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Oil debate turned into mob injustice fiasco

Parliament is currently receiving reviews and plaudits from every corner of civil society.

Members of the 9th House must be commended for standing up to be counted – especially on taking the scourge of corruption head-on.

But how much damage will have been done to reputations of those accused in case we find that parliamentary immunity was abused to peddle lies? And does Parliament still have the independence of mind to find unbiased evidence?

We hope that when the dust kicked up by the ongoing oil debate finally settles, Uganda will be the ultimate victor. But based on events in the aftermath of tabling the motion seeking to have the Production Sharing Agreements divulged, we wonder whether the movers of the motion and the ordinary folk in the country are on the same page.

I am afraid that going by the Bujagali dam debate and delay many years ago, the two days’ debate may also end up delaying investment and revenue inflows. In the two days that Parliament sat to discuss the motion, nobody talked about the disclosure of the agreements or tried to steer debate in that direction, even when most of the information was available in the National Oil and Gas Policy.

From star performer, Western Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga, to the tens of MPs who either laid “evidence” on table or backed the “evidence”, everybody called for those implicated to resign, making grand statements about the need to purge corruption from the country.

Now, there is an inconvenient truth, that the documents tabled by Karuhanga are a forgery. Is there any MP who has the guts to make that clarification on the floor? Parliament is instead going to spend more time and taxpayers’ money in investigations, becoming yet the latest victim of scam - after Andrew Mwenda and His Excellency the President.

So, the nation watched, as emotions got the better of logic and reason, but thankfully, days after the debate or lack of it, some Members of Parliament have expressed regrets over their performance, since they believed then, that the documents were authentic.

Nevertheless, we fault them for being undemocratic, when they heckled or shouted at anybody with an alternative view in mob seeking recriminations, seeking to crucify implicated ministers but not allowing them to respond.

Granted, heckling is a widely accepted form of expression in legislative houses around the world. But mob debate (injustice) is not. What we saw on the two ‘oil days’ was debate that degenerated into a vent of emotions, and an exchange of regrettable words, only protected by the precincts of Parliament.

Vice President Edward Ssekandi’s case exemplifies the irrational tone of the debate in the house. On pointing out that investigation into the authenticity of the documents under debate had discovered them to be false and forged, he was unceremoniously driven off the floor. One feels that even those that dared to veer the debate back to its gist, the need to disclose the contents of the PSAs, would have been thrown off the floor in similar dishonourable manner.

As it stands, information is that the movers of the motion are now seeking backing for a censure motion against the man they are seeking to get, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. But after that, then what? After this mob injustice ends, shall we see rational cool-headed and informed debate on oil?
The fight to rid this country of corruption must be supported by everyone, but so must the need to respect the rule of law, and the right to be regarded as innocent until proven otherwise.

Sadly, our MPs passionately sought to attack corruption but in so doing, forgot virtues ordinarily espoused by the House – rationality and honour. Most importantly though, they forgot that what they had come to talk about was oil.

The author works at the Uganda Media Centre

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