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Chinese, Ugandans fight over Karuma Dam

Museveni accused of switching sides

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda’s biggest power project, the 600MW Karuma Hydropower Dam on River Nile, appears to be in trouble amidst allegations of shoddy works, breached contracts, verbal fights, and even accusations of sabotage.

In the fight, the Chinese contractors, Sinohydro Corporation Ltd, and the Minister of Energy, Mary Goretti Kitutu, appear to be on one side and the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) on the other.

UEGCL accuses the Chinese contractors, Sinohydro Corporation Ltd, of doing a shoddy job because they employ incompetent and inexperienced staff with questionable levels of workmanship as senior managers on the Karuma project.

UEGCL says the Chinese have failed to comply with the international standards and the technical specifications for the dam as stated in the Employer’s Statement of Requirements for Karuma HPP. UEGCL wants them removed from the project and replaced with engineers and managers who know their job. It says if the Chinese are not removed, there is danger of risk to safety, increased costs of the project, and damage and malfunction of equipment.

The biggest defects and non-compliance to contract specifications they are fighting over concern mainly the electro-mechanical installations.

In a February report, the Deputy Chairperson of the Karuma Hydropower Plant Project Steering Committee, John Berry, pointed out that Karuma Dam has unacceptable cabling work, corroded runners and turbine shafts, and unacceptable brake dust collection systems.

“My findings indicate a potential delay in commissioning of the units and a consequent delay in the commissioning of the power station if urgent action is not taken by the EPCC to correct the cable non-conformance,” Berry, who is a former general manager of the 250MW Bujagali Hydropower Dam, wrote.

“Parts of the cabling installation is not in compliance with any international standards, (and) presents a risk to persons and reliability risk to the units,” he added.

But in a comprehensive report written in February, the UEGCL CEO, Harrison Mutikanga, noted more defects in civil and hydro-mechanical works and the operation and maintenance (O&M) manual.

Civil defects include the out-of-tolerance spillway, unsafe access to pressure shafts, and powerhouse floors that are not separated to improve fire safety.  Defective hydromechanical works include corrosion damaged blades of runners and shafts among others.

“The materials used to manufacture the shafts and runners need to be investigated,” Mutikanga notes in a letter to the Permanent Secretary of Minstry of Energy, Robert Kasande.

UEGCL’s Harrison Mutikanga

Mutikanga says he wants Sinohydro to bring in people with adequate experience, who appreciate quality workmanship, and will work in a determined way to complete construction of the dam.

“The current site team has not demonstrated the objectivity and will to address the non-conformances with due urgency,” Mutikanga writes.

Mutikanga also wants the Government of Uganda to summon the bosses from Sinohydro Corporation Ltd headquarters in China to intervene in the crisis at Karuma.

Museveni shifting positions

But the Minister of Energy, Mary Goretti Kitutu on June 18 wrote back to the Chief Executive Officer of UEGCL, Harrison Mutikanga, that the contract should be completed and commissioned before November 30, 2020, as agreed.

“The contractor (Sinohydro) has presented the progress on the works and appears impressive,” she wrote.

She added a threat: “There will be no extension of the contract again. You should also be mindful that any contract that supports the achievements in the NRM Manifesto should be handled with utmost urgency or it may be taken as sabotage to the NRM agenda.

“Therefore, as I prepare to brief His Excellency the President on the project and its commissioning, it will be important that we all work towards finalising this project.”

In her letter, the Minister also listed the complaints the Chinese have against their Ugandan counterparts.

President Yoweri Museveni who is usually the final decision-maker in such cases appears to be swinging from one side to the other.

Latest reports indicate that Museveni on Oct.10 met at State House with officials from Sinohydro Corporation Ltd, the Ministry of Energy, and UEGCL among others over the issue.

Details from the meeting are scanty but the President appears to once again want the Chinese to fix the defects on Karuma Dam before it is commissioned and handed to UEGCL for operation and maintenance.

Earlier, in an Aug.13 communication to Energy Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu, Museveni had directed that the Chinese “expeditiously carry out all the critical remedial works before commissioning and takeover.” He also directed that the Project Manager and Senior Construction Management staff of Sinohydro Corporation Ltd be immediately replaced.

Museveni also told Kitutu to stop encouraging the Chinese to attempt to solve the technical problems at Karuma with her ministry and instead allow the Chinese engineers to resolve the technical issues with their Ugandan counterparts from UEGCL.

“The EPC contractor (Sinohydro Corporation Ltd) should be instructed to discuss technical issues with the Owner’s Engineer and not the Ministry of Energy,” Museveni directed.

Over a month later, nothing has changed at Karuma and word has been circulating that Museveni has in fact allowed the dam to be commissioned and handed over without the defects being fixed. If the information The Independent has from the Oct.10 meeting is accurate, Museveni wants the defects fixed first before the Chinese handover the dam.

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