The government asked Parliament to bar the media from covering proceedings on the Heritage Oil case citing a court order, the New Vision reported.
The Attorney General Peter Nyombi argued that there were confidential clauses in the Memoranda of Understanding between Heritage Oil and Uganda. The AG was appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Parliamentary affairs.
Mr Nyombi said that court had issued an order to have proceedings in camera to avoid tampering with evidence.
“Some of the things that you might be interested in have a court order, and some of the documents have confidentiality clauses,” he said.
The committee asked Mr Nyombi to avail them with agreements between the government of Uganda and Heritage Oil, but he said the documents can only be delivered if the meeting is going to be held in camera.
However, the parliament committee opposed this saying the matter was in public interest and that it would be good for the government to be transparent.
The MPS also conceded that when clauses that are confidential are debated, they will always request journalists to step out, but attend during the debate on information that is in public interest.
“The pressure so far is too much and the more you act like you are withholding information, the more it will become worse. It is in the interest of government to have this matter as transparent as possible,” said Abdu Katuntu, also the Shadow Attorney General.
One MP wondered, “I do not see how journalists have affected these proceedings. What is it you want to hide from them when these matters are of public interest?”
About the case
In May 2011, Heritage initiated arbitration against the Government for the release of, among other things, the $405m held by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) following the sale of its interests in oil Blocks 1 and 3A in Uganda in July, 2010. The stake was acquired by UK-based Tullow Oil at $1.45b last year.
In March, the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Tullow, separating the tax dispute from Tullow’s $2.93b deals with France’s Total and China’s CNOOC.
However, Tullow was forced to pay $313m as security for the unpaid tax bill.
In April, Heritage received a claim from the London High Court in which Tullow was seeking to recover the funds.
A month later, Heritage sued the Government in London, saying the sale of its assets in Uganda was not subject to a capital gains tax.
It based its argument on ‘comprehensive advice’ from tax experts in Uganda, the UK and the US.