House to probe energy projects

Parliament yesterday unanimously came to the conclusion that explanations by the Executive regarding suspected failures in the country’s energy and water sectors were not entirely satisfying. This followed two consecutive days of questioning of the Minister of Infrastructure (MINIFRA), Albert Nsengiyumva, and the State Minister for Energy and Water, Emma Francoise Isumbingabo.
Emma Francoise Isumbingabo, State Minister for Energy (L), talking to Evariste Kalisa, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Yesterday after the session. The New Times / Timothy Kisambira.
Emma Francoise Isumbingabo, State Minister for Energy (L), talking to Evariste Kalisa, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Yesterday after the session. The New Times / Timothy Kisambira.

Parliament yesterday unanimously came to the conclusion that explanations by the Executive regarding suspected failures in the country’s energy and water sectors were not entirely satisfying.

This followed two consecutive days of questioning of the Minister of Infrastructure (MINIFRA), Albert Nsengiyumva, and the State Minister for Energy and Water, Emma Francoise Isumbingabo.

The House decided to conduct its own inquiry into the now controversial Rukarara Hydro Power Plant and Mutobo Water Project after lawmakers overwhelmingly voted that a special committee be set up to probe the two projects.

It was also agreed that the standing committee on Economy and Trade looks into the wider energy and water issues.

The two ministers had appeared before the House to explain what MPs suspect are damning glitches in the energy sector, with particular initial emphasis on the Rukarara hydro power project.
Rukarara

Isumbingabo told the House Tuesday that Rukarara is sound and generating 9 MW into the national grid, though it is supposed to produce 9.5MW.

She said that due to power shortages in 2004-05, government moved to find a sustainable solution.

The minister told MPs that during negotiations between the ministry and the World Bank, an expert from the latter indicated that Sri Lanka was advanced in the construction of hydro power projects and persuaded them to select a Sri Lankan corporation, Eco Power Global.

In 2005, MININFRA agreed with Eco Power Global to conduct a feasibility study and in 2006, the cabinet approved that the ministry enters an agreement with the firm for the construction of a power plant and supply line.

A team of experts from the ministries of infrastructure, finance, and justice visited the Sri Lankan company and later made a report approving that Eco Power had the competence to build the Rukarara project. The agreement to construct the plant was signed in 2006 and was to last for 28 months. The implementation started in 2007.
MPs’ concerns

MPs differed with Isumbingabo’s presentation, with some even saying they had a different version, that they would produce later.

Some MPs last weekend moved fast to have a quick glimpse of the plant and gather facts. Esperance Uwimana told the House that when she visited the plant on Sunday, she discovered that one of the machines at the plant was dysfunctional.

Asking the minister to come clean and tell the House the truth, Uwimana said that on Sunday, the plant was producing only 5.2MW.

According to Uwimana, of the plant’s three machines, one was generating 3MW, and another 2.5MW, while the third was faulty and not delivering as expected.

“And, if it is discovered that there are issues of mismanagement of the plant, what measures is the ministry considering to rectify the situation. And, how is the situation on expropriation since there are people who have indicated that MININFRA has not paid them up to now?”

Hon. Julienne Uwacu also sought answers over matters related to contract management by the ministry in projects like Rukarara, among others. She noted that she had not heard about proper time lines for projects.

“Let them tell us how they follow up, and what guarantees they are given, on works done and are paid for,” she said.

Technical details of the project as highlighted by the minister also rubbed the lawmakers the wrong way.

Uwimana noted that Eco power global got its first tender in Rwanda largely based on the work they were doing elsewhere.

MPs were dismayed by the US$100 thousand used in trips to consult with the plant’s initial contractors from Sri Lanka. Isumbingabo yesterday told them that the amount was an estimate that went into the team’s air tickets, accommodation and allowances.

Samuel Musabyimana, among other things, wondered what measures were in place to determine genuine entrepreneurs, in other projects. Musabyimana said the ministers’ explanations were not satisfactory and supported the proposal that a team be set up to investigate the issue.

According to Jean Baptiste Rucibigango, the figures given by the ministers were “manipulated” and could not be relied on.

Juvenal Nkusi also noted his misgivings on how the initial tender to Eco Power global was awarded, indicating that it was carelessness on the part of the ministry, to be convinced by one World Bank expert to offer a tender, without considering the normal legal process.

According to Julianna Kantengwa, the minister’s “smart answering” left no room for trust. She stressed that no truth would be unveiled if the House failed to set up its own investigation.

The issue of Rukarara came into the limelight following the decision by the government, to privatise the project to Digitech, a locally based company to inject more money into it for better output.
Mutobo

Interest in possible hitches in the Mutobo Water Plant was also highlighted during the parliamentary inquiry as MPs noted that its feasibility study had taken about 10 years.

The study started in 2001.

Isumbingabo acknowledged that there were mistakes and promised to rectify them soon.

On Mutobo, Nsengiyumva told The New Times; “poor planning was also part of the challenges that we are facing today. But I can tell you, we’ve been now engaged with Mutobo and within a few months it will be back on track.”

He said a review of the feasibility study was complete and the government was now working to attract potential investors, and in case of failure, it is ready to borrow and implement the project, “as quickly as possible.”

The minister further welcomed the Parliamentary inquiry into the projects.

“I think if you are responsible for such an important ministry, and knowing that there are always lessons you pick from either failures or successes, it is a great idea,” he said, promising to work closely with the lawmakers during the probe.

The debate about energy issues came into the spotlight a week ago after MP Juliana Kantengwa moved a motion, in which she raised questions about the availability of electricity in the country, in general, and the situation of Rukarara hydro power project, in particular.

Ends

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