Monday August 11 2014

Defence on the spot over railway contract

By Risdel Kasasira

Controversy surrounding the proposed construction of the Standard Railway Gauge has taken a new twist, with the Solicitor General accusing the Defence Permanent Secretary of irregularly signing a memorandum of understanding with China Harbour Engineering and Construction Limited (CHECL), one of the two Chinese companies rivaling over the deal.

“Against our advice, you went ahead to sign the MoU, with the same clauses, prior to seeking the No objection or making them a party...The Ministry of Works and Transport/Uganda Railways Corporation are not party to the MoU,” Mr Christopher Gashirabake wrote in an April 23, 2013 letter to Ms Rosette Byengoma.

President Museveni directed in 2010 that UPDF should take part in the construction of the regional Standard Railway Gauge that is supposed to move from Mombasa in Kenya, through Uganda, to Mirama hills at the border with Rwanda.

Kenya has started the construction but the procurement process in Uganda is marred with controversies after a MoU earlier signed between government and China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC) was terminated by state minister for Works John Byabagambi.

The Solicitor General said it was wrong for the ministry of Defence to sign the MoU to construct a railway which is the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Works and Transport.

“How do you envisage the implementation of the portion dealing with the railways and the port which is not under your jurisdiction? You are well aware that an institution cannot bind another to an agreement without concurrence, whether that other institution is not privy too. You are therefore, requested to correct this anomaly at the earliest opportunity,” Mr Gashirabake said.

The Chief of Defence of Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, yesterday referred this newspaper to Ms Byengoma whose phones were off.
“Why don’t you call the Permanent secretary? She is the one who signed the MoU,” Gen Katumba said.

The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) also warned in a February 28, 2013 letter that the single sourcing of CHECL did not follow under exceptional circumstances listed under the law.

Defence yet to explain
Brig Sabiiti Mutebile, who represents the army on the team that evaluates the process of procuring the contractor, said the Defence ministry will soon come up with a position on the controversies that have delayed beginning of the 750km-railway stretch.