It was a tough time for Irene Muloni as she made her first visit to West Nile as minister for Energy and Mineral Development.
It was a visit meant to familiarise herself with energy projects in the region, but West Nilers had no kind words for her. They say she has served in the ministry long enough and she was among the architects who keep West Nile in darkness.
“You have no excuse minister. You served as Managing Director for UEDCL (Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited) before becoming minister and you approved the energy companies in this region,” a tough-talking Wadri Kassiano Enzati, MP for Terego county, said.
This was at an introductory meeting at White Castle hotel in Arua. Muloni, in the company of her junior minister, Simon D’Ujanga, the European Union ambassador to Uganda Dr Roberto Ridolfi and the Germany ambassador in Uganda Klaus Dieter Duxmann met leaders in the sub-region who included MPs, RDCs and LCs.
West Nile has, for a long, suffered with energy problems. Despite the fact that Uganda had its first hydro power dam constructed in 1954, 57 years down the road, the whole of West Nile remains not connected to the national grid. The entire region relies on isolated small energy projects.
“The people of West Nile provided manpower for the construction of Kiira dam. We lost lives and our prize for that is to be in darkness,” Wadri noted.
In 2003, government established the West Nile Rural Electrification company (WENRECO) and leased it to Industrial Promotions services with a mandate to construct two mini hydro power dams on river Nyagak close to Paidha in Zombo district. The two dams with a capacity of 7.6MW were expected to be complete in 2006 and would supply the main towns in the sub-region.
However, in the process of building the dams, WENRECO was tasked to put up an HF4 (high fuel) generator plant to supply power to Arua and Nebbi towns. But according to the locals, WENRECO, whose generator consumes 2.3 million litres of heavy oil and diesel annually has been inefficient. The company is accused of failing to meet its mandate of supplying power for 18 hours daily and for the frequent breakdowns. In the recent past, the sub-region has had no power.
“The power in this part of the country is a misery and for those of us who are NRM, it’s the biggest challenge. Today, we shall ask you to go back to Kampala with your WENRECO,” said the Arua district chairman, Wadri Sam Nyakua.
During her tenure, Muloni, who succeeded D’Ujanga as managing director of UEDCL, is said to have appended her signature on WENRECO take over by Industrial Promotions services, a Kenyan company said to belong to the Aga Khan.
And according to Dr Kevin Karuiki, the WENRECO managing director, there is need for an overhaul of the generator because it has outlived its purpose. Initially, it was meant to be used for three years in anticipation that Nyagak would be ready in 2006.
“The breakdown is unfortunate, but we never planned it. Our business is to sell electricity not darkness. Every day we operate without electricity, we lose money and that cannot be a joy or honour for any plant,” he said.
But the leaders weren’t impressed: “However sweet your words are, you are just riding on professional negligence. What was your strategic plan for such an occurrence?” Joshua Carter Anywarach, MP for Padyere county, said.
Karuiki attributed the Nyagak delay to a contractor they hired from the Czech republic who eventually went bankrupt. This forced the company to procure a recovery package from the German and Ugandan governments to a tune of $8.6m.
“At times it’s easier to remember the bad times, but there have been good times; one of the four issues we were asked to do was to invest in an HF4 plant; we did that even before the financing had been procured from the World bank.
“We have increased the number of customers from just 1,000 to more than 3,000. We wouldn’t have conducted all this if the entire programme was a failure. Let us give credit where it’s due,” said Karuiki.
According to Duxmann, the German government has contributed 14 million Euros (Shs 45bn) to WENRECO for the Nyagak project. In addition, the German government in partnership with the European Union has invented in a rehabilitation and extension of the West Nile isolated grid to supply most districts in the area with electricity.
New transmission lines will connect Maracha, Koboko, Yumbe and Oraba in the north, as well as Pakwach, Panyimur and Parombo in the south of the West Nile sub-region.
The project will also include a switch to prepaid technology, and a grid densification component designed to enhance productive use of power in the region. The total investment volume for the grid rehabilitation and extension project is 12.9 million Euros (more than Shs 40bn).