Members of Parliament yesterday demanded to know why government is insisting to conduct a feasibility study to justify construction of a controversial hydropower dam at Murchison Falls National Park in the face of opposition from key stakeholders.
Bukoto East MP Florence Namayanja asked: “National Environment Management Authority (Nema), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Directorate of Water Resources Management have all rejected your proposal. It went to Cabinet [and] it was rejected. The project is for Ugandans. It has been rejected, clarify why you are insisting that you must do it.
How are we sure you are not hiding behind Uhuru to tamper with Murchison? Uhuru is 600 metres away from Murchison Falls.”
But State Minister for Energy Simon D’Ujanga told MPs on Parliament Committee on Natural Resources that the findings will inform government’s next course of action on whether or not to construct the controversial dam on the River Nile.
In his presentation, Mr D’Ujanga said government signed a memorandum of understanding with Bonang Energy and Power Ltd from South Africa on December 12, 2017, to do the study.
The company then applied for a permit with Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to carry out the study to guide their decision on the development of the proposed Uhuru hydropower project.
“The demand for power is growing at about 10 per cent per annum, implying continuous development of renewable energy sources, including hydropower, which is one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy. The 25 industrial parks to be constructed across the country will need huge volumes of power to accelerate industrialisation, value addition and job creation. The excess power we are currently having will be absorbed as soon as these industrial parks are completed,” Mr D’Ujanga said yesterday.
The committee chairperson, Dr Keefa Kiwanuka, asked whether the minister knew anything about Bonang company, which had expressed interest to do the feasibility study and construct the dam to which the latter denied.
“The coordinates that we had for the dam were sitting on Murchison Falls. I don’t know now how the coordinates have changed that they are not on Murchison Falls but on Uhuru Falls. Forces against the project are so strong that I would be surprised if government goes ahead to put a dam,” Dr Kiwanuka said.
The committee then asked Mr D’Ujanga, who was in the company of the commissioner for electric power Cecilia Menya, to return next week with his technical team from the other government agencies to explain the coordinates and how much they know about Bonang, among other things.
The minister clarified that the Uhuru hydropower project is not going to affect Murchison Falls. However, Dr Kiwanuka is sceptical that attempts to construct a dam at Uhuru Falls will divert the water from Murchison Falls to Uhuru.
In processing an application for a permit in line with the Electricity Act, 1999, ERA considers the impact of a proposed project on public and private rights; considering the environment, economic, social and cultural impacts on the existing power and eco-system.
When the regulator consulted Nema, UWA and UTB on the proposal, it was rejected.
“On August 26, 2019, Cabinet was briefed of the resistance and Cabinet advised against the project. The project was discussed during a Cabinet meeting again on October 28 and November 25 and the President directed Cabinet to review the decision against the project to allow feasibility study,” a statement Mr D’Ujanga presented, reads in part.
In December, Cabinet reviewed its stand and agreed to carry out a feasibility study. It is against this that Mr D’Ujanga appealed that the study be done to inform their investment plans.