Golden Handshake turns bitter

A team of 13 national and international Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) including Global Rights Alert, petitioned the Parliament of Uganda on the illegal tax waiver of $157,095,366. The waiver was granted to Tullow PLC by government of Uganda upon sell of its interests in three oil exploration areas to CNOOC and Total E&P.

The team wants parliament to investigate how and why a 2011 capital gains tax determined by the Tax Appeals Tribunal to amount to $407,095,336 was not paid in totality by Tullow. They want to know why URA entered into a consent judgement and agreed with Tullow that the private oil company pay $250 million instead of the amount determined by the Tax appeals tribunal ($407,095,336).

“We invite the [parliament] to address itself to the issue of transparency by government of Uganda regarding oil transactions. In spite of all the reassurance that oil will not be a curse, the secrecy with which government is transacting business in the oil sector is the very definition of an oil curse,” the CSOs’ petition to parliament reads in part.

The petition is a build up to the controversial award of Shs 6 billion to a few civil servants. This sharing of oil revenues by a few well paid civil servants, which has been termed as Cash Bonaza or Golden handshake, has rocked the boat in Uganda.

What was once a silent citizen on oil issues has been awakened to the realities of what it would mean if Uganda’s 6.5 billion barrel oil sector remained unchecked and ungoverned.

Inquiries into the handshake have revealed that even tea girls and messenger boys earned over Shs 30 million for just stirring a cup of tea or putting paper into a photocopying machine.

The Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises has turned the cash bonanza onto its head, forcing minsters like Matia Kasaija to apologise while other government officials regret taking up jobs in civil service. It has questioned the legacy of some of the most powerful women in Uganda, URA’s Doris Akol, UNRA’s Allen Kagina and KCCA’s Jennifer Musisi.

What the CSOs are saying is that while this inquiry is good, parliament needs to look into an even bigger loss, the $157,095,366 which was lost when Uganda settled for less. They argue that URA should have followed appropriate procedures in adjusting the assessment.

“The committee should establish whether the board of URA, the minister, President or the Commissioner General took such a decision in her own discretion – which in our view would tantamount to abuse of authority,” the petition reads.

They say that Tullow still owns Uganda $157,095,366 as unpaid balance and argue that the Shs 6 billion handshake was a bribe to cover up a much bigger sum that Uganda lost.