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Government did NOT fire Isimba owners engineer

By Admin

Added 15th September 2017 01:34 PM

On Wednesday September 6, 2017, one local daily published a story tiltled: ‘Govt sacks Isimba dam consultant’; the next day the New Vision published ‘UEGCL takes over Isimba supervision’ and on September 11, 2017, the New Vision published ‘Isimba supervisor seeks sh3.2b before handover’.

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Eng. Dr. Badru M. Kiggundu is the chairperson of the Project Steering Committee for Karuma and Isimba hydro Power Projects.

On Wednesday September 6, 2017, one local daily published a story tiltled: ‘Govt sacks Isimba dam consultant’; the next day the New Vision published ‘UEGCL takes over Isimba supervision’ and on September 11, 2017, the New Vision published ‘Isimba supervisor seeks sh3.2b before handover’.

Government did NOT fire Isimba owners engineer

Eng. Dr. Badru M. Kiggundu

In the last fortnight or so, there have been a number of Press reports specifically on the Isimba Hydro Power project. I will quote just three of these from the mainstream print media.

On Wednesday September 6, 2017, one local daily published a story tiltled: ‘Govt sacks Isimba dam consultant’; the next day the New Vision published ‘UEGCL takes over Isimba supervision’ and on September 11, 2017, the New Vision published ‘Isimba supervisor seeks sh3.2b before handover’.

In all the above press reports and others not quoted, what sticks out as true is that Energy Infratech PVT Limited (EIPL), the firm hired by the Government of Uganda as its supervising consultant/Owner’s Engineer for the Isimba Hydro Power Project, ceased to hold that position and perform the ascribed duties on September 7, 2017. Let it be on record that EIPL was/has not been fired. The Government did not renew its contract, which expired on September 7, 2017, after a 40-month run from May 7, 2014.

Indeed on September 7, 2017, I led a team of the project steering committee to officiate at a handover from EIPL to UEGCL as an interim measure before a new supervising consultant can be procured. The team comprised of representatives from the ministries of Finance, Planning and Economic Development; Energy and Mineral Development as well as the Attorney General’s Chambers. There was also the chief executive officer of UEGCL and the Board chairperson and a representative of the chief executive officer for UETCL. As you may have read or watched from subsequent press reports, EIPL requested for an extra week to fully organise themselves for the handover, it was granted.

In this whole situation, one question sticks out like a sore thumb. “Why did Government consider not renewing EIPL’s contract?” This question gains more traction by the fact that the actual Isimba project timeline is now at month 29 with 11 months to go. And so it remains plausible for one to ask why the supervising consultants’ contract is not pegged to that of project completion.

This is a question Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development are better placed to answer as signatories to the contract on behalf of Government. I will attempt to give reason as to why this EIPL contract is not getting a renewal only to the extent to which the confidentiality clause permits.

Under the contract, EIPL was mandated with providing professional services, personnel and technical resources appropriate for the supervision of the engineering, procurement and construction works done by the EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) Contactor China International Water and Electric Corporation (CWE) as per the EPC contract, specifications and international standards.

This involved review and approval of designs, review and approval of construction method statements, review and approval of construction drawings, supervision of construction works and approval of completed structures.

The supervision contract also included witnessing testing of manufacturing equipment like gates, turbines, generators, transformers, draft tubes, governors, exciter, cooling systems and  whole lot other associated electromechanical equipment.

Furthermore, the supervision contract includes reviewing and approving of the testing and commissioning protocols for the power generation facilities, developing operation and maintenance manuals etc to ensure high reliability for the Isimba Hydro Power Plant. As seen, the task at hand is enormous and highly demanding for a project of such scale and complexity. Whereas EIPL gave it its best shot, various aspects related to provision of professional services and personnel for the Isimba HPP did not meet the owner’s requirements as desired.

For illustrative purposes, I will give a few examples. EIPL for a long period of their contract tenure did not mobilise experienced key supervision personnel including quality control specialist, electromechanical specialist and an experienced geotechnical engineer to fully lead in supervision of construction of the embankment dams, in spite of repeated recommendation and calls to fill the agreed project supervision structure.

This compromised the construction control aspects and in some instance led to non-conformances related to material placement and dam monitoring instrumentation for both the Left and Right Embankment Dams. Installation of dam monitoring equipment and construction for embankment dams is critical for dam safety on projects of this nature. The associated risks for dam failure can lead to catastrophic effects on the downstream of the hydro power plant if they materialise.

The biggest undoing was also regarding the change of materials for electro mechanical and hydro mechanical equipment. Whereas the EPC contract and employer requirements clearly specified the material properties for equipment like gates, draft tubes, stop logs, cooling system etc. these were changed to materials of lower or inferior grade compared to what was specified in the contract, under the watch of EIPL.

Whereas the contract is open to change in technical specifications, it also clearly defines the procedures and rationale for changing or altering material/ equipment specifications. These procedures include the EPC Contractor making a formal and documented request to the client/ owner, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development represented by UEGCL the Implementing agency.

The change order procedure further includes brief descriptions of the proposed changes to equipment specifications, effect on time completion, estimated cost of the change, effect on functional guarantees and facilities. All this was not done to the detriment of the project as well as the realization of the project’s cardinal objective which is the production of reliable and affordable electricity.

UEGCL now stands a risk of incurring high operation and maintenance costs related to equipment of inferior grade compared to what was specified in the contract. Eventual high costs in operation and maintenance for a project such as Isimba is self-defeating to Government’s quest to provide affordable electricity for socio-economic development. What would otherwise hedge the end user - both domestic and industrial - is having a facility that will not require regular and expensive operation and maintenance.

This can only be achieved if the technical specifications agreed upon are adhered to or if any alterations are made according to the laid our procedure. The mentioned alterations on the technical specifications happened by either omission or commission of the supervising consultant/ Owner’s Engineer.

For emphasis’ sake, the EPC contract empowers the supervising consultant/ Owner’s Engineer to review and approve the contractor’s works for compliance to technical specifications. This right was not dully exercised by EIPL thus the dissatisfaction with their performance as Owners’ Engineer. In the circumstances, Government was left no choice but to make use of its discretionally powers not to extend their contract for supervision of the construction works for Isimba HPP.

There is a genuine worry that change of a supervising consultant/owners Engineer may have perilous consequences on the project delivery from timelines, budget and technical specifications. This is not a risk we have taken blindly. Government’s decision is buoyed by the confidence in other stakeholders to perform their role as well as the unwavering commitment to deliver the project as envisaged from inception.

Management and specifically project management will often demand taking hard decision and administrative sanction but all this is within good faith and the overriding desire for success. History will judge us harshly if we, as the project steering committee or as Ministry of Energy or UEGCL and others looked on while specifications were altered at a whim; works went shoddy with reckless abandon and timelines negated without restraint. It holds true that to have an omelet some eggs have to break.

That said, I will conclude by giving a global overview of the progress at Isimba. Construction at the 183 MW project commenced on April 30, 2015 and is expected to last for 40 calendar months. The project is at 70% overall progress. Physical progress of works namely civil, hydro-mechanical and electromechanical is estimated at 75%, 67% and 67% respectively at end of August 2017, while general concreting works are at approximately 98%. Construction of the Transmission Line has reached 64%.   

The writer is the chairperson of the Project Steering Committee for Karuma and Isimba hydro Power Projects.

 

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