* Court says government business does not have to be public
* Plaintiffs may appeal
By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, Feb 3 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
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)