Karuma dam bid: The inside story

Thursday September 13 2012

By TABU BUTAGIRA

KAMPALA

Eight of twelve members of the $2 billon Karuma dam project bid evaluation committee were each
absent for days when important decisions were being made, raising questions about their commitment
to and integrity of the process, now mired in controversy.

Our investigations show that whereas the evaluators were booked for 11 days at the exclusive 5-star
Chobe Safari Lodge in the Murchison Falls National Par, several of them kept commuting to Gulu,
Karuma and Kampala mostly on personal errands.

For instance, the Ministry of Energy senior procurement officer Amos Nsubuga Ssamba, told
detectives investigating the bid evaluators that on February 9, he left his colleagues at Chobe and
headed to Gulu town to clear electricity bills after a cheque he issued to Umeme, the power
distributor, bounced.

Two days later, Mr Ssamba upon authorisation by chairman Eng. Henry Bidasala, with whom he works in
the same ministry, chauffeured two colleague evaluators; John Mugyenzi (Managing Director, Uganda
Electricity Generation Company Ltd) and Moses Kaizzi (also of UEGCL) to Gulu ostensibly for
treatment – even when there was a resident driver for the team at the lodge.

The trio returned from Gulu town to Chobe the same day on February 11, but Mr Ssamba headed back
that evening to Karuma – the trading centre between Chobe and Gulu which is located next to the
proposed dam site. By his accounts, he had gone to pick a replacement laptop his son brought from
Kampala. Chobe Safari Lodge is before Karuma on the Kampala-Gulu highway.

A day after meeting his son, Mr Nsubuga would drive to Kampala to deliver a “letter to the head of
Procurement Mr Lutimba Henry,” a three-member team of senior police detectives noted in a
confidential report to CID director Grace Akullo.

The investigators included former acting police commissioner for Economic Crimes Fred Enanga, his
Anti-Corruption Department counterpart Charles Babweteera and the then in charge of police Data
Crime Management David Mwesigwa. Details of the police investigations show that individuals who
left the evaluation to seek treatment offered no medical report to prove they were unwell.

When the team shifted for three days to Sambiya Lodge, also within Murchison Falls Parks, one of
the evaluators, an engineer who hails from Bunyoro region, drove and spent the night at home,
according to accounts offered by Cpl Jackson Twinomuhangi, one of the team’s three police guards
from the VIP Protection Unit.

As members left Sambiya to return to Chobe, Energy official Suzan Watera instead drove to Kampala
reportedly to attend to her sick child, and was back to Chobe on February 21, the last day of the
evaluation.

Charles Byaruhanga of Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice’s Mary Nankabirwa and Electricity
Regulatory Authority’s Patrick Mwesige were each away on three days between February 12 and 20.
While some returned to the city to take examinations, others cited urgent official work and two
flew abroad.

The nights the 8 members, therefore, stayed away from evaluation committee meetings cumulatively
add to 20.

The irony is that entries by Chobe staff at the Reception shows that all evaluation committee
members spent the booked nights at the luxurious villa where government reportedly paid at least
$325 dollars (Shs812, 500) per room for each evaluation committee member each day. So how did
investigators unravel the alleged falsehoods? The cell phone did the trick.

This newspaper understands that the three senior police detectives armed with information
volunteered by a whistleblower – in a dossier to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets
Authority (PPDA) - decided to examine the officials’ telephone records for evidence of who was
telling the truth and lie.

The cellular phone mapping and tracking of masts from which call signals on mobile handsets are
received, showed more than half of the committee members lied about their location on some days
during the two-week appraisal exercise.

Committee chairman Bidasala yesterday declined to comment on the reported anomalies with the bid
evaluation process, particularly allegations of an alleged $2 million bribe and accounts of bitter
exchanges among them over the suspect disqualification of Sino Hydro C.M.C, resulting in a minority
report by three dissenting members.

“I’m not at ease to discuss that process because it is not yet public, he said by telephone. “Thank
you for giving me the opportunity, but whatever took place (at Chobe and Sambiya) is what we took
oath not to divulge.” The latest developments come to light following an exposé by this newspaper
yesterday detailing how the President’s Office – unknown to the bid evaluators – infiltrated the
venue and planted listening devices through which they eavesdropped on their conversations.

In an interview on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesman Mirundi Tamale confirmed that his boss has at
his disposal intelligence capabilities to probe “big infrastructure projects” following complaints
of corruption involving government officials. He, however, said he was not sure if the team that
camped at Chobe was one such group and had no knowledge about the leader.

Mr Tamale said: “All huge contracts are being investigated by a team set up by the President, but I
don’t know the members.” CID Director Akullo to whom the top police detectives handed their May 21
investigation report, was last evening reported - for the second straight day - to be meeting with
President Museveni at State Lodge, Nakasero. It was not clear if the findings by the Karuma bid
investigations were on the table in discussions between the two.

Court has already stopped the procurement process for the $2b (Shs5 trillion) project, which has
delayed since 1995 after allegations of bureaucrats soliciting kickbacks dogged the initial bidding
process. Afterward, Norwegian power company, Norpak, the selected contractor, said it lacked money
to build the 600 megawatt dam on River Nile and opted out.

The Karuma project, at the quoted price of $2b, is almost half of Uganda’s budget for the 2012/13
Financial Year, explaining the high stakes and counter-intelligence surveillance on those involved
in making the decisions. Bidasala’s committee had recommended China International Water and
Electric Corporation (CWE) and Perlite Construction as the best two of six evaluated bidders.

Evaluators this newspaper contacted yesterday declined to speak, citing confidentiality clauses.
The Kampala High Court issued an injunction on the procurement process last Friday, September 7,
roughly two hours before the contract’s committee was due, at 11 a.m. on that day, to announce the
top runners.

Lawyer Enos Tumusiime, a partner in Tumusiime, Kabega & Co. law firm, had filed an application on
September 5, challenging the unexplained disqualification of their client, Italian firm Salini Spa
which built the Bujagali dam, seeking administrative review.

The PDDA had also separately instructed Ministry of Energy to halt the process, but insiders said
top technocrats in the ministry were preparing to ignore the directive and planned to announce the
best evaluated bidder on Monday, Sept. 10, when they were served with a court injunction.

Trailing the evaluators

Police Inspector George Kasolo, head of the VIPP team, in accounts to investigators, said two days
after the evaluation exercise kicked off, noticed three suspicious people in a Mark II car,
registration UAQ 994V, who were photographing vehicles at Chobe Safari Lodge park to get their
number plates,

He briefed his detail to be vigilant around the stores and later, he was called by CPL Jackson
Twinomuhangi who informed him that one of the men in the said motor vehicle approached him asking
for some information about the evaluation exercise.

At about 10:30pm, Chobe General Manager called on IP Kasolo to whom the three men sighted earlier
introduced themselves as spies from the President’s Office. They struck a deal to work together and
police later helped them to install devices to bug Nile conference hall, the meeting venue for the
bid evaluators.

The Committee

Name Office
Eng. Henry Bidasala Min. of Energy
John Mugyenzi, MD, UEGCL
Moses Kaizzi UEGCL
Eng. William Nkemba UETCL
Charles Victor Byaruhanga Min. of Finance
Mary Nankabirwa Mukasa Min. of Justice
Geoffrey B. Muhanguzi Min. of Works
Cecilia Menya Min. of Energy
Zachary Baguma Min. of Energy
Susan Watera Min. of Energy
Amos Ssamba Min. of Energy
Patrick Mwesige ERA

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