P2 billion power plant a source of intrigue

18 Oct 2018

The Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Permanent Secretary, Cornelius Dekop has distanced himself from a letter awarding almost a P2 billion tender for a 200 megawatts solar power plant to a Chinese company in the North West District.

Dekop said he did not know anything about the letter awarding the tender to a Chinese company even though it bore his name saying that the letter could be an issue of element of criminality.

Dekop disclosed this after he was summoned to appear before Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises after Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) informed the committee on Friday last week that they were not aware about the awarding of the tender to a Chinese company.

The committee summoned Dekop after BPC informed it that they were briefed about the solar power plant project that was spearheaded by the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Ministry, but they were not privy to information as to who awarded the tender.

Dikop indicated that according to his knowledge the solar power project was put on hold after the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism put an   advert inviting companies for a solar power plant tender.  According to Dekop he was informed about the tender when he enquired from the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Ministry why the project was put on hold and it why has never gone through an adjudication process.

 According to Dekop, the letter that purportedly awarded a tender bearing his name was fake adding that as Permanent Secretary he can only a tender for a project that is below P600 million.

The committee summoned Dekop to appear before it after BPC senior management claimed that it not aware of a letter purported to have awarded the P2 billion tender to a Chinese company. The issue is said to have raised eyebrows within the government enclave and a whistleblower alerted authorities about it.

The power utility which is mandated by law as a sole supplier of electricity provider was at pains to explain why they allowed the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Ministry to go ahead with the tender to set up a solar power without following the right procedure.

BPC Chief Executive Officer, Dr Stefan Scwarzfischer indicated that he was aware of the proposed 200 Megawatts by the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism ministry though they were not aware about the awarding of the tender to Chinese company.

 He indicated that he was aware at some point there was a dispute between Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister, Tshekedi Khama and the Ministry of Mineral Resources and former Green Technology and Energy, Sadique Kebonang about the 200 megawatts solar power project in the North West.

According to him, the dispute was about who should actually implement power generation projects in the area.  

Scwarzfischer said there was no documentation that was provided when he was called by the two ministries at meetings that were convened to discuss the P2 billion solar power Plant.

Scwarzfischer agreed with the committee that the project procedures were not followed since there were no Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and granting of Grid study by BPC. This is an anomaly that he is unable to explain since the project was not falling under BPC ambit.

Scwarzfischer also indicated that in a normal circumstance the power utility will not sign a PPA since procedures were not followed even if the project could go ahead.

“We have neither approved the PPA nor granted the Grid study as was the norm. The power plant can’t feed on the BPC power line since there was no agreement,” he added.

Quizzed by Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Reggie Reatile as to whether he was aware of the tender that was awarded to the Chinese company, Scwarzfischer argued that the last time he came to know about the project was when he was called for a meeting between the two ministries headed by Khama and Kebonang. He indicated that at some point there was a dispute between the two ministers on who should implement such projects.

He further noted that he was not aware that the Chinese company was selected for the tender without going through an open tender process.

He was of the view that project was shelved since he had advised that the project was no viable given that BPC power grid was not able to take off the 200 megawats.

“We had advised them that the project does not make sense. Again for anybody to generate electricity you should have a license and they didn’t have it,” he said.

Scwarzfischer was not in a position to state or commit himself when asked if the decision encroached in their mandate.

In an earlier interview with The Telegraph sister publication, Sunday Standard, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Rule Opelo had indicated that their move to spearhead the solar power plant was not in any way usurping the BPC mandate.  

His argument was that the responsibility of setting up solar power stations that supply electricity was not a sole responsibility of the BPC only. According to Opelo, the move was part of the government commitment towards reducing gas house emissions since Botswana has committed to reducing green house emissions by 2036.

The money that will be channeled towards the project according to Opelo will come from Green Climate Fund which was established within the framework of the United nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change to assist developing countries like Botswana to carry out mitigation actions against climate change.