By Patrick Ocaido
Construction works on the controversial Mukono-Katosi Road have been suspended over inadequacy of funds.
According to Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) Executive Director Allen Kagina, works on the 74km Mukono-Kyetume-Katosi/Nyenga have been suspended by the Contractor- JV SBI International Holdings & Reynolds Construction Co. Ltd over shortage of funds resulting from the Authority’s budgetary shortfalls.
Kagina revealed this while appearing before parliamentary Budget Committee on the Financial Year 2018/19 Budget Framework Paper. Kagina was flanked by other Unra officials and officials from Ministry of Works and Transport.
During the meeting, Kagina appealed to the Budget Committee members to support the Authority financially to allow them finish projects some of which have stalled as a result of shortfalls in the FY 2017/18 Budget. She cited an example of Mukono-Katosi road where the contractor has suspended works.
“In the FY 2017/18, we entered the year with a debt of Shs288bn considering a shortfall of Shs670bn in the funding. Now in FY 2018/19, basing on the budget framework papers, we have a funding shortfall of Shs1.4trillion. We appeal for support because these are running projects and we can’t tell the contractors to stop working because it will accrue a lot of interests,” Kagina said.
She added that because of the current shortfall, some contractors have suspended work.
“For example, contractors for Mukono-Katosi Road have suspended works. Employees and suppliers are not being paid, and the equipment is lying idle. If projects are not properly funded then we are running huge interest claims from the contractors,” Kagina warned.
Unra Officials Grilled
Kagina’s submission however, did not deter MPs from grilling her and other officials over the unregulated high unit costs of road construction in the country.
This was after it emerged that Uganda has the highest unit cost for roads in the entire sub-Saharan Africa.
All went sour when Butambala County Muwanga Kivumbi revealed statistics showing that the construction of Kampala-Entebbe Express Highway cost almost Shs8bn per kilometer yet for the Northern Bypass, Unra used unit cost of Shs13bn per km.
“Are you (Unra) comfortable with these disparities because doing a road is not rocket science? How can a kilometer of road on Northern Bypass cost Shs13bn yet Entebbe Highway cost Shs8bn?” Muwanga asked.
Patrick Isiagi Opolot, MP for Kachumbala County added that the unit cost of roads is even worse for oil roads and is reportedly over 10 times higher than the unit cost of other roads.
MPs on the committee accused the Works ministry and Unra officials of sleeping on duty.
“Works ministry must regulate Unra so that they can also watch over the contractors. If the contractor has a unit cost that surpasses the standard unit cost then Unra must play their watchdog function. I propose that we get a framework on unit cost to guide the country,” Kyankwanzi Woman MP Anna Nankabirwa said. She advised Unra officials to benchmark on unit cost from countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya.
Isaac Wani, the Unra director network planning and engineering attributed the varying unit costs on Entebbe Highway and Northern Bypass to difference in the land terrains and topography.
Eng. Samson Bagonza, chief engineer at the Ministry of Works and Transport said that unit cost of a road is also derived from procurement and the ministry takes what the engineer has set up.
“The ministry is not sleeping, we are performing our roles. We are the ones who set standards, and Unra follows the general specifications for roads and bridge works which are developed by the ministry. These rates are derived from procurement. For a particular project, Unra carries out a design and from there the engineer produces confidential cost estimate. It is from the confidential cost estimate that Unra uses to compare with the bid received from procurement,” Eng. Bagonza said.
He added, “With these current unit rates, we are advising Unra that maybe the best way forward is by advertising for tenders and only accepting bids within a specified budget. So, we need to cap and say we can’t go beyond this.”
The MPs through their committee chairperson, Amos Lugoloobi, resolved that Parliament is going to appropriate for funds for Unra and Works ministry officials to conduct benchmark studies to compare the road unit costs in other countries.
“We are going to look for money for you to undertake this study so that you get to know how much it costs to put up a road and please benchmark on countries that seem to have the same climate and topography,” Lugoloobi said.
UNRA Fails to Absorb 1 Trillion
The MPs also grilled Kagina for seeking more funding yet the Authority has for a long time failed to absorb funds with up to about Shs1trillion in FY 2017/18.
Kinkizi West MP Ruugi James Kaberuka questioned why Unra is asking for a bigger budgetary allocation yet they have failed to absorb a huge chunk of money.
“You need to show need for money because you are telling us that you want more money, but you can't explain or justify need for that money,” Kaberuka said.
Kagina attributes the failure to absorb all the funds allocated to them in budget to procurement delays which affect implementation of the project. She says that some of the issues affecting their absorption are beyond their control like delays in procurement, land acquisition and whistleblowers whom she says are interfering in project implementation.