Lawmakers irked by botched energy projects

When the Ombudsman, Aloysie Cyanzayire, presented a report after investigations into the execution of national development projects to Parliament last week, some findings raised eyebrows among legislators.
Legislators scrutinise the Ombudsman's report recently. (John Mbanda)
Legislators scrutinise the Ombudsman's report recently. (John Mbanda)

When the Ombudsman, Aloysie Cyanzayire, presented a report after investigations into the execution of national development projects to Parliament last week, some findings raised eyebrows among legislators.

Members of Parliament heard that some biogas plants, constructed in 2010, were already dysfunctional because of errors made during construction. Yet, it was noted, the errant contractors were yet to account.

The report of August 2013 to June 2014 highlights several other costly omissions, including errors in the unbundled Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) with respect to management of the National Domestic Biogas Programme (NDBP) as well as the geothermal exploration in Karisimbi.

The report is now being scrutinised by the House Standing Committee on Political Affairs whose own assessment will guide the legislature on the next move.

But the deputy Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Theoneste Karenzi, told Sunday Times that Police Criminal Investigation Department and prosecutors should move in harmony to bring the concerned officials to account.

“Poor planning is costing the country a lot of money! We need to harmonise efforts against corruption. People should sit and examine or assess where the bottlenecks are and then determine how to overcome them.”

Shortly after the report was presented, the then Police Spokesperson, Damas Gatare, told this paper that Police would certainly do their work. 

“The police are of course also informed, but we are not going to [reveal] how we are tasked to do our work. The national prosecution is the overall organ here, and along with others and us, when a problem is highlighted, all authorities work on it accordingly,” Gatare said.
 
Biogas  

The NDBP was started in 2007 to develop a commercial and sustainable domestic biogas sector that would substitute firewood with biogas for cooking and help protect the environment.

By February, 3,499 biogas digesters had been constructed. Of the 15 districts which the Ombudsman investigated, 1,341 were built but only 999 are functioning. The biogas project was allocated Rwf2.9 billion up to June 2013. By then, Rwf2,8 billion had been consumed as programme costs and subsidies.

No criminality

Even though he said that the Office of the Ombudsman will re-examine the issues, Jean Pierre Nkurunziza, the spokesman, said matters are purely administrative errors and not criminal.

“Now, we are going to re-examine all these issues, following of course the lawmakers’ advice,” Nkurunziza said.

Geothermal

On the geothermal project, the Ombudsman’s investigations found that three potential wells were awarded yet they were not in the procurement plan. By and large, the tendering process was faulty and as such, construction works were delayed. By April 2014, the geothermal project had already consumed Rwf13.2 billion, according to the report. 

Among others, it was found out that the government was losing huge sums of money simply because agreements with contractors were not properly done. A case in point is an agreement with a Chinese company, Great Wall Drilling Company (GWDC) which was paid before it delivered.

Karenzi said: “It is really regrettable. How would you give a contract on something that is not yet ready”?

Apart from poor planning, Karenzi pointed out irresponsible management as another possible source of the predicament faced by national development projects and policies.

“The government has already done a lot in fighting corruption, but I also think that issues of irresponsibility, by leaders also count here. In geothermal, I think there was more than poor planning. People need to have due diligence and use tax payers’ money as if they were using and managing their own money. Responsible management is important” he said.

In Parliament, one other issue that seemed to disconcert MPs was Cyanzayire’s announcement that her office could not prosecute wrongdoers because it is not yet mandated to do certain things.

Legally, or officially, the Ombudsman has powers of judicial police, powers to request administrative sanctions, prosecution powers, bailiffs powers and can also request for judgment reviews.

Nkurunziza, who also doubles as the Advisor to the Chief Ombudsman, also told this paper that, unlike in other jurisdictions, for example, crimes related to procurement are not prosecuted by the Ombudsman.

“We have prosecution powers but we don’t have the requisite staff yet and as such we still depend on the national prosecution for that until when we get our own prosecutor. The Public Service Commission hasn’t given us the staff,” explained Nkurunziza.

The Ombudsman’s office was legally given prosecution powers in September last year.

Nkurunziza disagrees with the notion that efforts are being duplicated or wasted since the annual and in-depth Auditor General’s report highlights similar issues.

“The Auditor General examines documents in-depth and shows numbers and other facts but for us, we examine and investigate further, look at how things were done, and go beyond the numbers,” Nkurunziza claimed.

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