As Uganda gears up to benefit from the oil and gas sector, President Yoweri Museveni says there is a need to invest all the needed funds in the Uganda Petroleum Institute-Kigumba (UPIK).
He says this will prepare Ugandans with the needed skills and strengthen the country’s capacity in the oil sector. Museveni made the remarks while commissioning the state-of-the-art facilities built at the institution on Saturday in Kiryandongo district. UPIK is currently the only institution in the country with international accreditation in oil and gas courses in the region.
The president described the institute as one of the “lucrative projects” that is bound to generate billions of dollars for the country in a few years to come thus adding that investment in such an institution is critical.
"Even if we're to spend $50m or $60m, $70m or even $100m to make Kigumba Petroleum Institute the best institute, world-class, we shall do it. We have the money, yes. We have got many needs some of them just want money to travel abroad, we constrain that. We'll say stop travelling, the MPs are there with you travelling abroad money wasted in external travel and yet Kigumba is crying for more money. Therefore this story is going to end. What is the money needed? We shall look for the money because we don't have many projects. you're the lucrative project we're having. So how can this be an issue to talk about, to lament? No," Museveni said.
Museveni, who praised the World Bank for its assistance in raising the institution's facilities and standards, could not help but accuse government planners of failing to give Kigumba financing priority given the importance of the institution. He pointed out that if people in charge of planning had given Kigumba priority, the Shs 32 billion invested in the institute could have been obtained locally. Therefore, he suggested that the government should always make careful plans and prioritise investing in lucrative projects that will generate billions of dollars for the country in a few years to come.
Museveni criticised government planners shortly after UPIK principal, Bernard Ongodia, outlined a number of issues that are impeding the operation of the institution, most of them revolving around low funding. Ongodia noted that since its inception in 2010, the institution has experienced a significant drop in funding from a budget of Shs 8.6 billion to Shs 2.7 billion yet the implementation of its physical master plan is slightly over 50 progress.
"Our priorities need to be resolved, need to be addressed quickly and also the bottlenecks should be removed so that we're able to offer a service to the oil and gas industry. But we have experienced a significant decline in financing from a budget of Shs 8.5 billion in some 8 years to Shs 2.7 billion this financial year. This is not a good one, especially if we're implementing already 50% of our master plan," said Ongodia.
He added that due to this, several infrastructure projects have stalled for years. The principal also pointed to other problems including; inadequate equipment, water supply and power outages that not only increase our costs of operation by running a generator constantly but also damage the few available equipment.
“Constrained cash flows have some ramifications in our preparations as we position ourselves to produce enough technicians before ‘first oil’ and beyond…Additional workshop equipment is necessary to upgrade to the training of level three (3) technicians and apprenticeship,” the principal noted before asking that the institute's funding mechanism be streamlined.
Ongodia also bemoaned the staff's low remuneration, which he said is having a negative impact on staff retention because experienced and knowledgeable trainers are being drawn to the oil industry by large salaries. The president was equally interested in this issue, stating that if it is not addressed all of the funds invested in the institution may be wasted if there are no trainers.
To him, the institution's staff must be paid either slightly less than what their counterparts in private companies are earning or, if possible, receive payment that is equal to that of their private sector colleagues.
"Let's be guided by the market. If the market is giving some of our sons and daughters a higher price, let's pay them also because we need them, we need the best," said Museveni.
Located in Kiryandongo district, UPIK was established in 2010 a few years after Uganda discovered oil resources in Albertine Graben. The government-owned institution is the country’s centre for training, research and consultancy in the field of petroleum exploration, recovery, refinement and responsible utilization of oil and gas resources.
In 2020, the ministry of Education secured a loan to upgrade facilities at the institute to provide first-rate training in oil and gas sectors. The upgrade has seen the construction and equipping of five workshops namely; mechanical workshop, electrical, perturbed operations workshop, instrumentation workshop and wielding fabrication, pipe fitting and material testing laboratories.
Other facilities constructed included a four-storied multipurpose block, 1.2 kilometres of road within the campus, sewage treatment plant among others. In the meantime, Uganda is on the proper road to generate the necessary personnel for the oil and gas sector, according to minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni.
Mrs Museveni challenged the institute's personnel and administration to treat the facilities and equipment provided to them with care so that they can use it for the intended purpose.
"We these facilities, we're now confident that we have the required facilities and technical expertise to produce the relevant and quality workforce for the oil and gas sector. I urge the institute now, the management to take care of these facilities in order for them to serve current and future generations. Please utilise the facilities to ensure that learners are properly skilled in order to satisfy the demands of the working world," she said.