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Poor skills cost locals juicy oil industry jobsPublish Date: May 17, 2011
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By Ibrahim Kasita

STANDING at the edge of a barren landscape in the oil-rich Buliisa district, is a 25-year old Peter Anguyo, dressed in an orange overall and yellow helmet.

He is joining metal bars that will be fixed in a beam of a structure for a Grade IV Health Centre for the local community.

Anguyo is one of the people who have an opportunity to earn from the fledging petroleum sector.

“I am happy that payment is much better here. I earn sh1m a month, which has helped me pay fees for my children, start a retail shop and meet domestic needs.”

Anguyo works for Excel Construction Company owned by the Madhvanis. The firm won a $945,484 deal from Tullow Oil to construct the health facility.

The construction for the Buliisa Resource Centre is also ongoing adjacent the district headquarters.

Tegeka Construction, owned by the locals from Masindi, is handling this $275,346 contract.

MBW Consulting, another local firm, is supervising the two projects.

Jarvis Tusiime, the site agent for Excel Construction, noted that winning such contracts was one of the ways local people can benefit from the oil industry.

“I employ 64 people. The majority are locals. A casual labourer gets sh5,000 per day,” he said.

Tusiime, however, pointed out that the problem was that the local casuals were inconsistent.

Jimmy Kiberu, the Tullow Oil Uganda corporate affairs manager, said they have 550 local suppliers and 160 local and expatriate staff.

Indeed, money can be made at every stage of petroleum operations because there are contracts for seismic work, drilling, logistics, catering, cleaning, transport and cleaning services.

Kiberu explained that local participation was “significant” but added that there was “acute shortage of skills.”

“We want over 1,000 technical welders but there are very few people with the skills,” he pointed out. “We recently advertised jobs for petroleum engineers. You will be lucky to get five applications.”

Reuben Kashambuzi, the chief technical advisor in the energy ministry, with a 25-year experience in the oil and gas industry, was concerned about the meagre number of Ugandans participating in the industry.

“Where are our people? Are they drilling managers; are they deputy managing directors; are they the principal accountants? They are usually at the lower brackets,” he pointed out.

“Decisions are not made there (lower levels). Those are implementers. That is the first weakness right away even in the area where the companies are willing to take on people.”

The chief technocrat behind Uganda’s petroleum industry illustrated that suppose Tullow, China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation or Total decide to go somewhere, the resource would remain unexploited.

“How many drillers do we have?” he asks and answers: “They are not there.”

Kashambuzi revealed that in the original structure of the petroleum exploration and production department, he wanted drillers, economists, accountants and lawyers.

“They (the Government) said you don’t need drillers or accountants. You will go to the finance ministry. You won’t need lawyers,” he narrated.

“Today, you have two petroleum lawyers in this country. One is in the private sector and one has just returned from the University of Dundee (Scotland). We cannot meet cut-throat lawyers of Tullow and make sense.”

Uganda has introduced geoscience course at Makerere University geared at increasing petroleum skills and strengthening the human resource capacity.

A petroleum institute was established two years ago to train specialised welding and craftsmanship required for the oil and gas sector. The first batch will graduate in October.

However, quality geoscience degree programme requires huge sums of money.

The question is whether the Government is committed to providing the money.

“In Entebbe, there are two gravity metres. One of them is about sh100m a piece. Makerere needs up to four gravity metres that is about sh400m,” Kashambuzi disclosed.

He also pointed out that low remuneration had chased many qualified people to the private sector.

“A lot of people we train go. One time I lost about eight people. They had masters’ degrees. They just left. They require money,” he lamented.

“By now, we should be sending planes loaded with people for training. Some should be returning while other going.” Oil will help grow Uganda’s economy, but only when the Government directs resources for the urgent training needs required to exploit the resource.

“If we are going to benefit, we need capacity building,” Kashambuzi advised.

“You need many (trained) people. The more we have them, the more our strength.”

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