Uganda dismisses case seeking oil deals disclosure

Wed Feb 3, 2010 9:42pm IST

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* Court says government business does not have to be public

* Plaintiffs may appeal

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - A Ugandan court on Wednesday dismissed a case filed by two Ugandan journalists in 2007 to try and force the government to disclose details of oil Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) it has signed with explorers.

The Ugandan government has defied pressure to disclose the terms of its agreements with oil companies, saying that would greatly weaken its position in future licensing rounds.

A Chief Magistrate's court in the capital Kampala dismissed the case filed by Charles Mpagi and Izama Angelo, senior journalists at local newspaper the Daily Monitor who described themselves as private citizens in their petition.

"Government business doesn't have to be necessarily in the public domain... The applicants have not demonstrated that public interest in this case overrides private interest," the judgment read.

Late last year, another group, Greenwatch, filed a similar case against the government. [ID:nLDE6040SA]

Exploration firms discovered commercial petroleum deposits in 2006 in the Albertine Graben area that sits on Uganda's western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Production is expected to start later this year.

The journalists said in their suit that the government's refusal to disclose the PSAs protected the interests of a "handful of shareholders" against 31 million Ugandans in whose trust the government owned the petroleum.

They built their case around the country's Access to Information Act, meant to allow free access to information in public offices except where disclosure jeopardises national security or privacy of an individual.

"We argued that... disclosure of these agreements is essential to achieving transparency. This is our belief and we might consider appealing," Mpagi said after the ruling.

Uganda has signed five PSAs. Among the companies operating in the country are Britain's Heritage Oil (HOIL.L) (HOC.TO), Tullow Oil (TLW.L), Dominion Oil and Neptune Petroleum. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by George Obulutsa and Sharon Lindores)

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