According to a 2014 KPMG report titled, “Unlocking the potential of Africa’s NOCs” which was done to investigate the growth strategies and growing pains of NOCs in emerging oil producing countries like Uganda, managing recruitment and skills development was consistently identified as a major challenge.
At her farewell party organized by the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum (UCMP) early this month, Wapakabulo recalled how she had to do everything from scratch in her one-room office at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development headquarters at Amber House in Kampala.
“My first phone call was to a friend to find someone who could design a logo for the company,” she said, “I have always thought that if you don’t know something, you get people around you who know.”
Soon she got joined by Peter Muliisa, the Chief Legal and Corporate Affairs Officer at UNOC, and Proscovia Nabbanja—the Chief Operating Officer.
Within months several departments in the company were filled with competent professionals. At the time of her resignation, UNOC had about 100 employees and had relocated to more spacious offices along Yusuf Lule in Kampala.
“People always wonder why I don’t get overwhelmed (but) I have got fantastic people around me who are the best at what they do and my role is only coordinating and driving that (team),” Wapakabulo said last September during an inspirational interview with INSEAD—the French university where she did her EMBA.
At a more strategic level, Wapakabulo is credited with successfully setting up two subsidiary companies –the Uganda Refinery Holding Company Limited (URHC) that is responsible for refining and involvement in the petrochemical businesses; and the National Pipeline Company (U) Limited (NPC) that is responsible for the pipeline and downstream storage ventures.
In order to ensure government has strategic fuel reserves; UNOC entered into a joint venture with One Petroleum Ltd under the Jinja Storage Terminal to ensure rehabilitation, operation and management of the terminal to industry standards. The terminal is now fully rehabilitated.
Under the oil refinery project, Wapakabulo together with her team worked on the refinery front- end loading and selection of a refinery configuration fit for Uganda’s economic growth. In the downstream sub-sector, she secured the licenses for the importation, storage, wholesale, distribution and exportation of bulk petroleum products. These licences were issued in April, last year.
By the time Wapakabulo left, UNOC had submitted application for an Exploration License to position UNOC as a key player in the sustainability of the resource profile and reserves replacement for the country.
Oil and politics
Wapakabulo also learnt quickly that the oil and gas sector is quite politicized and she had to manage the politics in order to achieve her objectives.
“I realized that 99% of this job is managing politics, and that is not just politics in the political realm, it is different stakeholders.”
“It’s about managing key stakeholders; you have to know the decision makers and influential personalities and the host communities where this work is going to be done,” she said, “It’s a mammoth stakeholder management task (which needs) time and patience and bringing people with you especially in a collaborative environment.”
Going forward, Wapakabulo’s successor, Proscovia Nabbanja, is now expected to ensure that the country’s commercial interests in the petroleum sector remain intact.
Nabbanja, who has worked at the energy ministry for about 20 years heading the technical division, is expected to oversee the implementation of Wapakabulo’s five year corporate strategy for all operations.
She will ensure that the government receives as much oil revenues as possible by increasing UNOC’s participation in the sector through employment and provision of goods and services.