Karuma dam stalls as govt stops contractor

Karuma hydropower dam and its spill gates section on October 23. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

What you need to know:

  • A source at the Energy ministry intimated to this newspaper that Sinohydro petitioned the ministry in April seeking intervention because the disagreement was stalling works at the site.

Government and Sinohydro Corporation are embroiled in a dispute over whether the company should proceed to carry out the dry and wet testing of Karuma hydropower station even with the defects on the plant.

The Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL), the project supervisor, said  Karuma hydropower station will not be commissioned at the end of next month unless the contractor, Sinohydro, rectifies particular defects in the multi-trillion plant. 

The construction of the dam commenced in December 2013 and was scheduled to last five years until December 31, 2018. 
However, due to the delays in land acquisition for the transmission lines and reservoir pools, the project could not be completed. Government agreed to extend the deadline at the contractor’s request to December 31, 2019. 

In December 2019, the project was not completed again over land acquisition challenges and the contract was extended to November 30, 2020. Both extensions were done at no extra cost to government.

The current disagreements suggest that there will be a third extension of the deadline.
Both Owner’s Engineer (OE) and government accuse Sinohydro of doing shoddy work and insist that unless the contractor corrects the defects, the company cannot be allowed to carry out preparatory tests for commissioning of the plant next month. 

A source at the Energy ministry intimated to this newspaper that Sinohydro petitioned the ministry in April seeking intervention because the disagreement was stalling works at the site.

In response, the ministry formed a joint team of engineers who visited the site a month later to conduct an independent assessment.  “The engineers found several defects and asked the contractor to perform remedial works before proceeding to start commission tests. The contractor agreed and corrected some during the Covid-19 lockdown period while some works have not yet been approved by the Owner’s Engineer,” he said.

 Mr Hou Fuqiang, the Sinohydro deputy project manager, who is also the project’s chief engineer, said the impact of the disagreements has been severe and stalled works for several months.

“The changes brought in by the new OE messed us up severely. We were at 86 per cent status when the new OE came in, procurement of all equipment from China was all completed and waiting shipment to Uganda but we were asked to change the design and start making fresh orders of equipment to fit the new changes. This was very frustrating, ” Mr Fuqiang said.

He added that the change in the project design and scope meant a typical deviation from the initial project contract terms and conditions.

 Whereas, Mr Fuqiang says the plant will be ready for commissioning by end of November, UEGCL insists it will not approve the commissioning because the contractor has not cured the defects or completed works on several sections of the plant.

In an email response to inquiries about the  disagreements, Mr Albert Byaruhanga, the UEGCL’s Karuma Project manager, told Daily Monitor that the unresolved works are the heartbeat of the power plant.

 “If not completed in a satisfactory manner, the safety, reliability and operability of the power plant are at great risk resulting in frequent plant downtime, maintenance problems, loss of generation revenue and ultimately reduced durability. This can potentially erode value for money,” Mr Byaruhanga said.

He said commissioning the plant by November 30 is unlikely.
 Mr Tonny Obonyo, the project’s legal officer, said conflict of interest arose between the project’s contractor and its employer (government) over an audit in which a sister company to the project was meant to carry out.

 “You have an audit firm auditing its sister company, that brought a lot of tension in the project because you can’t tell if the sister company will be fair and impartial and that disagreement has dragged on for long. Unfortunately the government has taken no action,” Mr Obonyo said.
Efforts to get a comment from OE, AF Consults authorities were futile. 

However, Mr Andre Voboni, the senior project manager at AF Consults, recently told government that they had tightened their grip on the contractor over the defects and errors, according to UEGCL’s GNEWS magazine.

 “If you do not supervise him and control him, he will try to benefit maybe with the materials or with anything. For instance, here in Karuma they refused to bring a cooling plant so they poured concrete for two or three years at high temperature,” he said.
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