Sunday, April 18, 2021

Govt in cloak and dagger intrigue to dump Morupule B contractor

An audio tape passed to the Sunday Standard has revealed behind the scenes plans by government to terminate the construction programme by troubled Morupule B power station contractor China National Electric Equipment Corporation (CNEEC) and replace it for good by another company.

The government wants to discontinue the construction programme that was retained by CNEEC following government’s appointment of a German company, STEAG Energy Services. The Germany Company took over the maintenance and operation services of Morupule B Power Station from CNEEC following a collapse in the negotiations between Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and CNEEC. It has since emerged that the government had also refused to approve a repair plan presented by CNEEC executives.

Instead, the government and Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), with the assistance of STEAG, decided to launch their own investigations to establish why the plant incurred repeated failures. This is because the government and BPC do not believe CNEEC has the ‘competency’ to identify problems as stated in its repair plan such as the design of the boiler sub-systems which are the root cause of failures of the power station. An audio tape passed to the Sunday Standard and corroborated by sources at the government enclave suggests that the government has adopted a cloak and dagger approach to get rid of the Chinese contractor of the failed Morupule B power station.

In the audio clip in the form of an interview with Yarona FM, Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Kitso Mokaila falls short of admitting that the government has lost confidence in the CNEEC. According to the audio tape, the government intends to rope in another contractor “to come and complete the troubled power station because CNEEC has failed to get the power station to be fully operational.” Mokaila states “that the root cause analysis looks at what is creating tube failures; why do we have high vibrations, why the air ducts and noise levels are so high.”

Mokaila who confirmed in the audio tape that he expected to meet with the CNEEC President “over the weekend” added “since we have got to the bottom of the problems, as government we do not believe that that the contractor has competency to sort out the problems to the levels we want.” “So we want to agree with them to bring in another third party to come and do the rectification,” said Mokaila. When contacted for comment on Friday, Mokaila declined to comment saying he does not want to jeopardise or compromise the planned negotiations with CNEEC President. BPC officials said “we are unable to meet your deadline as we are engaged in a workshop.”

Sunday Standard sought to establish if the Government and BPC have already identified the contractor that is expected to rectify the problems at Morupule B and how much that is likely to cost and status of the future of CNEEC at Morupule B. According to a source who is close to the talks CNEEC believes that the boilers which were designed by a Germany company called Lentjes are to blame for the power station problems. CNEEC is of the view that the company used a rare technology for the design of the boiler, as per the BPC tender requirements. Unit two was shut down on January 16 last year on account of a water leak inside the boiler sub-systems.

“The CNEEC was supposed to bring unit two into operation soon. After some investigations, the contractor identified that the designing of the boiler was to blame but BPC does not agree that the failure of the boiler is due to the way it was designed. The world over this kind of boiler systems is seldom used,” said the source.

At the height of the repair plan talks BPC reportedly collected some materials from unit two and were sent to an unidentified laboratory for testing.

It is understood that the contractor also believes that the BPC engineers are unqualified and inexperienced to approve the repair plan. CNEEC executives have also taken offence to reports that the government is blaming them for failure to deliver the project within schedule.

Sunday Standard has learnt that the Chinese contractor insists that it delivered the project within schedule but refused to offer services for maintenance and operations of the project because that was not included in the contract, a mistake that BPC noticed after signing the contract.

After realising that the contractor had no obligation to operate and maintain Morupule B, BPC started negotiations with NECC for the operation and maintenance of the power plant.

“The contractor took offence when the government announced that it delayed in bringing the full power plant into service. This is because the contractor has no obligation under the existing contract to operate the units. The two parties at the height of the negotiations engaged in spats over the issue” said the source. Sunday Standard understands that the government wants to terminate construction programme that CNEEC continued with after STEAG was engaged and hand it over to envisaged new company.

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