OPPOSITION PANICS AS M7 POURS 400BN IN WEST NILE ON EVE OF 2021 ELECTIONS AS CALEB ALAKA DEFECTS
By Mulengera Reporters
Stung by endless whistle blowing, seeking to frustrate the politically very important project, President Museveni recently had to ring the Attorney General urging him to ask the Solicitor General Francis Atooke to clear the signing off of the $100m (over Shs300bn) contract. The envious whistle blower, who has been at it for the last 5 years, was this time round claiming the project would undermine the GoU policy of BuBu because transformers (which aren’t anywhere locally manufactured in Uganda anyway) will have to be imported from abroad. Gen Museveni rang his blue eyed girl Minister Evelyn Anite, who has been a key lobbyist behind this huge industrial power project for West Nile, and told her he was sick and tired of relentless whistle blowing clearly aimed at sabotaging the project and along with it prospects of his own 2021 reelection.
The prolonged delaying is something over which Museveni had politically been paying a heavy price including during the last Kyankwanzi retreat where NRM MPs from West Nile crudely attacked him while claiming he doesn’t care about their sub region. Evelyn Anite says the whistle blower seemed more malicious and lost the ear of the president when he/she began raising petty objections such as claiming that investing in 132kv electricity transmission lines was too much power for West Nile whose inhabitants he/she claimed are too poor to find any use for such power. That the project was too big for the poor region whose absorption capacity remains very low despite being home to two commercially very busy border points of namely DRC and South Sudan.
Wondering why the whistle blower was so desperate frustrating West Nile as a region, Anite says: “We as have the capacity and appetite to industrialize our region.” She adds: “If they are very patriotic as they claim, why don’t these whistle blowers blow the whistle blocking even larger projects in other regions? Why target only Wet Nile?”
All this is in relation to a very large power transmission project that will deliver affordable access to heavy electricity for the residents and investors desiring to see rapid industrialization and economic transformation for West Nile. To initially cover and electrify a total of 8 districts, the 294km electricity transmission line will see the entire West Nile sub region upgrade its power infrastructure from the current 33kv lines to one of 132kv. It’s a GoU project being implemented by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd (UETCL) whose Communications Manager Pamela Byoruganda Nalwanga says the limited capacity associated with 33kv lines is the reason the West Nile sub region has always been experiencing high technical loses, poor voltage profiling sand frequent power interruptions.
The contract between the GoU and Chinese and Indian firms going to do the project works was signed last week at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala where UETCL and the Energy Ministry organized a pompous ceremony. While here, stakeholders made speeches thanking Gen Museveni for always wishing Wet Nile well. This is Shs300bn coming to this politically very decisive sub region on the eve of a major election. And indeed the speeches made by leaders at the contract-signing ceremony clearly highlighted the political significance of the project.
Minister Anite led the way making it clear there is no need to pretend about the political dividend Gen Museveni and his ruling NRM flag bearers are going to reap from this project. “The opposition groups that have been used to inciting people to riot in Arua while staging their ‘no power; no vote’ protests must now return to the drawing board. They are soon not going to have anything to say,” Anite provocatively said at the signing of the contracts that require the contractors to complete the transmission lines and power substations’ construction works within the next 24 months.
Anite, a leading Museveni power broker for West Nile, says as a region they have been part of Uganda since 1914 but this Shs300bn electricity intervention is the biggest project they have ever received from the GoU and Gen Museveni deserves to be uniquely appreciated with votes in 2021 for making this possible. “We have never felt part of Uganda like we are feeling now with this huge project. Mzee delivered the road connectivity for us all the way to Oraba at the South Sudan border. It’s all tarmac now and electricity is all we have been lacking. We are now good to go because our Industrial Parks will be amplified and the resultant industrialization will create jobs and beautify our region further and thereby bringing in more tourism revenues,” said Anite who is also patron of the West Nile private sector association whose members have been doing their advocacy through the “Energy Connectivity Committee of West Nile.”
While thanking her senior cabinet colleague Mary Gorette Kitutu for being the incumbent Energy Minister under whom this long-awaited dream came true, Anite articulated the GoU’s industrialization agenda for West Nile. That at the insistence of the President, who she says has always wished the best for Wet Nile, an industrial park and Free Trade Zone at Pakwach have already been gazzetted and will eventually be expedited now that electricity is going to be adequately available for industrialization purposes. “All that must happen is for the contractor to do a good job and deliver very fast so that our Industrial Park and Free Trade Zone aren’t delayed anymore because they are both dependent on that electricity access,” she explained to a very enthusiastic audience that filled the hall to capacity (subject to physical distancing requirements). Yumbe and Koboko too have already been gazzetted for Industrial Parks, disclosed Anite creating more euphoria among the business community members present in the room.
Arua too is destined to have an Industrial Park except that land acquisition still remains a costly problem as to the exact location where it will be situated. Anite begged Arua residents to compliment government efforts by being willing to avail and contribute land for industrialization purposes. “Having an industrial park will amplify rapid development and industrialization now that Arua has been granted city status,” Anite said as the private sector members, led by their chairman lawyer Caleb Alaka, nodded in approval.
In his speech, preceding that of Anite and other Ministers, Alaka (who has been part of the necessary advocacy for the power transmission project) said now that he has delivered power for industrial purposes, Gen Museveni can rule Uganda for as long as it takes to deliver many other great projects.
The flamboyant city lawyer, who many naturally presumed to be opposition-leaning because of the many years he worked with Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, said it’s regrettable that West Nile had been ignored (when it comes to power connectivity) since 1914 when it first became part of Uganda. For making this possible, he argued, Gen Museveni deserves mob political support from the sub region that traditionally used to elect opposition (especially in 1996, 2001 & 2006). “We have always had a very huge potential to develop as a region but we lagged behind because we lacked power connectivity. Power has been a very big problem for private sector activities because all we have been having was just sufficient for lighting purposes but not for heavy industrialization,” Alaka said.
Anite corroborated this point by revealing that all her efforts to attract private investors to West Nile have always been frustrated by lack of affordable power access because dependency on generators was always perceived as unnecessary additional cost to doing business and thereby making the entire sub region unattractive to investors. “It has been hard attracting investors there and even Leaf Tobacco Ltd, the only serious investor we had attracted, has been wanting to leave because of power problems,” said Anite who considers proximity to lucrative commodity markets in both DRC and South Sudan to be among West Nile’s selling points when it comes to attracting investors. To further deepen the political dividend for her master YK Museveni, Anite implored the contractors to respond to the “political economy question” by prioritizing job creation for the natives of West Nile who she praised as “disciplined, loyal, self-driven and hardworking.” She said “this abundant availability of very good labor is something you should deliberately take advantage of as you implement this project.” She asked the contractors to stand up as an illustration that they will do as requested, which they did (attracting instant applause).
Before leaving the microphone, the Minister saluted UETCL Deputy CEO Valentine Katabira for his relentless efforts as he would frequent her office at the Finance Ministry to remind her and push for the project in close consultation with the President and Kitutu, her Energy Ministry counterpart. Anite’s speech was preceded by that of Vurra County MP Lawrence Tsonga (the new Chairman for West Nile MPs caucus) who spoke on behalf of the 33 legislators from the sub region. Seven of them were in the house including Ayivu County’s Bernard Atiku who is a renowned opposition voice.
Tsonga apologized to Energy Ministers Kitutu and Simon Dujang for the extreme pressure the West Nile Parliamentary Group has been mounting on them. He begged them to understand these are complex “political economy questions” which they had to continue agitating for to ensure continued relevancy before their electors because lack of adequate power has been angering many of their voters. He said the region, which has expensively been relying on solar and fuel generators to supplement on the power delivered through the 33kv lines, will now industrialize and create jobs for its people besides expanding its contribution to revenue generation and collection by URA.
He expressed optimism, just like Anite, that delivering this long-awaited mega electrification project will increase popularity of the ruling NRM establishment and supplement on the road infrastructure to spur economic development and transformation. The legislator also commended Dujang and UETCL Board Chairman Peter Ucanda (both of whom hail from Nebbi) for their relentless efforts to ensure the project comes to fruition.
Before going into the “political economy questions,” which she articulated in a very simplified way, the energy Minister Kitutu reflected on the Evelyn Anite revelation that “the President is very angry with the way the whistle blowers have delayed the project and he will only smile when he sees the transmission lines up and running.” Kitutu vowed to ensure the President smiles again and very quickly by ensuring the contractor completes the job even ahead of time which she said is actually possible.
Kitutu revealed that the last three months (been Energy Minister for only 6 months) haven’t been easy for her as powerful delegation of West Nilers have frequently been coming to her office; one after the other. Their consistent demand has been: we want our power now and not next year. Agreeing with them, Kitutu said: “Access to power is actually a right yet in West Nile it goes off at midnight. I slept there sometime back and saw this myself and that is why I commend the people of West Nile for their patience.”
Kitutu added on reflecting on how much lack of adequate power has been costing the sub region, she has even been wondering why West Nilers have still been voting for NRM. She disclosed that her strong bond with West Nilers has a lot to do with the fact that her personal driver, who has loyally served her since her days at NEMA, is actually a kakwa from West Nile.
“He always carries a stick to protect me in the car. He protects me like his daughter and that is why I’m always praising West Nilers even on radios in Mbale,” she said. “It’s the reason I was one of those who felt bad and protested when Arua City was initially not on the program. We said ‘but how can this happen for a town which contributes so much to national revenue through the border trade?’ I agree Uganda hasn’t been very fair to the people of West Nile for all their contribution but we have finally delivered.”
She said that to ensure reliable power supply, her office will ensure once the construction of transmission lines is completed, a high profile player either UMEME or UEDCL takes over the distribution mandate to ensure there are no more excuses for West Nile not to industrialize. She then simplified the monies that are going to be coming directly to people’s pockets under this Shs300bn project. Shs28bn will be shared by the project affected persons (PAPs) totaling 3,297. Of these, 529 are from Oyam district; 185 Kole; 237 Gulu; 184 Omoro; 494 Nwoya; 612 Pakwach; 410 Nebbi and 646 Arua. Just 3,297 people sharing Shs28bn means a lot on the eve of a major election.
And this will be compensation for the little bit of land they are to lose as they pave way for the power transmission line along the 294km stretch. It directly covers 8 districts of Kole, Oyam, Omoro, Gulu, Nwoya, Pakwach, Madi Okolo, Nebbi and Arua. At the end of the day, Museveni’s Shs28bn for PAPs’ compensation is going to be felt by communities in three politically very decisive sub regions namely West Nile, Acholi and Lango. Of the 3,297 PAPs, only 86 are to be totally relocated to new resettlement areas besides cashing in on the compensation money. Steam Investments Ltd has been contracted to execute that relocation.
Kitutu explains that whereas $49m will go into the actual construction of the 132kv transmission line infrastructure (passing through Kole, Gulu, Nebbi & Arua), another $25m will go into constructing power substations at Kole, Gulu, Nebbi and Arua. She says even before the project is finally completed and delivered, all these construction works come with financial benefits for the local people whose political economy-related questions (of nfuniramu wa/what is in it for me) must be answered. Yet that isn’t all. $6m (close to Shs20bn) will go to the construction supervision firm (Power Grid Corporation of India) which, despite being foreign, will have to integrate some local personnel and thereby leaving some of the money here.
Decrying endless whistle blowing when it comes to such big energy sector projects, Kitutu begged West Nilers to be angry with such malicious whistle blowers as opposed to resenting the President or the GoU because the money has been there but whistle blowers kept frustrating progress of the procurement process. She called on the new UETCL CEO/MD George Rwabajungu to avoid armchair leadership and be in the field most of the time doing supervision to ensure projects are delivered on time. Renowned for her zero tolerance to corruption, Kitutu also warned the contractors against bribing anyone in government as such could constrain timely delivery and quality of work delivered finally.“I don’t want to hear we lost this month because we were importing things which delayed to be cleared at Mombasa. If you face such challenges, ring me and I ring [the President] and he talks to his Kenyan counterpart and we move faster. I don’t expect you to use COVID19 as an excuse to delay work. All I’m anticipating is ground-breaking happening sooner than later and we roll.” She clarified that whereas the transmission line and substations will be constructed to be physically present in only 8 districts, the entire West Nile is going to benefit from the resultant affordable access to electricity for both domestic and industrial purposes.
Reached to explain why there is still any reason for West Nilers to ever elect opposition again, Arua Municipality MP Ezati Kassiano Wadri (of ANT) urged Evelyn Anite and her other colleagues not to politicize service delivery. “What are they saying? Why brag instead of apologizing to the people for delaying that project because as Parliament, we approved that World Bank loan a long time ago but its them who have been dragging their feet on implementation and it’s something for which we shall be asking the people of West Nile to punish the National Resistance Movement,” Wadri roared in an interview with Mulengera News.
“Why are they mocking our people as if West Nilers aren’t entitled to service delivery? We are not cowed. We shall be out telling our people that it’s your right to have electricity and it’s not a unique gift from Museveni. We are certain people are going to enjoy that electricity but will instead reward the opposition because it’s our pressure that has led to that achievement which Evelyn Anite and those other Movement people are celebrating in Kampala.”
Wadri added that the ruling establishment politicians should be apologizing to West Nilers for ignoring them for the last 35 years yet their region has consistently been contributing to tax revenue through participation in cross border trade since 1914. “Why mock our people like that as if the sub region hasn’t been paying taxes for the last 35 years? If they have any sense of humility, those people should be apologizing for dehumanizing our people as opposed to claiming political entitlement to the votes here as if this is their personal money. It’s an injustice we have stomached for all these years and let nobody provoke our anger.”
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