What Transpired as MPs Chased Energy Minister with plan to construct dam at Murchison Falls

  • by Mary Ociiti
  • September 28, 2020

The House has rejected government’s proposal to conduct a feasibility study, a precursor for the construction of a 360 MW hydropower dam at Murchison Falls National Park.

Parliament’s position follows its recent inquiry that has unearthed the plan as a national liability.

In October 2019, President Yoweri Museveni, amidst public resistance to power generation at Murchison Falls, directed that a feasibility study be conducted to fully understand the site; the impact on environment, ecology and tourism.

However, in a recent inquiry by Parliament’s Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, it was observed that hydro power generation at Murchison Falls will present undesirable economic, environmental and social effects.

“Although Murchison Falls have a big maximum power of 555 MW, the environmental conditions are bad as species might be affected and Murchison Falls National Park will be affected,” said the committee chairperson, Hon. Keefa Kiwanuka.

Kiwanuka, who was presenting the committee findings to Parliament on Thursday 24, September 2020, said that social effects of power generation at Murchison Falls would be bad because of the impact on existing tourism such as the falls, Safari tours, boat riding and sport fishing.

“Murchison Falls National Park is the most visited national park in Uganda offering experiences such as game drives, nature walks; boat rides to the bottom of the falls and hikes to the top of Murchison falls,” said Kiwanuka adding that, “consequently in 2018, it accounted for 31 per cent of all visitors to national parks. Therefore, removing the falls will be to the disadvantage of revenue collections.”

To the economy, Kiwanuka said that it is unwise to encroach on a promising sector such as tourism which instead should be supported to grow. “The investment in accommodation facilities within the park worth US$ 50 million and over 700 jobs being offered should inspire government to preserve the falls,” the report proposed.

Parliament instead advised government to utilise the other untapped resources such as wind and sunlight to generate solar power. “Government should not look at our lakes and rivers anymore. It should look at other sources of energy, for example, we have a lot of wind in Uganda, why can’t they look at it for energy?” asked Hon. Rose Mutonyi (NRM, Bubulo County West).

Legislators hit at government for encroaching on natural resources for energy when the country has not been able to consume the already generated power.

“We have been told that we have excess hydropower that we generate more than we can consume. So why should we keep on destroying our natural resources? We need an explanation as to why we have power wastage,” said the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Betty Aol Ocan.

Hon. Jacob Opolot (Ind. Pallisa County) told Parliament how government has since 2011 has been paying heavily for hydro power projects whose power has not been consumed.

“In the 9th Parliament, I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee and every year there was an audit query over expenses we were incurring to pay for some hydro projects whose power we were not consuming,” revealed Opolot.