The Observer (Kampala)

16 March 2014

Uganda: Petroleum Institute Collapsing

Photo: Amnesty International
Oil firms in Uganda accused of human rights violation (file photo).

For an institution that was envisaged to produce skilled manpower for Uganda's oil sector, the Uganda Petroleum Institute Kigumba (UPIK) looks like one big anticlimax.

And no one epitomises this more than Dan Tumukunde.

"We started on a rosy note. Everything seemed to be in order and our future looked bright," says Tumukunde, a former student at UPIK.

Two years after completing his studies, Tumukunde looks back at his tenure at UPIK as a waste of time.

"I thought I was going to get a job in the oil sector as soon as I finished. But after waiting for long, I decided to go back into teaching," he says.

Established four years ago, UPIK, Uganda's only petroleum institute, is struggling to maintain the optimism it created among the public as one of the best training grounds for anyone who had an eye at the country's oil and gas industry.

UPIK was established in 2009 but admitted its first batch of students in 2010 as part of a strategy to build local content in the nascent petroleum industry. There were even government plans to elevate it to a public university to focus on oil and gas and other related courses.

The institute offers a diploma in petroleum studies, followed by an additional six-month training in Trinidad and Tobago and other oil-producing countries. UPIK was expected to solve one of the key challenges that the oil industry faces: limited local labour.

With more than 3.5 million barrels of oil discovered, Uganda is getting closer to being one of Africa's top oil producers. The oil, whose asset worth is estimated at $150bn, has attracted foreign expatriates. The issue has created some bit of tension within the sector, with players saying that Ugandans are being denied job opportunities.

This cannot be taken lightly, with a clear example coming from northern Kenya, where, last year, Tullow Oil had to temporarily stop operations because local communities felt aggrieved by the lack of opportunities.

Foreign investors, on the other hand, cannot take the entire blame.

A number of them say many Ugandans lack the skills to be employed in the oil industry. This is where UPIK was supposed to come up with a solution. At its inception, many expected the institute to be well-facilitated with state-of-the-art facilities as it was the only petroleum institution in the country.

However, four years later, such expectations are slowly fading away.

Another former student who preferred anonymity said: "When we started in 2010, our orientation was not even at Kigumba but instead in a hotel in Kampala," he recalled. The students were ushered into Hotel Migra, Kireka, for two weeks for orientation.

"While there [at the hotel] we ate and drank whatever we wanted at the expense of government," he said.

When the studies started, government officials, oil company managers, and development usually visited the students, and emphasised the point of how lucky they were to be at the institute.

Admissions suspended:

A source at the institute, who preferred anonymity because is not authorized to speak to the press, told us that for the last two years the institute has not admitted new students.

"Currently, there are no new students at the institute. How can you have an institute without students?" he wondered.

Since 2010, the institute is supposed to have had four intakes of students, but it has only conducted two intakes. The source further added that the two vehicles at the institute that used to transport students from Uganda Cooperative College to Kyema Technical Institute and Nakawa for practical lessons are now parked at the Uganda Cooperative College.

Given that there are no students, the lecturers have also left, leaving it to the institute's sole administrator, Harmony Asiimwe.

"They advertised for new students. Students applied. But [over] the last one year, they are yet to begin studies; they are being told to wait," a source said.

Faced with a long wait, some students who had been admitted have since abandoned the course and have enrolled for other courses either at university or other tertiary institutions of learning.

UPIK responds:

Prof Charles Kwesiga, the executive director, Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI), who also doubles as the head of UPIK, confirmed that the institute currently has no new students due to what he describes as "small challenges" the institution is facing.

The remaining students are completing their six-month training in Trinidad and Tobago.

"Right now, I'm in Trinidad and Tobago with a group of active students; so, it is not true that the institute has no students," he said.

Kwesiga explained that the reason as to why the institute had not admitted new students was because there was a "delay to get our specialized workshop equipments for students' practical training. We need these equipments if we are to do a good job."

He said the acquisition of workshop equipments was being financed by the government of Uganda and development partners, with the only hiccup being the lengthy procurement process. Previously, UPIK students had their practical training at Nakawa vocational institute.

"We want to have our own specialized equipments such that our instructors and students can't always be on the move from Kigumba to Kampala," Kwesiga said.

Kwesiga is optimistic that specialized workshop equipments will be in the country soon.

"We are hoping to resume training of new students maybe by the end of April or May this year," he said.

Other challenges:

Moses Arupei, a former student, complains that despite completing their studies two years ago, he is yet to be employed in the sector.

"I have put in two years to study this prestigious course, but what hurts me is I have no job," Arupei complained. Out of the 28 pioneer students, only two students have been able to find jobs, according to Arupei.

The Auditor General, in his report to parliament last year, also noted some problems the institute was grappling with. In the report, John Muwanga noted that since its establishment, the institute had no clear curriculum, available lecturers are irregularly paid and most of whom were recruited without approval from the ministry.

The report also notes that many senior administrative positions like that of the principal, registrars, bursars and others remain vacant, leading to a managerial crisis.

"The college has had a delayed intake of students for the financial year and yet direct utility overheads like water, and electricity had been paid," the AG states, adding that only the warden's office and dormitory for visiting lecturers from Kampala are occupied, while the rest of the facilities are non-operational

Despite the challenges, Kwesiga says the institute is progressing.

For instance, the institute has acquired land and is constructing its own home, which was flagged off by President Yoweri Museveni in 2012.

"We are completing construction of the students' halls of residence, lecture halls and workshops," he said.

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