The site for the proposed Kiba hydropower project in mid-western Uganda had apparently been earmarked for a high-end tourism hotel.
In an April 24 letter to the Energy ministry Permanent Secretary, Mr Robert Kasande, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Executive Director, Mr Sam Mwandha, states that the site was identified for a hotel in a general management plan for 2011-2021.
Mr Mwandha, therefore, called for a meeting between the Energy ministry and UWA to ‘iron out the contradictions given the fact that the two developments may not co-exist’.
“…the site where the [Kiba] hydropower [project] is proposed was…earmarked for a tourism hotel of 100-bed capacity, intended for [a] high-end tourists facility…” Mr Mwandha wrote.
“This site has been identified as one of the tourism investment sites that were offered by His Excellency the President during the Giants Club Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum in October 2017. A number of investors have…expressed interest in developing the site…and the tendering is ongoing,” the letter states.
According to the letter, basing on the experience of the Karuma hydropower plant the proposed Kiba dam would not be compatible with the planned tourism development.
When Saturday Monitor contacted Mr Mwandha on Thursday for comment, he at first said he is new to UWA, and thus, might not know about the hotel project.
Told about the April 24 letter, he seemed to suggest this reporter either had the wrong information or had not understood the letter.
“I am walking into a meeting; call me later,” Mr Mwandha added.
Separately, Mr Kasande, in response to a question by this newspaper, said the meeting between the ministry and UWA had agreed that a feasibility study on the site be undertaken.
“We agreed on a feasibility study,” Mr Kasande said on July 12.
He said it is the feasibility study that could inform the final decision on the kind of project to implement in the site so far identified.
Although he did not say it, the feasibility study will establish how much power can be got from the site as well as the environmental, social and economic impacts of the power project.
Besides seeing to the construction of large hydropower projects, the government is promoting tourism from which Uganda earns $1 billion (about Shs3.8 trillion) annually.
Tourism, as Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, wrote in From Third World to First, is labour-intensive.
He noted tourism requires cooks, maids, waiters and waitresses, drycleaners, tour guides, drivers and makers of souvenir handicrafts.
Lee, however, added that while tourism creates many jobs and puts money into many empty pockets, it merely reduced but did not solve unemployment.
To address unemployment, Lee’s government concentrated on having factories started.
Though President Museveni’s policy on constructing large hydropower projects is informed by the power shortage Uganda faced between 2005 and 2011, which prompted the government to in the short term make do with independent diesel power producers whose power though was costlier and necessitated subsidising the retail price of electricity, negatively impacted on production, it is also meant ramping up Uganda’s installed power generation capacity.
That way, he hopes – besides offering prospective investors tax holidays and free land – to charm investors into building factories in Uganda.
The thinking is that with abundant power supply, the investors build factories in Uganda and mop up unemployment.
But, aside from minimising corruption and red tape, his government will have to build good, durable roads as well and pressures the power utilities to invest in technologies that ensure reliable power supply.
Some manufacturers have in the past said the unreliable power supply, which different power utilities attribute to “faults”, sometimes damages their machines or products.
May 2015: The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and the China-Africa Investment and Development Company signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which required CAIDC to develop the Kiba hydropower plant
288 megawatts: The potential power generation capacity of Kiba dam, according to the Project for Master Plan Study on Hydropower Development in the Republic of Uganda Final Report by Japan International Cooperation Agency, Electric Power Development Co. Ltd and Nippon Koei Co. Ltd
July 2017: The Electricity Regulatory Authority granted CAIDC a permit, valid for 18 months, to conduct a feasibility study on the development of a hydropower plant at Kiba
In July 2017, this newspaper reported that Mr Stephen Isabalija, the then Energy ministry PS, had terminated the MoU between the ministry and CAIDC.
The newspaper said Mr Isabalija had accused CAIDC of not developing the project two years since it got a permit from the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), a contravention of Section 6.2 of the MoU.
President Museveni later fired Mr Isabalija. Mr Museveni did not explain the sacking.
The President appointed Mr Kasande as the acting PS.
February 5, 2018: Mr Kasande wrote to CAIDC to update the ministry on the progress on the feasibility study for Kiba hydropower dam.
He reminded CAIDC that Section 4.1 of the MoU required CAIDC to carry out a detailed feasibility study upon getting a permit from ERA.
CAIDC’s reply seemed to suggest that the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and UWA were the ones holding back CAIDC’s detailed feasibility studies.
One of the company’s letters, dated 15 June 2018, said “there was delay in issuance of permits due to UWA proposing a hotel site near the proposed project location”.
“Good progress has been made and recently Nema and UWA have granted us the required permits and access,” CAIDC wrote on June 15.
The company added that it had appointed Energy Infratech Pvt Ltd as the consultant to carry out the site investigation works.
It said ‘several firms’ will assist with the feasibility study.
Saturday Monitor could not immediately establish which firms are carrying out the feasibility study.