEITI Turned Enemies into Friends

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For the first time, you are having government, companies, and civil society sit together on a round table and discuss matters of oil, gas, and minerals in peace and harmony.
08 Jun 2024 13:17
Field Development at the Kingfisher Project in Uganda's Albertine Graben. Credit Wambi Michael
When petroleum resources were discovered in Uganda in 2006, a rift emerged between the government and civil society. It was inconceivable that the government, civil society, and oil companies would meet in one room to discuss how to manage the resource. 

The situation has “greatly’ changed as what appeared like foes have turned into friends thanks to the implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). However, some challenges remain.

EITI is a public-private partnership designed to help resource-rich countries avoid corruption in the management of extractive industry revenues. 

EITI believes the fact that oil gas and minerals resources belong to the people and therefore they should benefit from their extraction and sale. Uganda joined EITI in August 2020Uganda has since established a functioning Uganda EITI Secretariat under theMinistry of Finance.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) supports improved governance in resource-rich countries through the verification and full publication of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas, and mining.   

Paul Bagabo leads Natural Resources Governance Institute’s (NRGI) programs and strategies in Uganda. Bagabo remembers how bad the situation between the civil society and the government was over a decade ago.

“I and a colleague went to Ranch on the Lake for a meeting organized by organized by the Ministry of Finance. We wanted to go in. They were told there some two people who wanted to attend the workshop. Therefore, the director then called me in. And when I got there I was told unfortunately we are not going to allow you in because this is a very technical area and you have little to offer” remembers Bagabo who had previously worked with the Ministry of Finance on budgetary expenditure frameworks. 

“I went back and told my colleague that they have said we could not go in because we had little to offer. So he asked me what he means we had little to offer. And I said we have little knowledge of the oil sector” said Bagabo. At the time, the fight between the government and civil society was out of the demand that oil-related agreements should be made public if the oil curse was to be avoided.

With Uganda joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), civil society sits on the Uganda Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG). The MSG is hosted by the Ministry of Finance and chaired by Moses Kaggwa, Director of Economic Affairs; Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.   

Scholars and policymakers now recognize good governance in the management of natural resources as key to ensuring that countries can prevent and escape the resource curse and translate resource wealth into inclusive economic development. 

Under EITI, civil society is considered a key factor in ensuring good natural resource governance. Paul Twebaze is the Executive Director at Probiodiversity Conservationists in Uganda, he sits on Uganda Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) he told URN thatcivil society representatives are taking part in instrumental committees on the group.

“For the start, we are doing well. There are indeed gaps. But these are gaps that can continue to be addressed as we continue to improve. Every time we draw lessons we continue to learn from our colleagues who have pioneered the EITI” says Twebaze, also a research fellow at Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment.

The Uganda MSG has committees that scrutinize reports from oil and mineral companies. A source at the UGEITI secretariat has indicated to Uganda Radio Network that civil society representatives have been more active compared to the representatives from the government departments.   

The EITI Board last month issued its report on Uganda. It said that Uganda has achieved a moderate overall score (78.5 points) in EITI implementation.  

“I commend Uganda for establishing a robust multi-stakeholder platform that facilitates public engagement and data-driven debate,” EITI Board Chair Helen Clark said.   

However, the board said further efforts are needed to disclose contracts and beneficial owners and to ensure that civil society can freely participate in the EITI process.     

“Building on a strong foundation for sector governance, stakeholders should prioritize concrete measures to disclose oil, gas, and mining agreements and beneficial ownership information. Safeguarding the broader civic space will be crucial to sustain transparent and accountable governance of natural resources in Uganda,” EITI Board Chair Helen Clark said.      

Some NGOs involved the Natural Resources have complained that the government was coercing them. Hellen Clark urged Uganda to address those concerns dating as far as 2017 before Uganda joined EITI.

Twebaze told journalists at Speke Resort Munyonyo that he could not underrate the fact that there are issues related to civil society space on the side of NGOs in terms of limited participation arising from restrictive laws. We have provided recommendations. We think that operation of the civil society in the context of transparency accountability, governance, and freedom of association will continue to improve,” says Twebaze.     

He said there are other aspects in the industry than the civic space why Uganda did not score above the moderate ranking it received from EITI International. 

Twebaze explained that Uganda has some laws like that of confidentiality that need to be relaxed to allow disclosure of contracts related to oil, gas, and minerals.   The National Oil and Gas Policy, of 2008, recognizes the role civil society organizations can play through advocacy, mobilization, and dialogue with communities.   

CSOs are expected to hold accountable the different stakeholders concerning oil and gas issues and participate in getting the voices of the poor into designing, monitoring, and implementing programs in the oil and gas sector.   

Clovice Bright Irumba represents the Petroleum Authority on the Uganda Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG). He told URN that the government thought that joining EITI was the best available mechanism for accountability. He said they have been seamlessly collaborating with civil society to ensure transparency and accountability in the sector.   

Henry Mugisha Bazira, the Executive Director of the Water Governance Institute (WGI) has sat at the MSG since its inception. He told URN that the fact that civil society has joined the government on EITI would ensure that its voices feature in the governance of the resources. He suggests that UGEITI should be turned into a form of a think tank.

“For the first time, you are having government, companies, and civil society sit together on a round table and discuss matters of the sector in peace and harmony,” says Bazira who has been involved in civil society work for close to two decades in Uganda.  

“I know what we have been going through. I could not even meet my friend Clovis; sit at the same table, and talk. Because of the different views, we were expressing,” says Bazira, who thinks the Muti-Staholder Group is the best thing to have happened to Uganda’s extractives or natural resources sector.

“I would suggest that the model is copied to the other sectors because we are dealing with extractives. Can we have a think tank? The U.S. has think tanks for the different sectors. And they generate ideas, they generate policy”    

According to Bazira, there are things that have come out for the knowledge of Ugandans that would not have ordinarily come out if Uganda were not part of the now 54-member countries transparency initiative.

“There is information from the mining sector which will not have reached Ugandan or the media if we did not have the MSG or EITI requiring the private sector or government to report on their operations,” says Bazira. 

The EITI secretariat said Uganda has instituted robust frameworks to manage its anticipated oil wealth and bolster the mining sector’s prospects. It said the enactment of the 2022 Mining and Minerals Act marked a significant milestone, paving the way for enhanced governance and transparency in the sector.   

EITI International said the establishment of Uganda’s EITI multi-stakeholder group (UGEITI) has played a pivotal role in enhancing public oversight and governance within the extractive sector.

“Moreover, civil society engagement within the multi-stakeholder group and has facilitated extensive public outreach and debate activities, focusing on areas such as contract transparency, beneficial ownership, fiscal justice, and local impact. However, further efforts are needed to ensure that civil society representatives can fully engage in public debate on the EITI process and express their opinions without restraint, coercion, or reprisal,” reads part of the statement. 

Engineer Irene Batebe, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development told URN that it has been realized that civil society can have a positive contribution in resource governance.

"We have built a good relationship with civil society in the country. We engage them on an ongoing basis on aspects of governance, transparency, and accountability and has ensured a good partnership with the civil society. Which is a very critical partner for the government" says Batebe.