The West Nile Rural Electrification Company (WENRECO) has 25 days to defend its concession to supply electricity to North Western Uganda or risk losing its licence.
Hillary Onek, the Minister for Energy and Minerals, told Parliament today that WENRECO must explain why it has consistently broken its contract for electricity supply and the construction of a hydropower dam at Nyagak River. He said that if the company fails to do this, it would risk losing its operational license and face a court case and hefty fines.
The Minister disclosed these facts in a statement on the two-month power blackout in the West Nile.
WENRECO, a company owned by the Aga Khan Group, has a 20-year concession for the supply of power to the West Nile. Although it is expected to supply 12 hours of power every day, supplies have never been on for more than eight hours a day. In the past twelve months they dwindled from eight to only three hours a day. Since March, the supply of power from the WENRECO thermal plant has been switched off and the entire region has no electricity at all.
WENRECO claims that it cannot supply electricity because of the high costs of diesel to fuel its engines. Hillary Onek told parliament that cabinet has agreed to assist in this matter by providing diesel worth 80,000 shillings a month, for the next six months, until the company gets back on its feet.
Onek added that WENRECO has been asked to find a new civil sub-contractor to work with on the long-delayed Nyagak power project. He said delays in construction were blamed on of the incapacity of the initial sub-contractor hired.
Members of Parliament, particularly those from the West Nile, were not impressed by the Minister's statement.
Christine Baku, the Woman MP for Arua district, said cabinet's intervention was too little too late. She said there are 6,000 unemployed youth in Arua town, who have been forced out of their jobs in metal fabrication, photocopying and the restaurant business because of the lack of electricity.
Baku, who is heavily pregnant, said she was afraid to give birth at Arua Regional Referral Hospital because it did not have electricity. According to her, women at the hospital are forced to give birth by candlelight because there is no electricity.
Baku asked that government should invest the 80,000 dollars for fuel in finishing the Nyagak dam in order to end the problems of power supply from WENRECO.
Felix Okot Ogong, the MP of Dokolo County, said it was appalling that in this day and age a large section of the country can go for months without electricity. He called the privatization of public utilities a sham and called for the nationalization of water and electricity supply companies.
The Leader of the Opposition, Ogenga Latigo, asked about the role of the Electricity Regulatory Authority in the matter. He demanded to know what the authority had done in the months leading up to the breakdown of WENRECO and why it did not intervene sooner.
Minister Hillary Onek did not respond to all the queries raised. He said the most urgent concern of cabinet was that some form of electricity supply was restored to the West Nile. He pledged to present a more comprehensive paper on the state of electricity distribution and supply in Uganda at a later date.