President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday, in a surprise twist of events, fired the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Dr Stephen Isabalija. Though the President did not give reasons for the surprise sacking, analysts within the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development argue that the messy handling of the procurement process for the oil refinery lead developer could have played a hand in Isabalija's sacking.
Mr Isabalija was only 10 months old into the job, after replacing the long serving Fred Kabagambe Kaliisa during a reshuffle of Permanent Secretaries in November last year. Kabagambe Kaliisa is now a Senior Presidential Advisor on Oil and Gas.
The President appointed Robert Kasande, the acting director, Petroleum Directorate in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, as the acting Permanent Secretary. Mr Kasende, a geologist by profession, was also the project manager for the oil refinery project.
Isabalija's sacking that started as a rumor on Wednesday, was later on Thursday confirmed by the Executive Director, Uganda Media Center and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo who twitted, "Dr Stephen Isabalija's contract has been terminated and he is to be paid one month in lieu of notice," Opondo said.
He said the President did not give any reason for the terminating Isabalija's contract. During his short stint at the Ministry, Isabalija's oversaw the eviction of over 60,000 artisanal gold miners in Kitumbi Sub county, Mubende district. Government claims that the artisanal gold miners were illegally mining gold and want an "investor" to take over.
MESSY OIL REFINERY PROCUREMENT
Dr Isabalija an academic and former Vice Chancellor, Victoria University, could have burnt his fingers in the procurement process of the lead developer for the oil refinery.
Early this month, Dr Isabalija announced Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium (AGRC), a consortium of American and Italian companies, as the winner for the oil refinery deal. This edged out a Chinese Consortium led by Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, that accused the selection panel of corruption.
Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, was granted a mining lease to develop the Tororo Phosphates.
The Chinese consortium includes; Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, Guangdong Silk Road Fund, China Africa Fund for International Corporation, China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corporation (CPNC) and the East Design Institute.
After being edged out in the $ 4bn dollars refinery deal, the Chinese penned a letter dated 8, August, 2017, to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Irene Muloni copied to the Prime Minister in which the consortium expressed shock at the announcement.
"We are taken aback by press reports indicating that the government of Uganda has reportedly selected a group known as Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium to develop the refinery project. Incidentally, the same press reports indicate that the Dong Song - CPECC consortium had been appraised as the best bidder with 83.38 percent," reads the letter signed by LV Weidong, on behalf of Dong Song led consortium.
It added, "The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Dong Song - CPECC consortium has never disintegrated. It remains strong and committed to invest in the development of Uganda Refinery project provided the concerns raised in the consortium's earlier letters are addressed. The letter reads.
The consortium even threatened to challenge the procurement process that led to the selection of any other consortium in courts of law. They also complained that the only reason, they were denied a deal is because, the consortium members are close to President Yoweri Museveni.
"Dong Song is suffering because it is close to the President. There is no way it can give money to people involved in the selection process," an official is reported to have said. This year, two officials from the Ministry of Finance tried to solicit for money from Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, the president laid them a trap and they were arrested.
The Chinese also alleged corruption in the way the deal was awarded. "So, we were edged out, because they know we can't give them money," an official of the consortium is reported in the local press to have complained.
One of the Consortium members, CPECC, a subsidiary of CNPC has demonstrated capacity having built refineries in South Sudan, Algeria, Chad and Niger. However, selection committee is reported to have edged out Dong Song consortium because they didn't provide their intended financiers.
The Chinese are also known of using powerfully connected individuals some of them members of the first family to broker their deals. Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, used the President to get the Tororo Phosphates Deal. It is this politics of balancing interests, that could have landed Isabalija in trouble and could have had played a role in sacking.