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Probe Committee Grills Energy Officials on Oil Cash

Explaining his role, Rubondo who is the Executive Director of Petroleum Authority told the probe committee that he received 120 million Shillings, close to 70 times more than his monthly salary of 1.2 million shillings then as a commissioner. He told the legislators that his role was to support Ugandas team by ensuring that the Heritage Oil team didnt leave the country before honouring their contractual obligations.
COSASE chairperson Abdu Katuntu with other committee members.

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Parliament's committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) has quizzed five officials from the Ministry of Energy who benefited from the six billion shillings 'presidential handshake'.

The officials were led by the Minister for Energy Irene Muloni who, however, was not among the 42 beneficiaries. President Yoweri Museveni gave out the money as reward to government officials for winning a multi-million dollar case against Heritage Oil and Gas.

The quizzed officials include Ernest Rubondo, the former Commissioner in the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department, Ali Malingo, the assistant commissioner, Moses Egunu, who was Rubondo's personal secretary, Geophysicist Alex Nyombi and Joyce Mbabazi, a records assistant.

The five were tasked to explain their role in the oil case but before their response, COSASE chairman Abdu Katuntu asked Minister Muloni whether it was proper for civil servants to solicit for rewards.

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Explaining his role, Rubondo who is the Executive Director of Petroleum Authority told the probe committee that he received 120 million Shillings, close to 70 times more than his monthly salary of 1.2 million shillings then as a commissioner.

He told the legislators that his role was to support Uganda's team by ensuring that the Heritage Oil team didn't leave the country before honouring their contractual obligations. This prompted Katuntu to task him on how he stopped Heritage Oil from leaving Uganda.

Rubondo then said that he advised Minister Muloni against Heritage Oil leaving before fulfilling all the compliance clauses highlighted in the Oil Production Agreements.

However, Katuntu rubbished his argument saying this was already provided for in the contract, and there was nothing extraordinary about the role he played. But Rubondo stood by his role saying the precedent was new in the country in terms of documentation.

He further stated the hurdle he went through giving evidence in courts of law in Uganda and in London as being good enough, for him to deserve the money.

“I was the factual witness in both the Tax Tribunal and Court in London. My role as a witness involved preparing documentation and I had to be cross examined by those people trying to avoid paying tax,” Rubondo said.

Katuntu still put it to Rubondo that there was nothing about being a witness given the fact that as a civil servant, he was mandated to defend the interests of Government. Katuntu also reminded Rubondo that he isn't the first person to represent government in court, as other public servants have done the same before.

For Mbabazi, who earned 35 million shillings for searching documents, filing and furnishing the government team with handy information, was unable to specify the exact documents he gave the team and how this was outside his ordinary tasks as a civil servant.

She told the committee that she was made to work odd hours as she had to prepare documents needed by the technical team for the oil case.

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Geophysicist Alex Nyombi who received 200 million Shillings said he prepared requisite documents for the case since he had benefited from government through a Master of Science in Oil and Petroleum Law from Leeds University, UK.

But when asked for any legal opinion he submitted, Nyombi noted that there was no reason for anyone to go and compile legal opinions.

Nyombi also cited an incident when electricity went off as he was coming from a meeting at 2 AM, arguing that the public should realise that the case was tasking for the team and therefore deserved the reward.

The tax dispute arose after Heritage sold its interests in Uganda's oil to Tullow Oil and Uganda Revenue Authority demanded more than 400 million dollars in capital gains tax.