By Spy Uganda
Officials at the rural electricity agency (REA) are in deep trouble after whistleblower petitioned president Yoweri Museveni to investigate allegations that they abused billions of shillings that were meant for purchase of electricity poles.
The whistleblower, whose petition was received by state house on march 9, 2020, alleges that billions of shillings have continuously been wastefully used by officials in buying expensive wooden electricity poles, yet they had an option buy cheaper ones.
The whistleblower blower contends that the acts of REA managers tantamount to criminal negligence, and a result, the cost of accessing electricity remains high despite the government’s efforts to massively connect Ugandans to the national power grid under the sub-county rural electrification program.
The petitioner also contends that despite well proven scientific ways of assessing the quality and durability of wooden poles used to transmit electricity, REA managers continuously misinterpret and misapply the (buy Uganda build Uganda) BuBu policy to cover up for buying poor quality electricity poles from local suppliers, who are thrice more expensive than what is available from south African suppliers who equally supply reputable power giants like Eskom.
According to the whistleblower, the poles bought by REA managers do not conform to the standard quality because of their durability and quality, since this depends on the brand of preservation chemicals used to treat the poles to prolong their life-span, while increasing their resistance to pests like termites, wood worm, woodpeckers.
Instead of buying standard quality poles, the whistleblower reveals that REA buys poles from disguised local suppliers who deliberately use copper chrome arsenic (CCA) to treat and preserve the eucalyptus tree poles, yet they know the chemical can’t protect the poles from cracking due to sun heat or being eaten by termites.
The chemical CCA is one of the least efficient chemicals when it comes to treating poles, according to the petitioner, reason why most poles connecting REA power lines in rural areas often breakdown or have to be replaced every 5-6 years.
It is also alleged that in some cases, REA officials buy and use poles meant for purposes of transmission of telecom lines, yet they know it is.
Since the poles are poorly treated using CCA, they are easily prone to bush fires which are rampant in rural areas.
The petitioner pleads with the president to investigate claims that this deliberate abuse of office is one of the way REA managers are allegedly enriching themselves, pocketing kickbacks through buying poor quality poles at discounted rates from local suppliers instead of as creosote-treated poles which can last for up to 40 years without need for replacement.
It should be noted that using creosote has been proved to be the best authentic way to treat electricity poles globally since 1838 and thereby prolonging their durability and life span.
The whistleblower therefore wonders why some REA engineers and other technical officials, who are well trained and remunerated to guard public interest, can pretend not to be aware of this basic fact.
As such, the petitioner asks president Museveni to task the state house Anti-corruption taskforce headed by Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema investigate the matter, and promptly bring all culprits to books.
This is because avoidable expenditures like that of replacing poles after a short period constrains government efforts to expand its rural electrification programs since billions that would have been used to facilitate new connections end up being spent on high maintenance and pole-replacement costs.
As a way of illustrating his case, the whistleblower explains how locally-procured wooden poles (treated with cca) are more expensive than imported ones (treated with creosote) in the long run.
A locally-procured 10meter pole costs rea shs950,000 as opposed to mere usd119 (roughly shs440,000) that would be expended if the same was imported: shs1,150,000 for the 11meter pole locally procured yet it costs usd173 if it’s imported from sa and shs2,450,000 for the locally-procured 14 meter pole yet it costs usd363 if the same was imported.
The whistleblower says that REA bosses should be punished for such reckless procurement decision-making contrary to the ministry of trade guidelines, which require that BuBu shouldn’t be used to commit government into anomalous procurement decisions breaching the value for money principle for the tax payer.
This means that the basic principles of procurement must be followed while actualizing BuBu.
Because of that, the whistleblower wants REA bosses to be held accountable punished and criminally prosecuted for causing financial loss to government through buying poorer quality wooden poles yet there is an option for cheaper ones.
The ongoing Sub-county based rural electrification program is being implemented by a Chinese company called TBEA, but the poles used for rural electrification extension lines are procured separately by REA itself.
The petitioner also informs the president that the company REA uses to supply much of its poles was blacklisted in both Tanzania and Rwanda for improper conduct and business practices, including supplying poles meant for telecom lines extension disguised as power line poles.
The whistleblower further corroborates on the durability of creosote-treated poles by citing some of the rural power extension lines where REA many years ago used them and they lasted for an eternity. that on the Mbarara-Kyabirukwali line, the poles lasted for over 20 years until they were relocated during road upgrade works as Uganda national roads authority (UNRA) graded Mbarara-Kikagate road from murram to tarmac.
Another example is the power line in Insingiro where the creosote-treated poles lasted for several decades.
The whistleblower contrasts this with the rukungiri-kanungu rural power line where the cca-treated poles have thrice been replaced since 2007, making government incurred unnecessary costs.
That the first pole replacement on the Rukungiri-Kanungu line was in 2012 and the second one in 2017. the whistleblower also gives an example of the Katakwi line where REA keeps replacing close to 2,000 poles every now and then because of poor quality.
In conclusion, the whistleblower also makes it known to the president that REA bosses often collude with some officials at UMEME, who should have been the ones to expose REA’s improper practices, but are instead keeping quiet and turning a blind eye.
He thus urges president Museveni to institute a forensic audit by the auditor general into other procurement decisions at REA, so as to unearth the rot that is there.