Hydro Tasmania’s consulting business pushed ahead with work on a northern Ugandan hydropower project despite acknowledging ongoing community concerns, reports of legal proceedings and corruption, technical issues, and poor workmanship, according to documents.
- Hydro Tasmania’s consulting business, Entura, won the Karuma dam contract in 2017
- Entura’s project screening process acknowledged ongoing issues but rated the project medium risk
- The Greens say Entura should not be working on projects with reported community, legal and environmental issues
A worker also later died on-site in a shooting incident, according to a local police report.
Emails, briefing reports and screening summaries released to the Tasmanian Greens show Entura initially deemed the project “high risk”, but downgraded that to “medium” after a screening process, while acknowledging ongoing concerns with local community relations and environmental management.
Entura was contracted by PowerChina Huadong to provide advisory services for the Karuma hydropower project in March 2017.
Entura was effectively a sub-contractor on the project, managing a range of project stakeholders, undertaking design reviews and advising on compliance with international standards.
After questioning Hydro Tasmania in 2018 over reports of unsafe working conditions and a death at the site, Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff received partially-redacted documents showing Entura signed up to the project despite being aware of numerous issues.
“The obvious red flag is that Hydro Tasmania identified levels of community protest and outrage, they identified human rights issues, and they identified impacts on communities,” Dr Woodruff said.
One of the documents is an email discussing a potential site visit for two staff to the Karuma project in October 2016.
Eighteen Entura staff worked on the project for an average of 18 days each, between March 2017 and September 2019.
Five of those people worked at the construction site in Uganda, which was manned by security and defence force soldiers.
Risk downgraded after mitigation assessment
Entura conducted a sustainability screening process in November 2016, which initially rated the environmental and social risk of the project as “high”.
That means it included activities with “potential significant, diverse, irreversible and/or unprecedented adverse social and environmental risks and impacts” and/or “may, or has, raised significant concerns among potentially affected communities and individuals”.
It noted numerous reports of technical and governance issues, widely reported issues with construction, community concerns about lack of consultation and poor compensation, and reports of numerous legal proceedings.
As part of that project screening, Entura produced a “summary against sustainability code” document, which was a spreadsheet listing the risks, how they could be mitigated and what the residual risk would then be.
The document shows Entura downgraded the residual risk of the overall project after mitigation measures to “medium”.
A summary of the human rights issues, impact on communities and level of community outrage has been redacted but those elements are labelled “high risk”, even after mitigation.
Regarding how the community issues could be mitigated, the document states that Entura’s confined role in the project offers “limited scope to reduce community risk”.
The summary proposes the “high” risk of numerous technical issues could be downgraded to “medium” by ensuring “all designs reviewed by Entura were fit for purpose and met appropriate standards”.
After a site visit, comments were that onsite safety appeared to be adequate and the overall quality of the project was expected to be fit for purpose.
Before signing the contract with PowerChina, Entura also completed a sustainability screening of Uganda as a new market, rating it as “medium risk” and acknowledging the country had a poor record of human rights management.
“That sends a pretty strong signal to companies like PowerChina that regardless of what they do in countries, Entura is going to help them anyway.”
In a statement, an Entura spokesman said it screened all projects prior to signing agreements, and evaluated them against Hydro Tasmania’s sustainability code, which included social, environmental, economic and reputational criteria.
“Since November 2016, Entura has used additional criteria in its sustainability screening process,” the statement said.
Working relationship with PowerChina influenced decision to proceed
In an internal briefing report, Entura said it made the decision to proceed with the project for reasons including that the project was already in its third year of construction and that any social issues associated with resettlement had already occurred.
It said a site visit indicated no obvious safety concerns.
Entura also listed the importance of its relationship with PowerChina as a reason for proceeding with consulting on the project.
In a statement, an Entura spokesman said the business had proceeded with the work in order to share the benefits of clean renewable energy with the developing world.
“We determined that while Entura’s involvement on the Karuma project was minor, within the limitations of our role, we had a positive influence on the project’s overall design, safety and sustainability,” the statement said.
Dr Woodruff said there was no justification for a public Tasmanian business to be involved in the Karuma project.
“But fundamentally, if it’s a dam that’s based on human rights abuses, legal fights with communities where land has been taken from them, and environmental issues, this is not something that Tasmanian people want their public money put towards.”
Entura unaware of 2018 shooting death
The documents released to the Greens include a police report into an incident in June 2018, where one worker died as a result of shots fired during a scuffle between workers and soldiers.
In an internal briefing report from December 2018, Entura said the fatal incident occurred after its second-last visit to the site, and on the final visit in September 2018 there was no mention of the incident.
The report states that Entura was unaware of the shooting incident until Dr Woodruff raised the issue.
Entura had been informed about the death of another worker due to a hippopotamus attack outside the compound.
A spokesman said the business had also been made aware of a worker who took their own life.
There are some media reports of other deaths on site at the Karuma project, but these are not referenced in any of the information released by Entura.
The ABC has contacted PowerChina Huadong for comment.
Hydro Tasmania ‘obstructing our efforts’: Greens
The Greens sought access to correspondence regarding the Karuma hydropower project through Tasmania’s Right to Information Act (RTI) process in December 2018.
After some back and forth, Hydro Tasmania provided the partially redacted documents to Dr Woodruff in March 2019.
However, it later became apparent that the RTI response had not been issued by a delegated officer as required, and the Greens were therefore unable to progress their request for an Ombudsman’s review.
“Having a public entity obstructing the release of information in clear defiance of statutory deadlines is totally unacceptable.”
The Entura spokesman said Hydro Tasmania and Entura did not agree with Dr Woodruff’s characterisation, and had corrected the delegation error recently.
“[The operation has] also provided a process that actually speeds up the subsequent external review requested by Dr Woodruff,” he said.