President Museveni has appointed out-going Electoral Commission chairman, Dr Badru Kiggundu, to chair a project steering committee to oversee the successful completion of Karuma and Isimba hydropower projects. The two flagship projects have been the subject of bickering between different government departments, leaving contractors to get away with shoddy works.
Sunday Monitor has seen a copy of a letter dated July 23, addressed to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ms Irene Muloni, in which Mr Museveni – writing for emphasis in bold and underlining his fresh instructions – orders a number of changes after his earlier instructions were ignored. This newspaper on July 26, reported how the ministry’s top officials had ignored the President’s directives to transfer all supervisory functions on the dam projects to Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) after reports that ministry officials’ laxity had led to shoddy works with serious cracks on the Karuma dam.
Doing the opposite
Instead, the ministry was also soliciting an extra $4.2million (about Shs14.2b) from the Ministry of Finance to boost the manpower requirements of Energy Infratech, which the President faulted for the mess at the two dams, calling the firm “unserious.” The firm is yet to receive the money from Finance.
In the letter to Ms Muloni, Mr Museveni writes, reminding the minister of his April 5 directive in which he raised a host of issues, including change of the owner’s engineer’s key project personnel, operationalisation of the project steering committee, and transfer of full projects contract administration powers to UEGCL.
“I am aware of the steps the ministry is taking to implement my directive in regards to the transfer of the full projects contract administration powers but I insist that this process of transfer should be done as expeditiously and legally as possible. The legal opinion of the Solicitor General should be properly followed,” the President writes.
He adds: “I am also aware that my directive in regard to the replacement of the owners’ engineer key project personal on both projects has not been implemented. I demand the ministry asks the owner’s engineer to withdraw his current key project personnel from both projects and deploy personnel with requisite experience as those who were proposed at the bidding stage.”
This newspaper earlier reported that the ministry had slept on the directive as it sought the opinion of the Solicitor General, with Energy ministry permanent secretary, Mr Kaliisa Kabagambe, writing to the Finance ministry on May 4, that while the ministry is “anxious” to implement the takeover of the projects as directed by the President, it must be “carried out carefully as it has serious legal, technical and administrative consequences, which require this ministry to seek the legal opinion of the Solicitor General on how to proceed”.
A senior official with Energy Infratech, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the press, told this newspaper in an interview on Friday the firm had followed Mr Museveni’s directive and submitted a new team of project managers for the two sites to the ministry for approval.
“The President’s directive is more than three weeks old and I can say without fear of contradiction that we have implemented every letter of it. In fact, shortly after his letter, the PS ministry of Energy too wrote to us and we followed both directives. We have submitted our new project team and await the approval from the ministry,” the official told this reporter in a telephone interview.
When contacted for a comment on the development, UEGCL chief executive officer Harrison Mutikanga referred this newspaper to the company’s head of corporate affairs, Mr Simon Kasyate.
Mr Kasyate said: “We have heard about that letter but I have not seen it. I cannot therefore comment on a letter we have not received.”
About the projects
Karuma dam. Projected to produce 600MW, Karuma dam was awarded to Chinese firm Sinohydro in June 2013, starting construction in December the same year. It is expected to be commissioned in December 2018. China committed to finance 85 per cent of the dam’s $1.6b (Shs5.2 trillion). Uganda borrowed Shs1.435b (Shs4.7 trillion) from China’s Exim Bank and obtained the balance from the country’s Energy fund. This newspaper reported recently that only 30 per cent of the work had been accomplished two years into the project and the balance would be completed by December 2018.
Isimba Hydro Power Station is a 183 megawatts power project worth $570million (Shs1.4trillion) under construction by China International Water & Electric Corporation. The project is financed by a loan from China’s Export-Import Bank after Parliament gave government a nod to borrow $482.5 million (about Shs1.5 trillion) from China Exim Bank at two per cent annual interest repayable over 20 years. Uganda will contribute the remaining $107 million (Shs350 billion).
In respect to the Constitution and operationalisation of the project steering committee, Mr Museveni directs “the cardinal duty of this committee as envisaged under the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding between the Energy ministry, UEGCL, UETCL (Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited), was to offer timely and strategic guidance to project implementation. It is for this very reason that I have decided to strengthen it and beef it up with non-government officials, ie (chairperson and the deputy).”
The deputy chairperson is Mr John Berry, a South African but resident in Uganda and has considerable experience supervising in hydropower projects.
Mr Kiggundu’s contract as chairman of the EC expires in November, bringing his tenure that started in 2002 to an end. He was associate professor, head of Civil Engineering department and later dean of faculty of Technology at Makerere University, while Mr John Berry currently heads Bujagali Energy Limited, having had a stint with Eskom Uganda Limited. Sources familiar with the energy sector opine the South African national brings a wealth of experience to the two projects. Other members of the committee are: PS ministry of Finance (secretary to the treasury), PS ministry of Energy, CEO UEGCL, CEO UETCL and the Solicitor General.
The committee’s immediate task will be to streamline the projects implementation structure and the communication protocol and, “to solve the technical and contractual challenges on the projects.” The committee will give Mr Museveni quarterly briefs updating him on the progress of the projects. The President also wants all senior government officials on the committee to participate in person and when they delegate to strictly send other senior officials, “that can make a substantial contribution during the proceedings of the committee.”