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Uganda Petroleum Institute Kigumba in urgent financial boost

In 2009, President Museveni ordered the creation of the Uganda Petroleum Institute, Kigumba (UPIK) to train Ugandans and create adequate manpower at both artisan and technician levels, which make up the highest number of direct jobs in the oil and gas sector.

With at least 6.5 billion barrels of oil discovered and the “first oil” expected in the first quarter of 2025, UPIK – Uganda’s only public petroleum institute, is financially constrained to become a full center of excellence as envisioned, writes, YUDAYA NANGOZI.

To deliver the desired Competence Based Training (CBT) curriculum under the International Assessment Standards, the Uganda Petroleum Institute, Kigumba (UPIK) must have the enabling infrastructure in place. This includes sufficient and well-facilitated instructors, academic programs, training facilities, and internship opportunities for trainees.

However, the principal of UPIK, Bernard Ongodia, said the quest to become not only a regional center of excellence but a global reference institution for oil and gas training will not be realized if the institution’s challenges are not addressed by the government.

“With a much clearer roadmap to the first oil drop, it is necessary to prioritize resolving any bottlenecks slowing our implementation. Our Operations are strictly time bound and we need financial support to complete our infrastructure as envisaged in the master plan. Our challenges need timely intervention,” Ongodia said.

It is worth noting that globally, petroleum training institutions like UPIK are either directly managed under a training fund/levy or supported by National Oil Companies or by a combination of government grants, development partners, students’ tuition, donations, and industry contributions.

Given the fact that the Oil and Gas industry is emerging in Uganda, Ongodia said the number of such funding options is still limited hence the heavy reliance on direct government funding by the institution. In the past, the governing council hit a snag to formulate a holding company to utilize the institute resources for income generation due to the limitations of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act.

Ongodia raised financial concerns at the recent commissioning of facilities that were constructed under component three of the World Bank-funded Albertine Region Sustainable Development Project (ARSDP) at UPIK in Kiryandongo district. President Museveni laid a foundation stone for these facilities in 2012.

The institute received five modern workshops; four storied multipurpose blocks for laboratories, classrooms, ICT facilities, and office space; a gatehouse, and a 1.2km tarmac road from the main gate of the institute to the workshops. The total cost of these facilities was $15m (about Shs 57.3bn).

URGENT AREAS OF CONCERN

The latest infrastructure was also realized with direct government funding under a project codenamed 1241. This 1241 project exited the Project Implementation Phase last Financial Year and the ARSDP has also closed, yet the institutional development plan is still incomplete.

At present, some infrastructural projects have stalled for nearly two years. The management wants the government to prioritize the extension of project 1241 to allow completion of pending work as well as resolve concerns of inadequate/ delayed funding, additional workshop equipment, and upgrade of ICT infrastructure, security, and constant power outages at the institute.

“It is not easy to actualize rapid growth due to inadequate funds. Our budget performance since inception [2009] is at an average of 63.8 per cent and over the years, we have experienced a significant dwindling in funding from a budget of 8.6bn to 2.7bn. With the inset the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the budget deteriorated to zero releases in some budget lines,” Ongodia said.

He added that the constrained cash flows have some ramifications in UPIK’s preparations to produce sufficient technicians before the first oil drop in 2025 and beyond.

The Auditor General has, in several reports, underscored the failure of the institute to implement planned and budgeted activities due to inadequate funds which have consequently affected service delivery.

For instance, there’s an urgent need to overhaul the UPIK ICT infrastructure and install newer computers and network equipment to support e-learning. The Observer has learnt that most of the computer hardware was procured on inceptions [more than 10 years ago] and has passed the “end of life support”.

With the new equipment, there are already unresolved concerns about power outages in Kigumba. This not only increases the costs of operation by running a generator constantly but also damages laboratory equipment.

The institute, sitting on about 200 acres, lacks a permanent perimeter wall to guarantee the safety of students, instructors, and training equipment.

In May 2021, efforts to improve the road leading to UPIK from Masindi junction were initiated between the Education and Works ministries. According to Ongodia, whereas a team from the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) visited the institute and carried out surveys of this road as well as the remaining internal campus roads, the construction is yet to happen.

STAFF, STUDENT WELFARE

The institute master plan provides for 37 staff houses (111 rooms), but only eight houses have been constructed. Currently, most staff rent houses in Kigumba town, which is an additional cost of living for non-native residents and has also reduced their productivity. UPIK has 80 staff, of which 27 are technical.

The two student’s halls of residence are also inadequate with many still residing in the old prefabricated structures that have outlived their lifespan. Ongodia said there’s also a need for affirmative action by government to retain the institution’s highly trained staff to ensure that they are not taken up by the oil and gas companies.

When President Museveni remunerated all scientists in civil service last year, UPIK staff did not get any salary adjustments. This, according to Ongodia, has demoralized staff with some planning to exit the institute.

“UPIK used to have a retainer fee for staff on top of their normal salaries depending on one’s seniority. The ministry merely rationalized their salaries and put them at the same level as other scientists in technical institutions. The general increment was in favor of other scientists but it had no impact on the lecturers of UPIK,” he explained.

The highest-paid staff earns about Shs 15m [principal] monthly while the lowest-paid lecturer earns about Shs 6m. This, he insisted, is not comparable to what the oil and gas industry is paying staff in addition to other fringe benefits.
In an interview with The Observer, the executive director of the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI), Prof Charles Kwesiga, agreed with Ongodia on staff remuneration.

“I entirely agree with the concerns of the staff at Kigumba because their competition is not among fellow civil servants of Uganda but internationally. Government must do everything possible to urgently support UPIK,” Kwesiga said.

MUSEVENI RESPONDS

While in Kigumba, President Museveni blamed the current financial woes at UPIK on “bad planning” by government officials.

“Why would you have a problem funding this institute fully? This is not about lack of money but bad planning by the ministry of Planning.... How can you fail to plan to spend money to get more in a fairly short time? Museveni asked.

He added: “Even if we were to spend $50m, $60m, or even 100m dollars to make UPIK a world-class training center, we shall do it because we have the money. We can tell the civil servants and politicians to stop traveling abroad and getting allowances within Uganda yet UPIK is here crying for money. We can constrain all that as we have done for other things.”

A furious Museveni said Uganda prides itself in one oil and gas institute that must be fully facilitated by the government.

“I don’t want to hear things like UPIK is now at Level two of training.... Please stop these lamentations and go to Level 3 now. You tell me if other people [planners] are confused, I am not confused because this is smaller money to invest and quickly get bigger money,” he said.

Museveni promised to review the salaries of staff, donate a bus and minibus to the institute, and inject Shs 50m in the staff Sacco.

FUTURE PLAN

Despite the current meager resources, the strategic direction of UPIK is to develop into a fully-fledged energy institute. Ongodia is confident that considerations can be made at a higher level to probably rename UPIK to Uganda Energy Institute, Kigumba to accommodate the future diversification in energy.

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