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Investment in energy far from rural transformation – MPs

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Minister of State for Energy and Mineral Development (Energy) Hon. Sidronius Opolot Okaasai (left), with the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Pauline Irene Batebe, appearing before the Committee of National Economy on Wednesday 15 February 2023

Government’s heavy investment in the energy sector is not benefiting the intended end users, Members of Parliament have observed.

While scrutinizing 14 loans issued to the sector, MPs on the Committee on National Economy complained of low coverage and quality of power distributed to rural areas, saying it defeats the purpose of rural transformation.

“You know my people produce a lot of milk; when one switches on a milk cooler the lights go off; the next user cannot have his on at the same time, people have resorted to generators,” said Wilson Kajwengye (NRM, Nyabushozi) during the Committee meeting Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development on Wednesday, 15 February 2023.

The loans include a US$80 million from the Islamic Development Bank for the Opuyo – Moroto Electricity Transmission Project; and a Euro15 million loan from the KfW Development Bank for the Kampala-Entebbe Expansion project.

Kajwengye said he had witnessed health workers using torches for lighting in health centers, connected to low voltage network, wondering whether such loans should still be accepted.

Legislators noted that a number of projects close to completion were far from achieving the set objectives, citing the ‘bridging demand gap through the accelerated rural electrification programme’ (TBEA) of 2017.

The project is financed by a US $212 million loan from Exim Bank to connect 287 sub-counties with electricity. MPs however said many sub-counties were not yet connected.

Hon. Henry Kibalya (NRM, Bugabula South) complained of the costs of connection that end users are required to meet, saying they are too high for local people who are the target of rural electrification programme.

“They are asking people for Shs700,000 up to Shs1.2 million; where will my poor people in Bugabula get such money yet they need power?” asked Kibalya.

Hon. Moses Kabuusu (FDC, Kyamuswa) said the quality and the scope of energy will frustrate other government interventions, singling out the new schools’ curriculum.

“How will schools cope up with the new curriculum, it is a computerized one that requires electricity. Schools will need power to run the science laboratories,” Kabuusu said.

The Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Irene Batebe, said the projects were significantly challenged by the COVID-19 lockdown that made it difficult to import construction materials.

“I know COVID sounds like an excuse but it was a major challenge. Most of the materials were imported from China which was under lock down,” said Batebe.

She further cited vandalism and opposition from communities who refuse to be resettled, yet it is a requirement by donors before projects’ commencement.

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