Ethiopia’s huge Nile dam delayed to 2022

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Possible defects in electro-mechanical work carried out by a now-disgraced state-owned company in Ethiopia will add four more years to the construction schedule of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a project official said yesterday.

A senior minister rued as a “grave mistake” the appointment of the military-run conglomerate, Metal and Engineering Corporation (Metec), which was handed an $853m (24 billion birr) contract in 2011 (reports Reuters) to install turbines and other electrical and mechanical work under the dam’s main contractor, Italy’s Salini Impregilo.

“We have a plan to generate power from the first two units within the coming two years and then probably the dam will be completed in the year 2022,” the dam’s construction manager, Kifle Hora, told The Associated Press (AP).

He said experts were assessing equipment for possible defects, and would devise remediation plan.

Metec was fired from the project in August over delays to the M&E work, following complaints from Salini Impregilo.

In November Metec’s former director general, Major General Kinfe Dagnew, was arrested on corruption charges as he tried to flee to Sudan.

Analysts have interpreted the Ethiopian government’s moves against Metec as new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s determination to clean up politics and balance ethnic interests.

According to The Financial Times, Metec is perceived by some as a tool of Ethiopia’s former governing elite, which had been dominated by the small Tigrayan ethnic group, represented by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“We first noticed problems with the dam’s electro-mechanical and metal works two years ago but we only started taking detailed measurements in the past few months,” Ethiopia’s Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity Minister, Sileshi Bekele, told AP.

“This corporation has no prior experience and I highly doubt if some of the people have ever seen a hydropower plant. The government made a mistake in assigning a local contractor that has no knowledge and experience of such a complex project.In my opinion, it was a grave mistake and we are paying a price for that,” Kifle said.

According to official estimates, the dam is now 65% complete, AP said. It is Ethiopia’s most important project, and will transform the country’s energy profile by adding 6.4GW to its generating capacity.

It has sparked tensions with downstream Egypt, which views the dam as a threat to its water supply, but in Ethiopia GERD is a totem of national rejuvenation. Only around 43% of Ethiopia’s 100 million citizens had access to electricity in 2016, according to World Bank data.

Mass outpourings of anger and grief ensued when GERD’s chief engineer, Semegnew Bekele, was found shot dead in his car in July in the centre of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Police ruled the death as suicide, but foul play is suspected in some quarters, reports AP.

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