Ugandan opposition wants clarity on oil sector

Uganda’s opposition wants more transparency in awarding oil contracts to foreign firms and may seek to review some deals if it wins power from President Yoweri Museveni in 2011, its main leader said on Wednesday.

Investor interest is heating up in the western region bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated two billion barrels of crude have been discovered by explorers including London-listed Tullow Oil.

Kizza Besigye, head of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), has lost two elections to his former close ally Museveni, and he is widely expected to run again in 2011.

“We know very little about what’s going on in the oil sector,” Besigye told Reuters in an interview. “The critical thing is that there should be transparency.”

He called on the government to publish complete details of oil finds and contracts awarded in the Lake Albert region.

Asked if the opposition would seek to change existing oil deals if it won power, Besigye said: “If the contracts were obviously tilted against the interests of our country, then without any doubt we’d seek to revise them.”

Oil explorers want at least limited exports to start recouping investments, estimated at $500-million by the end of last year. Analysts say the firms do not have the capital or will to build a major refinery in the area, but local media have reported interest from Iran and China in the project.

East Africa’s third largest economy has been hailed for its political and economic stability over the last two decades after years of ruinous civil war during the 1970s and 80s.

But Besigye said the nation needed to make important constitutional and legal reforms if it was to avoid a return to conflict.
“Failure to get reforms will inevitably mean that this country would degenerate into violence ... It’s a shame that we keep on going round and round in a vicious cycle,” he said.

One candidate?
The FDC and a few other opposition groups are in talks in the hope of fielding a single candidate at the ballot in 2011.

Besigye, who was Museveni’s doctor during the bush war that propelled his National Resistance Movement (NRM) to power in 1986, said he might stand again.

“If the necessity (of standing as a candidate) still arises, I will not be cowering away from it,” Besigye said.

“Our major focus now is to rally the entire opposition into a coordinated and focused group that can successfully overwhelm the dictatorship that currently runs the government.”

Museveni (64) has dismissed opposition calls for a reinstatement of term limits that would block him from running again. He says the only reform now needed is the computerisation of the country’s voter register.

Museveni has been widely praised for his macroeconomic reforms and poverty reduction. But critics, including some Western donors, have accused him of rights abuses, high-level corruption and the political repression of opponents.

Besigye said it was vital the government forbid the security services from interfering with elections, create a truly independent electoral commission and boost voter education.

“Those are utterly critical,” he said. “Any reforms that come beyond the end of year would render the possibility of having a free and fair election unobtainable.”

He said the opposition was still assessing whether it would be “prudent” to participate in the poll.—Reuters

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