Uganda gets "surprise" new finance, energy ministers

Sat May 28, 2011 3:22pm BST

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* Uganda to start oil production in 2012

* Museveni has named new PM linked to bribe claim

By Barry Malone

KAMPALA, May 28 (Reuters) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced a new cabinet, making what analysts said were surprise choices for the finance and energy portfolios ahead of expected oil production next year.

Museveni, in power for 25 years and fresh from an overwhelming but disputed election victory in February, revealed a mixture of new and experienced faces in a cabinet list sent to the media.

Maria Kiwanuka, a well-known entrepreneur who owns a radio station and has never been a minister or member of parliament, was named finance minister, while a former head of the state-run electricity utility, Irene Muloni, was given responsibility for the energy and mineral resources ministry.

Uganda discovered commercial quantities of hydrocarbons in the Lake Albert rift basin along its western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006.

Exploration firms estimate reserves of up to 2.5 billion barrels, though the government says there could be more.

Political analyst Nicholas Ssengoba told Reuters that both appointments were wise decisions but said the effectiveness of the ministers would depend on how much freedom they were were given to make their own decisions.

"Kiwanuka comes with no baggage. But she is a clean swimmer jumping into a dirty pool because the whole financial system in Uganda has problems - nepotism, bribery, corruption," he said.

CORRUPTION FEARS

Foreign oil companies, potential investors and donor countries regularly monitor Uganda's corruption levels and lobby the government behind the scenes to crack down on graft.

Museveni earlier in the week appointed Amama Mbabazi as prime minister, a move that surprised analysts because Mbabazi had been named in leaked U.S. cables as having taken bribes from Italian oil firm Eni (ENI.MI).

Mbabazi was one of two ministers the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry P. Lanier, urged Museveni's government to impose travel bans on over corruption, according to cables posted on WikiLeaks last year. [ID:nLDE6B911I]

Both ministers, and Eni, denied the accusations.

Several key ministers held onto their jobs in the cabinet reshuffle, including foreign minister Sam Kuteesa.

A decision to raise the number of ministerial positions to 76 from 70 has drawn derision from many Ugandan political commentators who say the cabinet is bloated and expensive.

Museveni has faced a series of anti-government protests in recent weeks, triggered by high fuel and food prices. The demonstrations have been crushed by security forces, drawing international condemnation.

Initially hailed by the West as part of a new generation of more democratic African statesmen, Museveni has come under increasing criticism for failing to root out high-level corruption and governing in an increasingly autocratic way.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)