After delivering the 183MW Isimba hydroelectric dam, China International Water and Electric Corporation is being lined up for another multimillion dollar hydropower project.
However, that has been interpreted as an attempt to appease the Chinese firm that controversially lost the $1.7 billion Karuma deal six years ago.
Last month, while commissioning $567.7 million Isimba – one of Uganda’s flagship infrastructure projects — President Yoweri Museveni said that the government should “create more work” for equipment that CWE had already mobilised in the country, instead of having the Chinese firm fork out money to ship it back to China.
“I want to thank the company. I thought they were a small company, that’s why I gave them a small job, but hey have done a great job” said President Museveni.
Even as funding for these multimillion infrastructure projects remains a constraint for Kampala right now, the Ugandan leader hinted at CWE being handed a deal for one of the other proposed hydropower dams.
“Now they are asking if there is more work…I think we should create more work for this equipment instead of taking it back to China, which is very expensive. We are going to discuss this with them because there are so many other projects waiting… There is Ayago, Uhuru, Kiba, Agago and so many others.”
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy Robert Kasande told The EastAfrican that CWE has not formally written to the his ministry but opted instead to address the matter to the country’s highest office.
“They have approached him [the president] but they have not yet come down to engage us,” he said.
But critics are cautious about President Museveni’s offer to CWE, which they describe as “a political pronouncement ahead of 2021” to give the impression that the regime has delivered on its promises, even as electricity that is generated from Isimba and Karuma cannot be consumed.
Energy governance experts also fault Uganda for going full throttle on electricity generation, without doing the basics, which include securing financing, obtaining right of way for transmission lines that will evacuate the power, procurement of a contractor with capacity to do the project and investing in proper feasibility studies.
“It is wrong, and Ugandans should not get excited by these pronouncements because the next crisis is, where do we put this power we are producing? You’ve not distributed what you’ve produced in Isimba and you are already announcing another hydropower project,” argued Dickens Kamugisha, chief executive of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance.
In addition, power sector analysts say President Museveni’s move is an attempt to right the mess that the tendering process for an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the $1.7 billion 600MW Karuma hydropower project left in the Ministry of Energy back in 2013.
In January 2013, CWE was poised to clinch the Karuma hydropower dam construction deal but lost out to another Chinese firm Sinohydro Corporation Ltd after a whistleblower petitioned the Inspector General of Government Irene Mulyagonja to probe claims that the 12-man tender evaluation committee for Karuma had received a $1.2 million bribe.
In its bid, CWE had tabled inconsistent claims of its capacity to handle the project, but after investigations, Ms Mulyagonja absolved the company of the bribe claims; instead, the IGG faulted the Ministry of Energy for failure to do due diligence on the Chinese firm. In her report, the IGG recommended that the procurement process be started a new.