A giant $2 billion project that could have potentially defined President Jakaya Kikwete's legacy is being held back by corruption, government bureaucracy and lack of political will, THISDAY can reveal today.
The proposed 2,100 megawatt (MW) Stiegler's Gorge hydro-power station was initiated by former President Julius Nyerere's government, but successive administrations under presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and now Kikwete have all somehow failed to implement the project.
A detailed feasibility on the project funded by the Norwegian government was carried out in the early 1980s and showed enormous benefits from the envisaged power plant, but the initiative has since been shelved for decades.
The official explanation from the government has been a lack of funds, but well-placed sources have revealed to THISDAY how large-scale corruption may have played a prominent role in sabotaging the project.
"Powerful business tycoons and senior government officials who have been benefiting from corrupt contracts in emergency power generation deals such as Richmond, IPTL and others have been systematically blocking the Stiegler's Gorge project," said an official close to the government.
"Kikwete himself has been misled into thinking that this project is too big and too costly, hence it would take too long to build the power plant. The president has now falsely given up hope of implementing this project during his ten-year rule."
President Kikwete told Parliament last month that it could take up to a decade for the proposed Stiegler's Gorge hydro-power station to be up and running.
But experts told THISDAY the president could have been deliberately misled by senior government officials into thinking construction of the project could not be possible.
"There are some senior people in government who are benefiting from the ongoing power rationing because it gives them the chance to get illegal kickbacks from emergency power generation contracts," said one official in the energy sector.
"If the Stiegler's Gorge power plant was built and starts generating 2,100 MW, it would mean the end of Songas, IPTL, Dowans and other similar projects."
Tanzania has energy demand close to 900 MW capacity, but produces less than 800 MW.
The state-run Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO) has for the past two weeks been carrying out power rationing countrywide after a drought at hydro-power stations and breakdowns at gas turbines eroded electricity supplies to the national power grid.
If the Stiegler's Gorge power plant was built, Tanzania would have more than 1,000 MW of excess electricity.
According to the Director-General of the state-run Rufiji Basin Development Authority (RUBADA), Aloyce Masanja, it was feasible to construct the power plant in just five years using Brazilian technology.
"Stiegler's Gorge will be a source of cheap, abundant energy ... The power will be at a low cost of around 2 US Cents per kilowatt hour," he told THISDAY in an interview in Dar es Salaam.
Average electricity tariffs currently stand at 111 shillings per kilo-watt hour (kWh), against an average power generating cost of 152 shilling per kWh.
Masanja said construction of the Stiegler's Gorge project could be completed within just five years, contrary to claims that it could take decades to build the power station.
The project would involve installation of three giant underground turbines, each with the capacity of producing 700-megawatts of electricity.
"If we start implementing it immediately, the feasibility study can be updated in 2011 and we can start installing the first turbine in 2012. By 2015, the project should be fully completed and we can start enjoying 2,100 megawatts of electricity," he said.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Bernard Membe, and other officials held talks with their Brazilian counterparts in Sao Paolo in September on the construction of the proposed Stiegler's Gorge hydro-power station.
"We expect a government delegation from Brazil to arrive in Dar es Salaam this December for further discussions on the project," said Masanja.
Insiders revealed that senior government officials in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, TANESCO and elsewhere have been systematically blocking the Stiegler's Gorge project from taking off.
"TANESCO is keen to extend its monopoly as the nation's sole power utility and wants to hijack the project from RUBADA, claiming that the authority doesn't have experience and expertise in power generation activities," said another government official.
"On the other hand, corrupt business tycoons and senior government officials who have been making billions of shillings from the country's chronic power shortages want the Stiegler's Gorge project to remain shelved forever."
Membe, who is reported to be pushing for the implementation of the project, is expected to face strong opposition from fellow government officials.
"The idea is for the government itself to build the power station through RUBADA to avoid paying the costly capacity charges and energy costs to independent power producers," said an official in the energy and minerals ministry.
"This single project could have defined Kikwete's entire legacy as president. Stiegler's Gorge could have enormously transformed Tanzania's economy and improved people's lives."
It has been suggested that the cash-strapped RUBADA should be given full powers as an executive agency reporting directly to President Kikwete or the Prime Minister's Office to implement the project.
Long-standing efforts by RUBADA to implement the project have been hit by constant delays and red tape from government ministries.
Energy companies from Canada, the United States and Russia have been keen to invest in the project, but have received a lukewarm response from senior government officials.
Apart from providing cheap and abundant electricity, the project would have opened up the southern tourism circuit and boosted irrigation farming. The proposed site of the power plant is located inside The Selous, Africa's largest game reserve. An environmental impact assessment (EIA) showed the project would not affect the wildlife at the area.
Construction of a dam would also help control flooding in the Rufiji area and create a reservoir with a total capacity of 34 billion cubic metres, which would be a permanent source of water supply to Dar es Salaam and other regions.
Only 14 percent of the 40.7 million people in Tanzania are hooked to the national power grid. President Kikwete has pledged to add just 640 MW of electricity over the next five years and increase the number of people with access to electricity to 30 percent.
"With Stiegler's Gorge, more than 50 percent of Tanzanians would have access to electricity and the country could earn billions of dollars in export revenue from the sale of electricity to neighbouring countries," said one official in the power sector.
"But some government officials don't want to hear about 2,100 MW of electricity from Stiegler's Gorge. They are interested in small, 100-megawatt power generation contracts because that's where they get their bribes from."