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Special Reports

Uganda Journalists’ Body Questions Petroleum Bills

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search geneva; font-size: small;”>The two bills -Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill and Petroleum Refining, Gas Processing and Conversion, Transportation and Storage Bill introduced recently seek to regulate the oil sector.

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In a statement to the natural resources committee of parliament on Monday, the journalists cited clauses which if passed would infringe on the journalists’ right to provide information to the public on the nascent sector.

“UEJA is concerned about the clauses in the two bills regarding information and documentation with particular interest in availability of information to the public and confidentiality of data,” the journalists’ group said.

“UEJA is also worried about the penalty and offences prescribed in the bills which we think will impinge on the rights of journalists to provide information to the public.”

On confidentiality, the bills state that all data submitted to the government by a licensee shall be kept confidential and shall not be reproduced or disclosed to a third party by any party, except in the case of disclosure by licensee, with the prior written consent of the government.

On disclosure of information, the bills state that information furnished, or information in a report submitted under this act by a licensee shall not be disclosed to any person who is not a minister or an officer in the public services except with the consent of the licensee.

The journalists’ body argues that the clauses contradict both the Constitution and the Access to Information Act 2005.

“Who determines matter of confidentiality? The scope of confidentiality is unclear and is subject to interpretation by government officials that could prevent disclosure in many cases,” the statement reads.

It adds: “For example it is unclear if a journalist can be given information regarding production levels, revenue generated by the industry, company payments to government and other oil information for public consumption.”

The journalists also raise issue with a clause that recommends that a person who obtains and discloses information related to petroleum activities commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred currency points (Shs10 million) or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.

“Many journalists and their media houses can hardly afford to pay such a fine,” UEJA said. “It means that journalists will be imprisoned for five years because of their profession…Citizens will be denied information.”

Also, the Petroleum Bills require all confidential information to be withheld for the period of time as specified in the license or other agreement, which journalists say is inconsistent with Access to Information best practices. Also, oil information disclosure is subject to administrative discretion of individual government officials.

The journalists’ body recommends that parliament passes petroleum laws that will allow Journalists to access information so that the public holds government accountable and transparent.

“Accessing the right information will help journalists provide accurate, reliable and credible sources of information on public affairs and enhance effective tools for monitoring official power and provide vibrant forums of public debate,” UEJA said.

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