In one of the documents seen by The Independent, Badru Kiggundu, the chairperson of the Project Steering Committee for Karuma and Isimba hydropower projects, says that EIPL, for a long period of their contract tenure, did not mobilize experienced key supervision personnel including quality control specialists, electromechanical specialists and an experienced geotechnical engineer to fully lead in supervision of construction of the embankment dams, in spite of repeated recommendation and calls to fill the agreed project supervision structure.
Kiggundu says this compromised the construction control aspects and, in some instance, led to non-conformances related to material placement and dam monitoring instrumentation for both the left and right embankment dams.
“Installation of dam monitoring equipment and construction for embankment dams is critical for dam safety on projects of this nature,” Kiggundu says, adding, “The associated risks for dam failure can lead to catastrophic effects on the downstream of the hydropower plant if they materialize.”
He says that the biggest undoing was also regarding the change of materials for electro mechanical and hydro mechanical equipment.
“The alterations on the technical specifications happened by either omission or commission of the supervising consultant/owner’s engineer,” he says.
The above underperformance was also noted in the recently concluded (September 4, 2017) independent audit report on Isimba and Karuma conducted by Mott MacDonald which The Independent has seen.
But UEGCL top officials say the quality gaps left behind by EIPL at Isimba were being fixed and had no significant negative impact on the lifespan of the facility.
EIPL officials declined to comment on this matter.
But will new OE deliver?
With the clock ticking, UEGCL is racing to ensure the dams are delivered. But UEGCL is fighting to wade through the red tape and navigate the fights with officials at Energy and Finance.
“The plan was to replace the Owner’s Engineer sometime in 2016 when we did the first audit and found quality gaps but the Ministry of Energy did not believe us,” a source at UEGCL told The Independent when asked about the reasons for not having a new OE in place for Isimba on time.
Mutikanga, the chief executive officer at UEGCL told journalists as the agency’s Board of Directors visited Isimba dam on Nov. 30 that they had to reorganize and bring in experts to give them support to effectively supervise the project before they finalised the procurement of Owner’s Engineer.
Meanwhile, about a month to the expiry of EIPL contract, The Independent was told that President Museveni issued a directive to the Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda to dash the procurement of the new OE so as not to compromise works at dams.
Anite told The Independent on Dec. 01 that government agencies involved in the procurement of the new OE were committed to answering the president’s call.
She confirmed reports that the ministry of finance tasked the ministry of energy in a November 7, 2017 letter to find money within their budget provisions under their vote (for FY2017/2018) to procure the new OE for Isimba.
“If they don’t find the money, the matter will go back to the head of state,” Anite said, adding, “If the head of state gives a directive, it has to be implemented because he is the Fountain of Honor.”
Anite said that the Ministry of Finance was considering seeking a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s office regarding this matter.
It is not clear why the Ministry of Energy officials did not attend the Dec.05 meeting in which a decision was reached that they find the money to support procurement of the new OE.
In a letter dated November 28, 2017 written by the Ministry of Energy Acting Permanent Secretary, Robert Kasande in response to the Keith Muhakanizi’s earlier November 7, 2017 letter directing them to re-prioritize the available Budget provisions under their Vote to fund the new OE, Kasande said the ministry could only find Shs 1.5bn out of the required Shs 13bn.
In the letter, Kasande advised that some Shs 5bn that had already been disbursed to UEGCL under Nyagak and Muzizi projects could be used in the meantime since the activities at those projects were slow moving.
At that point, the two sources available could only raise 50% (Shs 6.5bn) of the required Shs 13bn.
Sources said UEGCL did not support the energy ministry’s suggestion saying the money for Nyagak and Muzizi had already been committed.
This meant the Ministry of Finance would identify other sources to raise the money including a possibility of raising a supplementary budget.
Construction experts were not comfortable with the manner in which this matter was being handled.
Ronald Balimwezo, who has been practicing engineering for the last 20 years, told The Independent on Dec. 02 that the confusion in such high profile projects relates to corruption and ‘the giving of kick-backs’ by contractors to government officials which is why there are delays and fights over procurement processes.
He said that UEGCL has an uphill task of ensuring that it hires competent supervisors who can deliver quality work to match the costs involved.
“There should be a commission of inquiry with competent personnel to identify the problem and report to government for action,” he said in reference to reports that the contract of OE for Karuma was to be terminated over quality issues.