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Politics, Bribery Charges Swirl Around Ugandan Oil

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) â¿¿ Even before the first drops flow, Uganda's oil sector is beset by bribery allegations against officials, tax-related cases abroad that cost the government millions in legal fees, and the alleged interference of a president whose firm control of the sector worries transparency campaigners.

Uganda, which has confirmed oil deposits of about 3.5 billion barrels, wants to extract at least 1.2 billion barrels over the next three decades. That figure could rise when more oil blocks are put up for exploration later this year, potentially making Uganda one of Africa's top oil producers.

But some experts and analysts worry that the country got off to a false start and remains too politically unstable to avoid some of the mistakes made by other oil-rich but otherwise poor countries.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has reserved for himself the right to have the final say before any deals are signed with oil companies, saying that policy is to ensure the country's interests are always protected. But some critics say the president's close involvement is unhelpful to a country that needs to focus on building credible, transparent institutions to manage its oil wealth whether or not Museveni is around.

In a session of parliament that sparked public uproar, an independent lawmaker fingered three government ministers he believed had been bribed by foreign oil companies seeking contracts with Uganda's government. The charges, denied by the three officials, forced lawmakers across the political spectrum to order an investigation that many here hoped would be swift and decisive.

Almost two years later, that investigation is still ongoing and Gerald Karuhanga, the lawmaker who first alleged bribery, says he no longer looks forward to seeing the investigators' report, if it ever comes out.

"It's taking forever," he said. "It's really unfortunate. I don't think they are serious about what they are doing. We are no longer enthusiastic about its release."

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