Cabinet has approved a bid to conduct a feasibility study to determine the justification of constructing a hydro-power dam at Murchison Falls National Park.
The government signed a memorandum of understanding with Bonang Energy and Power Limited, a South African company, to undertake a detailed feasibility study to establish the eligibility of building a power dam at Uhuru Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.
Earlier this year, the company applied to the Electricity Regulatory Authority for a permit to conduct the detailed study at Uhuru Falls.
Addressing journalists at Uganda Media Centre yesterday, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ms Irene Muloni, said in August this year, Cabinet halted the process following concerns raised by conservationists and tour operators, but reviewed its decision on Monday and resolved to have the feasibility study that will inform the final Cabinet decision about the establishment of the power project based on scientific findings.
“In order to make a scientifically informed decision, Cabinet reviewed its decision yesterday (Monday) and agreed that a feasibility study is undertaken on the Uhuru Falls site,” Ms Muloni said.
The minister said Uhuru Falls and Murchison Falls are separate falls that are adjacent to each other. She said the feasibility study will be conducted at Uhuru Falls.
Ms Muloni argued that it is only through a scientific study that government will determine the impact of the project on the environment, tourism and ecology at the proposed site.
She said the feasibility study will include assessment of the technical, environmental, socio-cultural, economic and financial viability of the project, with government to ensure thorough supervision so that its interests are taken into consideration.
He said the study will also bench-mark similar projects where power dams have been previously proposed in ecologically sensitive areas.
Speaking at the same press conference, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, said the state has a constitutional obligation to protect the country’s natural resources.
He said tourism being the leading foreign exchange earner, government cannot make any decision that is likely to reverse the sector’s contribution to the country’s economic development.
Prof Kamuntu said the Cabinet decision meant that there has to be nothing done unless the study showed that there won’t be any disruption of the conservation nature of Murchison Falls.
“To settle this debate, we agreed that you don’t touch this natural beauty unless there is scientific proof that you can have hydropower without compromising this source. Surely, if you put yourself as a member of Cabinet, how else would you make a decision without evidence?” Prof Kamuntu asked.
The chairman of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Mr Everest Kayondo, said this was a mere gimmick and ploy to deceive Ugandans with a government harbouring a motive to destroy Murchison Falls.
“Blessing the study alone is abominable,” Mr Kayondo said.
He said government is aware that the Uhuru Falls referred to do not have the adequate water and pressure required to generate the electricity government is talking about, which will force them to get to Murchison Falls.
“ We are so disappointed by Cabinet and I want to assure you that we are not backing down. We shall continue fighting this,” Mr Kayondo said.