Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Uganda's Karuma dam in new saga

Karuma dam in new saga
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 00:10
Written by Hussein Bogere

Construction of the 660MW Karuma dam has once again courted controversy,
with anonymous experts not only questioning the bidding process, but
also the design of the project and the qualifications of the project

According to two separate whistleblowers, these issues are likely to
negatively affect the total cost , the power output, and lifespan of the
dam. Once again, powerful politicians and businessmen are accused of
having influenced project-related decisions – to serve their selfish
interest. Information available to The Observer indicates Ugandan
taxpayers are now in danger of losing billions of Shillings because of
the poor quality work that is about to begin.

In one dossier, titled 'Weaknesses in the Design of the Karuma Project',
experts question the exact location of the dam, the design of the water
intake, the water losses and the operating water levels in the
reservoir, among others. The dossier claims that the dam is set to be
located in an area with rapids; this comes with more risks and higher
costs of construction, yet more appropriate flat areas are available nearby.

Because the cofferdams (temporary water-tight enclosures that are pumped
dry to expose the bottom of the river so that construction can take
place) and the dam are both partially built at the same location, the
highly technical dossier adds, it is impossible to build a permanent dam
structure at this location. There are also fears that several aspects of
the dam do not conform to international practices, like the spillway - a
channel used for the controlled release of water downstream.

"The concrete bottom slab of the stilling basin is only 50cm thick,
anchored in the rock substratum, which is not commensurate with a
spillway of such a size," it says.

The design is based on the fact that the water level rose to its highest
in 1962 and then gradually decreased until the lowest recorded in 2006,
after which it stabilised. But the whistleblower feels that it was too
optimistic to base the design on this record as the 1962 feat is likely
to distort reality. The dossier argues that the Kyoga Nile water flow is
overestimated by 20% in the design.

Therefore, the whistleblower advises that the parameters that were taken
into account to set the installed capacity of the dam are too optimistic
and should be revised because the dam will not be able to generate and
produce the 660MW. "For a dam to be able to produce the actual output of
660MW, the design should be of a 700-1000MW, otherwise, there will
always be temporary shutdowns," the experts explain.

These concerns are likely to bring frustration to President Museveni,
who expects to see Karuma expedited, having so often regretted the delay
that befell a similar project at Bujagali, plunging the country into an
energy crisis that it is just emerging from. Only last month, the
president called for an investigation into the bidding process after it
was alleged that money exchanged hands and that one of the bidders had
falsified crucial information.
Bidding process

In August 2010, the ministry of Energy invited bids for the Karuma dam
project. One Iranian and two Chinese firms made it to the
pre-qualification stage. Salini, which is involved in the construction
of Bujagali hydropower dam; Vince, in partnership with Group Five of
South Africa; and Egypt's Orascom, had earlier been eliminated.

However, allegations of bribery soon emerged, with The East African
newspaper alleging that some members of the 12-person bid evaluation
committee had accepted bribes to allow a bid by a Chinese firm to
proceed to the pre-qualification stage, despite serious doubts about its
ability to execute the work.

Sources in the ministry of Energy have told us that the allegations were
fuelled by one of the competing contractors fronted by a powerful
businessman and a government official, who want CWE out of the way,
which would hand Sino Hydro a free ride, considering that the Iranian
company might not overcome international sanctions.

Project manager

As firms were busy fighting over the contract, the process of selecting
the project manager was also courting controversy. The Observer has been
tipped off that Graeme Watson is set to be appointed the project
manager, ahead of Benz Traugott. The Observer has seen a separate
dossier, titled 'Appointment of a Project Manager for Karuma Dam', in
which the whistleblower claims that some officials in the ministry of
Energy are sidelining Traugott on grounds that he is too expensive, yet
no negotiations have taken place, apart from a brief interview.

"I have also been reliably told that Watson is preferred because he will
be an easier person to work with since he is from the region and
understands how business is done in Uganda, in particular having dealt
with UNRA [the Uganda National Roads Authority], hence intensive
lobbying has taken place and no merit considered," the dossier claims.

In January, the ministry of Energy called for applications for the
position of project manager, with experience in tunnelling as a
prerequisite, 10 years in hydro power plants construction, and
experience in managing a similar project of the same magnitude (at least
250MW) and cost (at least US$0.7bn) in the last ten years. The age
bracket was set at 40-60 years.

The whistleblower praises Traugott, describing him as being "very
experienced", while at the same time claiming that Watson, the
ministry's favoured candidate, has no such experience. According to this
whistleblower, the evaluation process should be halted until a suitable
project manager has been appointed, who would then initiate a more
rigorous technical evaluation to ensure that the job goes to the best

This, the dossier says, would save the government complications that
might arise from major cost overruns during execution, unnecessary
delays, non-compliance with regulations and standards, poor quality of
execution which might result in failure to generate the required power,
and ultimately no value for money.

The Observer failed to reach Kabagambe-Kaliisa, the ministry of energy
permanent secretary and spokesman. He was reported to be in a day-long
meeting. The commissioners reached declined to comment, instead
referring the paper to the unavailable Kabagambe.

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