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WENRECO has no impropriety issues! Officials dismiss latest allegations as intended to malice power distributor

Members of Parliament inspecting a thermal generation plant in Arua (PHOTO /Courtesy)

KAMPALA —Allegations of impropriety against the West Nile Rural Electrification Company Limited (WENRECo) have been dismissed as “cheap propaganda and “intended to achieve political blackmail”—with senior citizens in the West Nile sub-region giving the power firm a clean bill of health.

According to officials familiar with the issues as raised in a document also shared with the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among, some of the allegations are, on the other hand, being spearheaded by agents of a prospective bidder, who seeks to supply fuel for thermal power Generation in West Nile.

It is now understood that the current allegations, including the ‘erratic power supply’ challenges in West Nile were being exaggerated by some actors to force government into allowing unnamed player to import tax free fuel, ostensibly, to support the generation of enough electricity to fire West Nile.

The Genesis

The WENRECo has in the past weeks found its self on the receiving end of bad of publicity, once again becoming a target of smear campaign—with regurgitated wave of allegations of impropriety.

Available information indicates those behind the campaign are painting a grim picture of the sub region as ignored by government to spur emotions. The new allegations have been, however found to be wanting in facts.

It has also emerged that the WestNile power distributor, who turned the region into economically viable today, may be a victim of it’s own success with strong performance returns, a headache for some specific political players who are targeting to force business deals through blackmail especially ahead of WENRECO concession renewal.

It has also emerged that some bidders and political players have since combined with some elements that were recently dismissed by WENRECO over ILLEGALITIES and now unhappy with tighter controls in some departments and the recent restructuring of departments on the other hand made by the new management.

In another instance, an audit of illegal electricity connections, it was found out that some cartels, working with some internal WENRECo staff were issuing unauthorised connections to powerful businessmen region, a matter that was investigated by the new management and closed with tighter controls.

In a separate development, the WENRECO after embarking on an ambitious plan of connecting more people, the management decided to invest in ventures that only add value by getting by strengthening the minigrid and getting more people connected.

“As a result, ventures that did not add value have gone unfunded and some staff, who were benefiting from these felt unhappy. Some felt the new manager was acting powerful,” an official told this website.

Coupled with the above, it has also emerged that some unhappy prospective bidders of the various electricity infrastructure projects have decided to fan allegations after failing to influence the bidding processes of some projects.

Teaming with some political elements, those frustrated then have decided to instigate some people and fan allegations of impropriety, all previously investigated by different institutions including the sector regulator, the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) and found to be without merit, diversionary and in most instances instigated by political interests.

Investigations indicate that most of these allegations including suggestions of impropriety in power distribution and generation are “being sponsored to serve certain political interests”.

It is also reported that some political players, who lost elections in 2021 have been promised huge financial support. This was on condition that they help in incentivising the WENRECo smear project.

Allegations dismissed as wanting in facts

Bishop Orombi, who served as Archbishop of Uganda and Bishop of Kampala from 2004 until his retirement in December 2012

Bishop Orombi served as Archbishop of Uganda and Bishop of Kampala from 2004 until his retirement in December 2012

Bishop Henry Luke Orombi, the retired Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda dismissed the allegations against WENRECo as wanting in facts—saying that the West Nile power distributor was instead being targeted on insufficient grounds.

Bishop Orombi, who served as Archbishop of Uganda and Bishop of Kampala from 2004 until his retirement in December 2012, now staying at his retirement home in Goli, Nebbi District told this website that whereas the region faces power challenges, actors needed to appreciate the work and level of investments made by private players like WENRECo who entered the region at a time when the region wasn’t commercially viable.

He explained that as of 2012, when he first came to reorganize his country home for his retirement, the electricity supply situation was so bad that it would be a miracle for electricity to be on for even 4 hours a day.

“Service then was very unreliable and it was total blackout. We had to use firewood to cook and to boil water. I parted with Shs22m to invest in solar for lighting the home. All this has changed and for the last three years, there has been noticeable improvement though power supply problems still remain, for the larger West Nile,” said Orombi told us—aiming a major dig against players who were using blackmail to frustrate investors.

Dr. Orombi said that for instance part of the challenge constraining power generation relates to the fact that River Nyagak’s water levels keep fluctuating whenever it comes to a dry season.

This is something, he said, no sensible person can blame on WENRECO.

He said electricity-related problems are also affecting access to other key basic services like clean and running water which he said Eng Silver Mugisha’s NWSC has done so well making available but the effectiveness of the water system too has continued to be hampered by electricity problems which he says can only be sustainably solved through building more dams, leveraging on other rivers, besides getting the region onto the national grid connectivity.

He said he is full of praises for WENRECO because personally he these days is assured of 24 hour service access and connectivity to run his lighting, heating and refrigeration needs. His property is a big one with the vast main house and guest wings all of which he confessed are well supplied with electricity 24/7. Orombi also commended WENRECO for the improvement in customer care and pocket friendly tariff.

“Given the magnitude of my usage like I have explained and showed you, I can’t call it expensive or unaffordable when my average bill is just Shs200,000 every two months,” Orombi explained as he conducted journalists around his Goli massive retirement property. He said he has no problem with those who petitioned Parliament or even the Speaker for insisting to inquire the agreement raised or disclosed in the petition but the inquest should focus on the larger picture, while recommending broader interventions the government needs to undertake to sustainably address the inadequate electricity supply problems for West Nile, as opposed to merely targeting WENRECO or even Electro Maxx parse.

WENRECo operates a 3.5MW hydropower plant on the River Nyagak, whose water levels keep fractuating over climate change propagated challenges, Mr. Kenneth Kigumba, the General Manager of WENRECo told a parliamentary committee where a group of youths deliberately disconnected power to show cause for power unreliability in the region.

Dr. Emmanuel Otala, the Chairperson of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources also aimed a scathing attack on the group and said the action was unnecessary.

“We can relate to some of the challenges you have raised here but please, detach emotions so that we can recommend to government long term solutions to some of the issues raised here, Dr. Otala said—dismissing some of the evidence presented as unfounded.

On his part, Mr. Kigumba, recommended the fast tracking of Nyagak three hydropower station and connecting of the region to nation grid, whose development has reached 66%.

Officials said West Nile will be connected to the national grid, for the first in 119 years, since the region became part of the present day Uganda.

Number don’t lie

Over the last 19 years, the West Nile region in Uganda has been dramatically transformed, Dr. Orombi said adding that there are clear signs of socio-economic change, as well as improvements in security and regional stability.

Its largest city, Arua, has thriving industries including the Meridian Tobacco Company, better social services and a cleaner environment.

This transformation is testament to the role that access to reliable and affordable electricity plays in improving the quality of life in West Nile, added Dr. Orombi.

WENRECo, a project company of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, invested in a hydropower station that now provides electricity 24 hours a day.

Prior to the presence of WENRECo, there were only four primary schools, six secondary schools and four technical institutes receiving electricity in Arua, stastics from the city division office show.

Today, 28 primary schools, 2p secondary schools and 16 technical institutes are connected to the grid.

Additionally, six new universities including Muni University a government owned Science facility have been built and connected.

Also, prior to the presence of WENRECo, the service industry – including restaurants and hospitality services – was rather stagnant, largely due to the absence of electricity; and services, where available, were expensive.

Since the commissioning of the hydropower project, there have been noticeable improvements in the service sector in Arua, including the opening welding facilities and maize milling machines.

These businesses save significantly on costs now that they run on hydropower, as opposed to diesel power.

The savings, in turn, are passed on to the customers, making products and services more affordable.

The power distributor, whose success story is one of the most inspiring in President Museveni’s Uganda, has also undertaken several power Supply Improvement interventions such as laying of transmission lines to boost production and improve supply reliability

We need more

Arua City Mayor Sam Wadri Nyakua

Arua City Mayor Sam Wadri Nyakua lauded WENRECo for dedicating their efforts in transforming the region but insisted that there were challenges that needed to be addressed to have the region realize its potential.

He said WENRECO was meant to be a temporary solution as opposed to being the replacement of the broader government obligation to provide adequate access to electricity through connectivity to the national grid.

“We need serious power to deepen industrialization in this region and if that is to happen with many investors being attracted to exploit West Nile’s full potential, there is no way WENRECO can be sufficient even if they had generated and made available upto 3.5MWs as was reflected in the concession agreement. That still wouldn’t be enough. We must be given enough electricity via the national grid, the way other regions of Uganda are connected That’s the seriousness we want to see in West Nile as opposed to being taken for granted as if we are only meant to be voting machines for the system,” he said during an interview at his office.

“We are strong supporters of the Movement and we thank the President for all the other interventions to develop and transform West Nile but a lot of people remain disgruntled and feel alienated when it comes to power supply.” The Mayor also said he supports the petition to the Speaker because there it has helped to nationally publicize what has for decades been misunderstood and localized as a West Nile problem yet the whole country stands to benefit and feel the impact once inclusive development comes to West Nile.

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