By Dickens Kamugisha…
Late last month, a decision on the route Uganda’s crude oil export pipeline will take was agreed upon between Uganda and Tanzania.
However, given that the decision was made by the government without our participation as citizens, we must quickly come together to discuss the consequences of such secretive decisions. Available evidence indicates that no country has ever succeeded in translating national projects into socio-economic benefits without openness and participation of citizens.
A case in point is the Karuma dam project. With its exorbitant and inflated cost – the 600mw Karuma is being constructed at a cost of $1.7 billion while Ethiopia is building a dam of 6,000mw at a cost of only $4.8 billion – the dam is on the verge of collapsing due to cracks caused by poor supervision by government officials who prefer to keep Ugandans in darkness while transacting public business.
I think you also remember that corruption scandals, facilitated by secretiveness, rocked the Karuma dam project before the project even began. Away from secrecy, we must discuss a number of other things including government’s record in handling big projects such as the one of the pipeline.
Government promised Ugandans a mini-oil refinery of 5,000 barrels per day in 2008 under the notorious Early Production Scheme (EPS) but, to date, no one has ever come out to explain what happened to that scheme. Where is that mini-oil refinery? You and I know that we will likely never see it.
But we spent over two years discussing the scheme and, remember, time is money. Poor management of time is one of the biggest reasons why Africa has remained poor amidst plenty.
How about the Bujagali hydropower dam project? Government promised to build and sell power from Bujagali dam at $6 cents per kilowatt but today, power from Bujagali is one of the most expensive in the world with each kilowatt costing $12 cents before transmission and distribution costs.
The investors’ guaranteed return of 19% on investment is also the highest in the world. Today, our leaders are shamelessly saying that they want to use our taxes to buy off the investors to reduce the tariffs. Without openness and transparency, even buying off the investors will not help to reduce the tariffs.
We should also remember that in 2015, despite reservations by Ugandans regarding the selection of RT Global Resources, government went ahead to select the Russian company without due regard to the Russian democratic credentials and her alleged involvement in Ukraine. To date, there is no evidence that the ‘child’ project of President Museveni is on course.
If anything, it appears that the president who, for many years, was against anyone that questioned the economic basis for a refinery, has abandoned the project and is now the biggest promoter of an export pipeline as the best option for Uganda’s oil development. Where is government’s evidence-based plan to give us confidence that the leaders are in charge and control of the decisions being made on our behalf?
Challenges facing our country and the region at large cannot be solved by irrational planning and undemocratic decisions based on political convenience. No, we cannot work like that. We must change the strategy if we are to succeed.
This is why, today, we have many electricity dams, tarmacked roads, districts, biggest numbers of MPs, the biggest cabinet ever and our annual revenue collections have increased from Shs 5 billion in 1986 to the current Shs 19 trillion in 2016 but majority of our people are still trapped in misery.
What is the problem? It is the impunity by government officials who have continued to treat citizens as slaves in their own country and use national projects for personal benefits without respect for the common good. Acquisition of personal benefits from national projects is facilitated by secrecy in public transactions and our acceptance of corruption without effectively fighting it.
We must, therefore, fight secrecy, corruption and impunity to get things right in order for the Hoima-Tanga pipeline and, indeed, for all other development projects to benefit the country.
We must also ask the government to explain why they are proceeding with huge oil projects without well-established and functioning oil institutions and policies including the Petroleum Authority, the National Oil Company and oil regulations as well as a national oil content policy. Without functioning institutions to ensure effective regulation for transparency and openness, oil will not lift Ugandans out of poverty and misery.
Dickens Kamugisha is the Executive Director of the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) Uganda
This article was first Published by The Observer