Karuma, Isimba mess: President Museveni directed officials at the Energy Ministry to hand over implementation powers of the billion dollar Karuma and Isimba projects to power generator, UEGCL, in a bid save them but the officials remained adamant weeks later.
Energy ministry officials defy Museveni on botched billion dollar project
President Yoweri Museveni has finally been sucked into the firefighting now underway to save Uganda’s biggest electricity project from shoddy construction, incompetent contractors and supervisors, and jostling for control of the $2 billion budget.
The ongoing construction of the 600 MegaWatt Karuma dam and the smaller 183 MegaWatt, Isimba dam is reportedly under threat from shoddy workmanship by the Chinese constructors.
Allegations of bribes and kickbacks, which delayed the process of procuring of contractors for the two dams for almost two years, have followed the projects in their construction phase.
The shoddy work puts Museveni on the spot as he bypassed government procurement regulations and handpicked the construction firms.
Now, in an attempt to influence activity on the project, President Museveni on April 5 wrote a lengthy 8-point directive to the Minister of Energy, Irene Muloni. In point No.1 of the letter the President wrote: “Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) which was appointed as the implementing agency, which will also be the manager and operator of the completed dams, should be given full contract administration powers over the projects.”
Over two weeks later, the President’s directive had not been implemented. The question is why?
This is the second time in two months that the Ministry of Energy is failing to implement the President’s directives on the two dams. In the same letter above, Museveni starts by reminding Muloni of another letter he had issued on March 22 informing her of reports he was getting of shoddy works on the two dams. These included visible defects in the concrete, honey combs, cold joints, and unsealed holes on formworks, defects on draft tubes. In the letter, the President sounds angry and frustrated about the apparent shoddy work.
“How could this happen?” Museeni asks, “Didn’t we have any supervision from government on these facilities?”
President Museveni was furious with the contractors, the supervisor or Owners’ Engineer, Energy Infratech, an Indian company, which should have pointed out the shoddy works but did not.
The President also warns Muloni: “All these, I am told, if not urgently addressed properly, may have a serious effect on safety, reliability, stability, and durability of the dams in the long run”.
In the same letter, the President directed that three Ministry of Energy officials who are directly in charge of the projects should be suspended and investigated for neglect of duty.”
Museveni named Eng. Paul Mubiru, the director Energy Resources, Eng. Henry Bidasala Igaga, the project coordinator, Karuma and Ms. Cecilia Menya, the project coordinator, Isimba. Sources say President Museveni toed with reprimanding the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy, Kabagambe Kaliisa too. Kabagambe is at the centre of managers at Amber House who have been Museveni’s pride in his bid to increase Uganda’s power generation. They also, until recently, directly controlled both the electricity and extractives sectors. In the end, Museveni has not acted on Kaliisa. However, Museveni did not copy his letter to Muloni to Kabagambe. While Muloni is the minister, Kaliisa has been around longer and runs the ministry.
The same day, Museveni’s letter became public; a source intimated to The Independent that the Kabagambe held a meeting with John Mitala, the Head of Public Service and Secretary to Cabinet. Apparently, some of the suspended officials; especially Mubiru, is a close confidant of Kabagambe. Based on this, a member of Museveni’s intelligence unit told The Independent that Kabagambe could have been attempting to protect him. By press time, Mubiru’s known numbers were still off. Kaliisa did not respond to our calls about queries on the meeting.
Fighting for control
The emerging details so far indicate that what started as concerns over failures in the construction of Karuma and Isimba dams has blown into a full scale war over who controls the construction process of the two dams and later their operation with Museveni as a frustrated overseer of the fight.
At the centre of the scrum is Stephen Isabalija, the 40-year old board chairman of UEGCL, which, on paper, overseas all government dam projects, and Kabagambe Kaliisa, the 61-year old permanent secretary of the Ministry of Energy, who calls the shots.
Isabalija and Kabagambe’s teams are supposed to work as a single unit. They do not – with disastrous consequences. In the latest saga, although Isabalija’s team, which includes the UEGCL MD, Harrison Mutikanga, had raised several red flags for about one and a half years, The Independent has learnt that another more powerful camp at Amber House that comprises Ministry of Energy officials supposed to implement corrective action has failed to act.