Inside story of how Museveni “ate” a multi-million dollar bridge
By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga seems to be barking up the wrong tree on a mega dollar project, which has seen hundreds of millions of dollars “vanish” in a case whereby only one individual has the powers to misappropriate such sums in the country.
Kadaga on the other hand is in a state of self-recrimination after realizing that President Museveni short-changed her on a legacy project that meant a lot, both for her personal comfort and political fortunes.
While addressing the House this November 13, Kadaga repeated the claim that bureaucrats in the Ministry of Energy had swindled some Ushs 24 billion meant for the construction of a new road bridge over the river Nile at Isimba Falls. She said she had submitted the names of the culprits to President Museveni, but that no action had been taken.
The bridge that would offer an alternative crossing about 50 kilometres downstream of Jinja was part and parcel of the 183 megawatt Isimba Power Project that was billed at US$ 589 million. The roughly 300 meter-long bridge was to come with 8 kilometer-long verges on both sides of the crossing.
Both Kadaga and Museveni however probably know that the mess will not stick on fellows in the energy ministry, who are mere fall guys in this case.
To begin with, analysts point out that the Ushs 24 billion, which is equivalent to just under US$ 7 million at current exchange rates, is way too little to have financed a project of that scope. If money for the bridge was stolen it was in the dozens, rather than single digit, millions of US dollars.
And at the very least, Kadaga knows the one or two individuals in Uganda who can steal that kind of money and get away with it.
Known for using public infrastructure projects to line his pockets, Museveni hijacked the role of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Authorities mandate. Sitting in State House back in 2012, he single-handedly negotiated and handed the Isimba contract to an outfit, China Water and Electricity Corporation (CWE).
Even those used to the many corrupt dealings Museveni has been implicated in were shocked by the head of state negotiating infrastructure deals in state house.
Moreover that was after the Chinese firm’s contract for building the 600MW Karuma Hydro Power Station was cancelled when it was discovered that it had made false claims about its experience in building power stations. It was found to have simply added zeroes to present “mini-hydro power stations it had built in Asia” appear like it hand handled projects of similar size to Karuma.
That was an unexpected development for Museveni who had lined himself for a good cut of the US$ 1.4 billion bid. Sources in the know say that Museveni and his operatives in the Ministry of Energy had planned to revise the project cost upwards, by as much as US$ 700 million through variation of costs.
As it turned out however, another Chinese civil contractor Sinohydro Corporation, successfully challenged the award, and committed to deliver the project at the price its competitor had submitted.
With his plans in disarray, it was then that a panicky Museveni convened meetings at State House during which he fast tracked Isimba, whose construction was supposed to have started 3 years after the commissioning of Karuma.
Although having only 28 percent of the capacity of Karuma, Isimba would come in at an odd 42 percent of the cost of the much larger and more technologically complex Karuma. Grand corruption was sticking its head out for all to see.
Claiming that Uganda was at risk of being sued for breach of contract (never mind that the contract became void on the basis of misinformation) Museveni awarded the failed Chinese contractor, CWE, the compensatory contract for Isimba. Museveni was in such a hurry to get his cut that even before the contractor had secured export credit from the China Exim Bank, he had dipped his fingers into the Uganda treasury, to advance CWE US$115 million.
The money supposedly would be recovered when the loan came through!
Going by these developments, if any money has been eaten it is way more than the US$ 7 million figure that Kadaga is peddling, and she knows it.
But because she wants the bridge – which would cut some 40 kilometres off her journey between Kampala and her hometown Kamuli – she is setting the stage for double expenditure. Her revelations supposedly have caused pressure, and the works ministry is supposedly designing the bridge whose procurement would start in the near future.
Kadaga then engaged in doubletalk of the highest order, to protect Museveni from fallout from the scandal. She said money was allocated for the bridge as part of a larger project; but there were no designs? Who would be credulous enough to buy such a story?
If the bridge eventually gets built, it will not be the first time that Museveni will be charging the taxpayer twice for a project whose money he has swindled. In 2010, ahead of the election he feared losing, Museveni fished an obscure German firm, Mühlbauer, from nowhere and gave it a US$ 80 million contract to register, and supply a system for the production of secure national identity cards.
Two years later the firm had issued only 401 cards, before everything went quiet.
The project was revived in 2013 at a cost that has never been made public, once again underscoring how Uganda’s opaque public procurement system feeds Museveni’s insatiable hunger for free money.
When Uganda finally ends up bankrupt and being sold for scrap, blame Museveni!, a dismayed retired engineer said bitterly.