Probe Isimba Dam mess to re-assure Ugandans

Site. An aerial view of the Isimba hydropower dam that is still under construction in Kayunga District. PPU PHOTO

What you need to know:

The issue: Isimba Dam

Our view: There are too many lingering questions for the government and UEGCL to consider for the proper running of Isimba now and into the future.

The government has come up with an almost instant counter measure against the power shortfall in the country that was occasioned by the emergency shutdown of Isimba Dam – buying 60MW from Kenya to compensate and ordering the contractor back on the site to attend to the damage.

In a country where everything moves at snail pace, this is quite commendable but that is also where the red lights start blinking.

It is difficult to find a more casual approach to a crisis of such magnitude. Isimba Dam is a national asset worth Shs2 trillion and is only three years into operation. Yet there is only bickering between the contractor, China International Water and Electric Corporation, and Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL).

That the 183MW dam flooded last week but there is no indication that anyone is being held accountable for what happened is typical Ugandan leadership. It is more like a normal occurrence at Isimba that should be fixed and the taxpayer should not know what exactly is happening out there.

Flooding nearly submerged the powerhouse that houses generators, turbines and other electrical installations requisite for electricity generation due to a defective radial outflow gate, also short-circuited switchboards, electric motors, and other equipment. An estimated Shs15b was lost in this single incident, which the government admitted was due to human error. The proper procedure should have seen a thorough inquest whose result would be available to the public.

Yet as it stands, the “human error” will probably get away with a caution and because the government has not committed to a complete investigation to ascertain the structural integrity of the facility.

At its commissioning in 2019, reports suggest the dam almost flooded. And with just a press of a button last week, it flooded to near tragedy and has left the taxpayer bleeding billions of shillings. Is Uganda running turbines at a facility that is prone to flooding and what contingency plans are in place at Isimba?

If the dam nearly flooded at its commissioning as  reported and it has now flooded due to what is being casually treated as human error that can be overlooked, should the public not be given a proper reassurance about the operational validity of Isimba?

The government might be looking at the defects liability period under which the dam still operates and thanking itself that China International Water and Electric Corporation is legally required to return to Isimba to repair any defects. But what happens if another wrong button is pressed after the defects liability period expires?

There are too many lingering questions for the government and UEGCL to consider for the proper running of Isimba now and into the future. Unfortunately, the answer will not be 60MW bought from Kenya. The answer must be found at the Isimba Dam.

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