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Museveni enters fight over Karuma, Isimba

Museveni appoints team to tame defiant Muloni, Kabagambe

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President Museveni (L) and Kabagamba Kaliisa in a photo montage

On Aug.9 the Ministry of Energy headquarters at Amber House in Kampala was a bee-hive of activity. Representatives from power generator, UEGCL, the Finance Ministry, the Attorney General, Electricity sector regulator, and ERA converged there for an important meeting. The meeting was to discuss President Yoweri Museveni’s latest directives on the implementation of the biggest projects in Uganda; the simultaneous construction of the 600MW Karuma Hydropower dam and the smaller 183MW Isimba dam.

The meeting was supposed to kick off at 2pm. When by 3pm it had not started and Energy ministry officials had not joined them, the assembled officials became restless.

Soon their worst fears were confirmed, the Minister of Energy, Eng. Irene Muloni, who was scheduled to chair the meeting communicated that she had got an abrupt engagement and the meeting was postponed until Aug.11.

Sources at the meeting told The Independent that the officials looked at each with expressions ranging from knowing smiles, frustration, and anger.

All of them were aware that President Museveni had been compelled to pen another strong-worded letter demanding the implementation of demands he had been making over and over again to both Muloni and the Ministry of Energy PS, Kabagamba Kaliisa over changes he wanted made regarding the construction of two hydro power dam projects.

Museveni’s first letter was on March 22. Another letter came on April 5. It was ignored, together with others that followed from other officials. His latest letter, was issued on July 23. The people gathered at Amber House were keen to see what would happen this time.

When Aug.11 came, and the meeting again did not take place because the minister communicated that she was engaged elsewhere, any hopes of Museveni’s directives being implemented faded. Instead, questions were once again being asked by what hold Muloni and Kabagambe have over Museveni to the extent that they are “untouchable”. The two are very close to each other.

Energy Minister Irene Muloni

Many recalled that, following their continuous defiance, it was thought Museveni would have moved Muloni from the Energy ministry during the recent June cabinet reshuffle and move Kaliisa. Nothing happened.

Part of the reason for hope this time was that, apart from raising concerns, Museveni’s latest directive had also appointed members of the Project Steering Committee (PSC) for Karuma and Isimba. They include Eng. Dr Badru Kiggundu of the Electoral Commission as chairman, John Berry as the Deputy Chairperson of the PSC.

Observers felt that Muloni and Kaliisa could see that Museveni was determined and was now entering the fight.

Museveni also directed that the other members of the PSC should include; the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance/ Secretary to Treasury, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the Chief Executive Officer, UEGCL, the Chief Executive Officer, UETCL; and the Solicitor General.

“The cardinal duty of this committee as envisaged under the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between MEMD, UEGCL and UETCL was to offer timely and strategic guidance to project implementation,” Museveni writes, “It’s for this very reason that I have decided to strengthen it and beef it up with non-government officials, that is, the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson.”

President Museveni said that the committee’s immediate task should be to streamline the projects implementation structure and the communication protocol and, to solve most of the pending technical and contractual challenges on the projects.

He also directed that the Energy Ministry works with UEGCL to ensure proper facilitation for the committee to do their work smoothly. I expect to get a quarterly progress report on the projects from the committee, Museveni notes.

“I believe that, with the above guidance,” Museveni wrote, “this committee should be able to handle and resolve any pending and emerging project implementation challenges because every stakeholder in the projects (at least on the side of government), is represented on the committee; so decision making at the committee level should be as quick as possible.”


Museveni ignored again

At the time of writing this story, almost a month after Museveni’s directive, Muloni and Kaliisa had not communicated their intentions to the other parties. Efforts to reach the minister on her known mobile were futile as it was off. The Independent could also not reach Kaliisa as he didn’t pick his known number.

Behind Museveni’s directives to Muloni and Kaliisa lies a tussle by officials at the Uganda Electricity Generation Limited (UEGCL) to gain control of the implementation process of Uganda’s biggest dam so far.

According to insider information, UEGCL’s main arguments to Museveni are that they are the rightfully mandated body to oversee such projects and that the Ministry of Energy if failing to supervise, is allowing shoddy work, and is leading the projects to over-shoot budgets.

Both dams were initially estimated to cost government just over Shs7 trillion.

But a high level independent audit of the two projects by the German firm, ILF Consulting Engineers, revealed they would require an extra Shs1.8 trillion to complete. The audit revealed that the contractors are allegedly cutting corners to save money. One of the reports reveals that the contractor might have saved upward of US$50 million as a result of cutting corners.

Dr Kamal Gautam who wrote the report indicated that some of the extra cost is directly as a result of the tussle between the agencies involved in the implementation of the projects.

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