Performance – improvements and remaining challenges
Overall, most projects saw further improvements in environmental and social performance during 2017. But as in previous years, progress was uneven between projects. Most improvements were observed where the developers’ internal environmental and social capacity was substantially strengthened, and where environmental and social standards were firmly embedded in developers’ strategies and seen as a priority at senior management level. During the GET FiT Programme, some developers have made impressive improvements in their capacity to manage environmental and social risks and undertake practical measures to safeguard people and nature. As a result of the Programme, there is now a considerably higher degree of compliance with Ugandan regulations and international standards than would otherwise have been observed.
Prior to GET FiT, most developers had not gone through full project cycles from project development to operation following international E&S standards. This means new challenges arise as the projects move into the next stage of the project cycle. With all projects having reached construction, developers experience new challenges in the form of practical implementation of environmental and social management plans, including ensuring contractors understand and adhere to the developers’ plans and standards. As projects move into operation, operation phase issues arise combined with challenges of a construction team handing over responsibility to an operations team, the latter who tend not to have been exposed to the project’s E&S issues. It is positive to note that developers with multiple projects in the portfolio learn from one project to the next.
While each project has its unique challenges, the supervision visits documented some common issues across the portfolio. Among others, these included damage during excavations, delays in compensation payments triggered by construction damage, workers’ health and safety risks, inappropriate handling of minimum flow releases, and insufficient management of risks to national parks. Developers’ monitoring of E&S issues during construction has also been a distinct weakness in most projects. In addition, resource constrained Ugandan government lead agencies have not been able to fulfil their intended roles in monitoring compliance.
Poor excavation methods and inappropriate handling of spoil material have been prevalent and resulted in damage to people’s crops and other property as well as natural vegetation and rivers. Substantial compensation for damage has been triggered, and delays in compensation payments result in frustration among project-affected people. This led to legal proceedings against the developer and contractor in one project as well as a local community briefly blocking an access road in another project. Workers’ health and safety risks remain concern where additional measures were required across the portfolio.
Virtually all projects have struggled to define appropriate minimum flows to be released into the river section that will experience reduced flow during operation (between intake and power house) and had to undertake design modifications to improve the minimum flow release arrangements (see next section). Management of risks to national parks remained a challenge for some projects. One project is located partly inside a national park and three projects are located close to another national park. New approaches to prevent negative impacts on protected areas and to monitor risks are under development and can provide a learning ground for future infrastructure projects that may impact protected areas in Uganda.
GET FiT sees environmental and social sustainability as key to overall project sustainability. Where a forceful response to persistent non-compliance is required, GET FiT has several tools available including increasing the frequency of supervision visits at the cost of the developer, unannounced site visits, construction stop, subsidy reduction, and even revoking the subsidy in extreme cases.
One approved project had its support revoked by the GET FiT Steering Committee in 2015 due to consistent serious environmental and social non-compliances. In 2016, two projects were requested to suspend construction until corrective measures were implemented, and one project was requested to do the same in 2017. All projects resumed construction following substantial improvements. While only one project was subject to quarterly supervision visits in 2016, five projects were covered by quarterly visits in 2017, mostly due to E&S non-compliances and partly due to limited construction progress. One unannounced inspection was undertaken by GET FiT in 2017. Some projects still had substantial non-compliances at the end of 2017 and may face actions by GET FiT unless urgent corrective measures are implemented. Consequently, one project faced a subsidy reduction event in early 2018.