A senior government official in the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) under the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development was on November 29 blocked from travelling, out of the country as top officials in the agency fight for control of its operations, Saturday Vision has learnt.
Eng. John Turyagyenda, who is the manager project development and management, was briefly blocked from travelling causing him and his colleagues to miss a scheduled flight to Morocco.
REA spokesperson Patricia Litho confirmed that Turyagenda and team did not travel, having been intercepted and delayed by immigration agents, hence missing their flight. “No one was arrested,” she said.
Turyagenda confirmed he was briefly inconvenienced at the immigration office, but was later cleared unconditionally by immigration and security agents, who later apologised over the incident.
“We were travelling to audit the factories of Console East Africa SMC Ltd for re-enforced concrete poles, galvanised metals and cross arms. This was on request by Console East Africa SMC Ltd and the company was to sponsor the trip,” Ruben Abagye, one of the REA engineers who was slated to travel, told Saturday Vision.
Infighting Saturday Vision has learnt that while the trip was initially cleared by the deputy Executive Director Geoffrey Werikhe, REA’s Executive Director, Godfrey Turyahikayo rescinded and denounced the earlier clearance on the morning the team was scheduled to travel.
In an internal memo to Werikhe on November 29, 2019, a copy of which Saturday Vision has seen, Turyahikayo denounced the trip and noted that he had not been consulted about it.
Sources within REA told Saturday Vision that Turyagenda’s arrest was a manifestation of a bitter fight between Werikhe and Turyahikayo over who should control REA.
Efforts to get a comment from Turyahikayo proved futile as he was reportedly out of the country.
A senior board official, who spoke to Saturday Vision, noted that there was a serious crisis at REA as two factions wrestle for control of the institution. The factions, the sources revealed, are allegedly linked to Turyahikayo and his deputy Werikhe.
“The ever-escalating infighting delayed the procurement of the relevant service providers,” the source revealed.
REA board chairman Robert Kasande, who is also the permanent secretary in the energy ministry, did not want to discuss the divisions within REA, but admitted that the board was aware of the infighting and that they have tried to bring together the warring factions.
“They have money to implement projects but they are busy fighting each other. We have tried to reconcile them, but we still have work to do,” Kasande noted.
In May, the REA board through Kasande, declined to renew Turyahikayo’s contract on grounds that there had been a decline in the implementation of activities at the agency.
In a May 30 letter, Kasande informed Turyahikayo that the board would not renew his contract as a result.
“There were disturbing trends in the decline of implementation of activities of the agency for the last four years. In that regard, during its sitting of May 27, 2019, the board declined to renew your contract,” the letter reads.
Museveni intervenes It took the intervention of President Yoweri Museveni, who counselled energy minister Irene Muloni and the REA board against sacking Turyahikayo until investigations into corruption in the agency were concluded.
In a letter to Muloni, dated July 8, 2019, Museveni made reference to his phone conversation with the minister and observed, “this is to direct you and the board that the status quo of the management of Rural Electrification Agency should be maintained for one year so that I conclude the investigations into the massive corruption there.”
“My quick audit has already exposed massive theft of government resources,” the President stated.
However, Saturday Vision has learnt that Turyahikayo bypassed the board and approached Parliament’s natural resources committee chairperson, Keefa Kiwanuka, to lobby for his reappointment by President Museveni.
In April, Kiwanuka, apologised to the Speaker of Parliament after a letter he purportedly wrote to President Museveni to intervene in the matters of REA and ensure that contracts of all employees are renewed, leaked.
Kiwanuka accused the board of worsening the already fragile situation at REA.
The Speaker accused Kiwanuka, among other committee chairpersons, of “failing to follow decorum when it came to discussing parliamentary affairs before the President.”
A senior board official, who spoke to Saturday Vision, noted that they had only met once after President Museveni reappointed Turyahikayo in July this year. He noted that the situation in REA had gone out of control and that factions continued to dominate the daily management of affairs in the institution as senior staff, who are deemed not loyal, are sidestepped.
“We had received a complaint of underperformance, over which donors were on the verge of suspending funding cooperation with REA,” the board member revealed.
Donor funds Saturday Vision has obtained exclusive access to documents that detail under performance in some REA donor-funded projects. Some of the donors, such as the African Development Bank and World Bank, have threatened to suspend funding to projects over corruption and low absorption of funds.
For instance, African Development Bank injected $100m (sh337b) in the Uganda Rural Electricity Access. The loan agreement was signed on November 4, 2015 and was to expire on December 31 2020. But by June this year, REA had only absorbed $3,970,468.32 which was a mere 4%.
The World Bank also advanced $135m to REA in December 2015 for Energy for Rural Transformation project phase three. The money, the board member noted, had been lying idle for much of the time and as of May this year, only 13.8% or $18,661,141 had been put to use, yet the loan agreement expires on December 31, 2020.
Closely related is the African Development Bank grant of $8.3m (sh30b), whose related activities were supposed to be implemented in December 2015, yet by June this year, only $130,000 had been absorbed representing a paltry 1.6%.
A confidential report by a board member, seen by Saturday Vision, reads: “In extending his contract for another one year, it was hoped that Turyahikayo would focus his energy on re-building teamwork and working towards improving the performance of key projects. Shockingly, upon his return, he has taken arbitrary decisions, contrary to what was expected; his decisions are generally geared towards rewarding individuals that he believes supported him to secure his contract extension and witch-hunting those he thinks did not support him.”
These actions, the report indicates, have significant implications on the implementation of flagship projects given the political calendar 2021.
Non-performance Therefore, affected projects include the project for electrification of all sub-counties. This project is expected to extend electricity to all sub-counties that are not electrified. It is worth $212m (sh800b) and is financed by the China Exim Bank.
Saturday Vision has learnt that the project had been making good progress until late July, when Turyahikayo, contrary to the REA approved structure and without approval of the board, took a decision to transfer its management from the mandated department to Charles Lutwama, the manager in charge of the planning department.
Board sources indicated that, “being in charge of both planning and implementation of projects jeopardises the checks and balances that were envisaged by the board in the approved structure.”
Saturday Vision has learnt that since then, there has been negative progress as designs which had been approved have since been cancelled and the contractor instructed to demobilise.
REA has now focused on interfering in TBEA, a Chinese power company’s responsibility of procuring subcontractors and suppliers, claiming that the rates offered by TBEA are low.
In a similar manner, Saturday Vision has also learnt that Turyahikayo also transferred the management of the African Development Bank project to Lutwama.
Sources in the REA board indicated that the procurement of contractors and suppliers for these projects was marred by irregularities that led to petitions from bidders, but Turyahikayo defied all odds to disqualify a low priced and qualified bidder in favour of high priced foreign companies.
Saturday Vision has also seen letters from the REA board chairman and coordinator Operation Wealth Creation, and the PPDA following an administrative review, directing REA to re-evaluate bids using experts in the sector that had not participated in the earlier evaluation. Turyahikayo defied those directives.
Saturday Vision learnt that the three contracts were finally awarded to a foreign firm at about $10.7m higher than the local qualified firm.
Lutwama confirmed that he had been appointed to head both projects, indicating that it was true REA had separate departments for planning and for project implementation.
“I head planning directly but my roles as a manager are cross-cutting and often times push into supervision, just as much as the project supervision roles often times push into planning. This is common in organisations like ours the world over,” Lutwama said.
He further noted that: “The current situation at REA, as am sure you already know, is unique. However, my understanding is that it is the accounting officer who decides how best to implement his duties as such and he may decide to instruct any competent manager or engineer to supervise any project that he feels may be poorly supervised or if the supervisor is preoccupied with other projects.”
He denied claims that, being a project manager of a certain project would jeopardise the checks and balances because REA has a fully-fledged internal audit unit as well as other institutional controls that govern how the authority operates.
Lutwama noted that he took over project management in September this year and that, “So far we've approved 95% of design drawings carried out factory acceptance tests twice in China, six times for local poles and stay stubs. We have received one large consignment of goods from China works have commenced in over 18 districts all over the country we are finalizing recruitment of extra staff for project supervision and management,” he stated,
The President, Saturday Vision has learnt, has been briefed about the development and it remains to be seen what step he will take next .
This article was originally published on New Vision Uganda.