Improvements and remaining challenges

Most projects under construction in 2018 saw improvements in environmental and social performance. Projects subject to additional visits or being notified about potential subsidy reductions responded more decisively and rapidly to requests for improved environmental and social performance and the need for closing longstanding gaps. 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. Several developers have made impressive improvements in their capacity to manage environmental and social risks, their internal management systems, and undertook measures to safeguard people and nature during project construction in 2018.

Most developers had, prior to GET FiT, not gone through the full project cycle from project development to operation following international E&S standards. This meant new challenges kept arising as the projects moved into the next stage of the project cycle including commissioning and operation, which necessitated further GET FiT follow-up. Damage to the surrounding natural vegetation and rivers as well as to local people’s properties due to poor construction practices (e.g. excavation), delays in compensation payments triggered by construction damage, and workers’ health and safety risks, remained challenges in 2018 and will require further follow-up in 2019 to close outstanding issues prior to commissioning. Substantial compensation to local people for damage has been triggered. Damage also led to legal proceedings against developers and contractors, some of which were settled during 2018. Developers’ monitoring of E&S issues during construction remained a weakness in most projects, and resource-constrained Ugandan government lead agencies were not able to completely fulfil their intended roles in monitoring compliance. Participation in GET FiT supervision visits contributed to ERA’s followup of projects and efforts to ensure construction in compliance with key Ugandan regulations.

Emerging challenges included the transition from the construction phase team to the operation phase team, ensuring adequate hand-over and institutionalising local  knowledge and understanding of sensitive issues. Several projects retained an environmental and social officer from the construction phase, and this person plays an important role in community liaison as operation phase issues arise, for instance grievances related to reduced river flow between the intake and power station. Releasing and monitoring the environmental (minimum) flow came up as a challenge for projects in operation, and there were indications that some projects did not release water in accordance with the requirements set by the Ugandan Government. GET FiT works with ERA to address these non-compliances and develop guidance for future follow-up of environmental flow releases.

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 stops, 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 noncompliances. In 2016, two projects were requested to suspend construction until corrective measures were implemented, one project was requested to do the same in 2017, and five projects had stops in specific construction works in 2018 but not across the entire project site. 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, and seven projects in 2018. Additional visits were triggered due to E&S non-compliances and partly also due to limited construction progress and limited on-site project management capacity. Two projects experienced subsidy reductions due to serious non-compliances that were not adequately addressed during the cure period. Some projects still had substantial non-compliances at the end of 2018 and may face actions by GET FiT in 2019 unless urgent corrective measures are implemented.