Thursday November 4 2010

Improving Uganda’s construction industry

Builders need to be trained to come up with

Builders need to be trained to come up with high quality structures. PHOTO BY ISMAIL KEZAALA 

By Christine Katende

The Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC) is a voluntary private sector business umbrella association which brings together contractors engaged in building, civil engineering and manufacturing/supplying of construction related materials.

It was founded in the early 1970s. The association went in limbo in 1973 during the era of the Late General Idi Amin Dada and it was revived in 1993 when it was registered as a company limited by guarantee without capital under company Act (Cap110) to identify, represent and promote the interests of members.

Mr Gumisiriza Birantana, the chairman UNABCEC, says the association seeks to identify, represent, promote and safeguard the interests of members and to promote construction development in Uganda. He adds that UNABCEC acts as a contact point and helps interface with others for the protection of the public good in construction, development and to promote fair and ethical business in the construction industry.

Construction trend
The trend of the local construction industry in Uganda has grown at an unprecedented rate and has posted the highest contribution to Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) of any sector in the industry category of the national statistics with the percentage of 14.8 per cent, 9.5 per cent,12.5 per cent, 24.6 per cent, 10 per cent and 7.6 per cent in 2002-2007, bettered only by mining and quarrying with 18.2 per cent in 2006. “It is estimated that 50 per cent of non-farm employment in Uganda is directly or indirectly provided by the construction industry,” he says.

Mr Gumisiriza explains that the enabling environment translated into positive policies adopted by the government like liberalisation of the economy security to life and property. There is also rule of law and constitutionalism, which are some of the factors that have led to the growth of the industry.

Strategic improvement
He says that the Uganda’s construction industry can only be improved if the government puts in place and operationalises a viable construction policy that;
* Harmonises roles and responsibilities of the public and private sectors.
* Regulates and coordinates the national construction industry.
* Develops and strengthens the capacity of local firms for effective participation in the construction industry.
* Facilitates local firms in the construction industry to access equipment credit and work.
* Promotes new and appropriate types of technologies in construction maintenance of physical infrastructure facilities.
* Removes restrictive practices to participation of marginalised groups in the construction industry.
* Ensures that the national construction industry supports sustainable economic and social development of the country.

The challenges
He says that the building and construction sector is facing various setbacks which include;
* The absence of a National Construction Industry Policy to guide the development and to regulate the construction industry.
* The low capacity of local contractors.
* Lack of access to long term finance and high cost of finance with stiff conditions imposed by finance institutions on bid securities and performance guarantees. Also, there is delayed payments for completed works and non-payment of Value Added Tax (VAT) on donor-funded projects by government entities.
* Lack of training facilities for construction equipment operators and their supervisors.
* Lack of continuous job opportunities for local contractors and the unpredictable price escalations of construction materials.

Overcoming them
According to Mr Gumisiriza, the association has tried to overcome the challenges through working with the government towards adopting a National Construction Industry Policy for the past 10 years. “Our efforts were rewarded when a national policy for development and strengthening the National Construction Industry was approved by Cabinet in January 2010,” he says.

He cautions the public to beware of the masquerading contractors and engineers who pose as members of the association as a result of securing jobs from some clients. He says that UNABCEC has been eliminating such people through working and cooperating with the Ministry of Works and Transport, PPDA, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and professional bodies.