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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has defended the payment of controversial $1.7 million in bonuses to 42 public officials who represented the country in an international tax oil dispute.

Mr Museveni, who had remained quiet following a public outrage over the payments dubbed “presidential handshake”, told a caucus of his ruling National Resistance Movement party that the reward was deliberate.

The officials, who included Uganda Revenue Authority commissioner-general Ms Doris Akol and her immediate predecessor Ms Allen Kagina, were awarded the money after winning an arbitration case against British explorer firms Heritage Oil and Gas and Tullow Oil over capital gains taxes on the resale of oil blocks.

“I reject that I did anything wrong. I am very proud of these young people,” President Museveni said on Tuesday.

Winning the case saw the government recover $700 million in revenue.

The president said it was no ordinary case and that those who helped Uganda win the “international war” did so “amidst pressure, challenges and temptations”.

“If the support staff were part of the big war that saved Uganda trillions and gained $451 million, if they get Ush50 million (about $14,000) for the first time in their life, it is okay. It was their luck that they were part of the war,” remarked President Museveni.

Another bonus payout

He further revealed that this was not the first time he was giving a bonus but insisted it was only his second since he took over power 30 years ago.

It has emerged that the two presidential monetary awards relate to Uganda’s nascent oil sector. The country discovered deposits of around 6.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil in 2006 in the Lake Albert basin but is yet to go to production.

The president told the caucus at State House Entebbe on Tuesday that he was “very happy with a group of scientists who had discovered oil and rewarded them publicly.” The highest paid person is said to have received about $20,000.

In the current bonus payout, President Museveni said the 42 civil servants would only share about Ush3.5 billion after tax deductions.

He, however, called for an investigation “if some names were smuggled onto the list.”

The president said the rest of the proceeds from the oil case was used to partly pay 15 per cent of the amount needed to start work on the Karuma and Isimba hydroelectric dams.

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