Over the last 14 years since Uganda’s discovery of commercially viable oil volumes in the Albertine Graben, accountability and transparency in the country’s developing oil sector has been a polarising issue.
There has been an explosive debate pitting government and civil society organisations over the secrecy of oil contracts and the receipting system from the oil companies.
With the country’s admission to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), there is an expectation that there will be more openness in the oil and gas sector.
As the sector leaps to the next phases of oil development and production, this initiative will be put to a litmus test.
Civil societies and donors have warned Ugandans against catching the resource curse which has long plagued Africa’s oil producing countries like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Chad where oil revenues seep from its collection points.
In Uganda, this fear came to reality when Bank of Uganda Governor, Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, while appearing before parliament on November 2, 2011, revealed that the president asked him to release $740m (Shs2.6tn) from the national forex reserves to buy fighter jets on the promise that it will be replenished when the capital gains tax from Heritage will be paid.
Since then, civil society has been wary of government.
Mr Onesmus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) says while government has improved its stand on accountability, it does not meet the expected standards.
Mr Mugyenyi adds that joining the extractives initiative was long overdue.
Ms Winnie Ngabirwe, the executive director of Global Rights Alert, a civil society organisation in the extractives sector shares similar views.
Ms Ngabirwe says there is an oversight by government to ignore communities who are most affected by this policy.
According to the World Bank, the start of commercial oil production offers Uganda long term prospects to diversify the economy that will elevate the country to the lofty middle income status by 2040.
With commercial oil production at peak, the bank estimates that Uganda could earn up to $300b approximately Shs7tn in revenues.
However, the World Bank says this is only possible if there is good governance and transparency.
Mr Moses Kaggwa, the director of economic affairs in the finance ministry, who steered Uganda towards joining the transparency initiative, says government has done a commendable job.
Mr Kaggwa says the Petroleum Fund illustrates government’s commitment to enforce transparency and accountability.
Uganda’s joining of the transparency initiative offers a gleam of hope that the country will emulate other nations that have put good use of their petrol dollars to their citizens and improve service delivery.