Monday, January 30, 2023

BPC alleged to have put rookie in charge of a ‘controlled bomb’

An officer at the Morupule Power Station has had a run of luck that, some fear, might just end with him being given a plum job that he does not have professional qualifications for.

Sources tell Sunday Standard that the officer in question holds a BSc in Chemistry and all along has been working as a station chemist at the plant. When the employee who held the position of Production Manager was shifted to a different position two years ago under what has been described as mysterious circumstances, the chemist was brought in to fill the position in an acting capacity. Sources see that as precarious for at least three reasons. 

Firstly and on account of the sort of professional competence required, the position of Production Manager has historically been held by either a mechanical or electrical engineer ÔÇô never a chemist. The position holder has also historically been someone who has worked in the main plant. At the heart of the Morupule Power Station is the main plant and three support plants that handle water treatment, ash and coal. The chemist who is in charge of the Production Unit has, according to our information, never worked in the main plant but in a support plant. As a result, he is said to be unfamiliar with the full raft of operational processes and systems in the main plant.

Secondly, the Production Manager at the power station (in either substantive or acting capacity) has always been someone who has been accorded ranking within BPC’s own occupational safety and health scheme. In ascending order the ranks are of Competent Person, Junior Authorised Person, Senior Authorised Person and Controller. A Competent Person is defined as a person over the age of majority who has sufficient knowledge technical knowledge to avoid danger. A Junior Authorised Person has technical knowledge to handle power less than 220 kilovolts while both a Senior Authorised Person and a Controller can handle power up to 400 kilovolts. In order to be accorded voltage ranking within such scheme, BPC employees have to take an examination with a professional body appointed by the Chief Executive Officer. Sunday Standard learns that never having taken this exam and resultantly not having the requisite technical knowledge, the current Acting Production Manager does not qualify for ranking within that scheme. They add that not having this knowledge make it impossible for the Manager to deal with emergency situations and two that re given as examples relate to a transformer burning or a turbine returning instead of forwarding power to a source.

“When there is an emergency situation in the main plant, the Production Manager has to think on his feet and direct all interventions. The situation that we have now puts juniors ÔÇô and not the Production Manager, in the driving seat because the juniors are more knowledgeable about the plant than the Manager and have the requisite specialised skills that the Manager doesn’t have,” a source says.

The latter uses a vivid metaphor to illustrate a point about how problematic this precise situation is. The source compares a power station to a “controlled bomb” and explains that anywhere in the world those who are in charge of this bomb have the specialised “bomb-handling” training and technical competence to prevent the worst-case scenario from coming about.

“In the case of Morupule, someone with no such training and competence has been put in charge of that bomb,” the source says.

Thirdly, when the chemist assumed the Acting Production Manager position, there were more qualified people who were overlooked and are now expected to guide him. Naturally, this had led to resentment and set tongues wagging at the power station. Some employees firmly believe that the Manager has good friends in high places who are determined to fast-track his rise up the organizational ladder.

Beginning January 1, 2014, BPC went into a five-year contract operations and maintenance (O&M) contract with STEAG Energy Services India. This was after a largely unproductive and acrimonious relationship with the China National Electric Equipment Corporation (CNEEC) which built Morupule Power B Plant and up to that point, had been providing O&M services. With only two years left on the contract, STEAG and BPC made an arrangement for the latter’s employees to understudy the former’s in various capacities. Those wishing to be enrolled on this programme were only required “to show interest.” Our information is that when the Acting Production Manager showed such interest, he was attached to the Production Unit when his professional competence lies elsewhere. The result is that at this point in time, he is both an Acting Production Manager and a STEAG understudy.

On October 5, the position of Production Manager was finally advertised, with October 18 set as the deadline for applications. From what we learn, the job profile for Production Manager in BPC’s scheme of service stipulates that the minimum academic qualification for the position shall be a bachelor degree (BEng) in either mechanical or electrical engineering. That would explain why the position has always been held by either a mechanical or electrical engineer. In the standard language of human resources, any other related qualifications shall be an added advantage. For the first time ever, that order has been completely reversed such that any other related qualifications is the minimum academic qualification required and a BEng an added advantage. Sources say that in its reconfigured form, the advert favours the Acting Production Manager. It was not possible to determine whether he has indeed applied for this post.

In interpreting the written set of questions that Sunday Standard sent, BPC determined the issue to be about the personal employment circumstances of an individual employee. The standard practice everywhere else is to firewall such information against public scrutiny but only under normal circumstances.

“The Corporation is not in a position to discuss human resources issues of this nature in the media. Employees who are interested and or affected with staff appointments/recruitment should engage management through the appropriate governance structures,” said Dineo Seleke, BPC’s Manager of Marketing and Communications.


Read this week's paper