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Minister defies court order on signing new railway deal

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Minister of State for Works John Byabagambi

Minister of State for Works John Byabagambi before the Parliamentary Infrastructure Committee recently. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE 

By FREDERIC MUSISI & RISDEL KASASIRA

Posted  Thursday, August 28  2014 at  15:31

In Summary

Agreement. The minister said the decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China Harbour Engineering Company was cleared by the Finance ministry, Attorney General and Solicitor General

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KAMPALA.
State Minister of Works and Transport John Byabagambi has said they are “fully prepared” for legal battle with anyone after the government entered into a new contract with another Chinese firm to start feasibility studies and later construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line.

Addressing journalists at the ministry headquarters yesterday, Mr Byabagambi said the decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) on Tuesday was cleared by the Finance ministry, Attorney General and Solicitor General.
“We have finished negotiations with CHEC and conducting feasibility studies should be commencing next week,” he said.

The latest development flies in the face of a High Court ruling by Judge Lydia Mugambe who described the decision by the minister, to cancel a similar understanding with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) over the same project, as irrational.

“I find the minister’s unilateral decision to be irrational, high-handed, arbitrary, unreasonable, clothed in procedural impropriety, ultra vires, and not in public interest,” Ms Mugambe ruled, and further directed the ministry to restart negotiations with CCECC.

Mr Byabagambi refused to do the court’s bidding and instead focused the negotiations on the feasibility study the company had conducted and submitted in 2012, calling it inadequate.

He said the government never had a contract with CCECC. “What we had was simply a Memorandum of Understanding which was non-binding and I informed (them) last week that it had been overturned.”

Mr Byabagambi added: “The MoU we signed with CCECC was for upgrading the existing line (constructed in the colonial days) and not the SGR. The SGR is a completely different project and it’s what these people (CCECC) jumped onto and have been going around with the help of their commission agents telling lies.”

An official from CCECC’s negotiation team, Mr Omar Yasiin, has told Daily Monitor that no subsequent negotiations were held as court had directed.

Negotiations between government and CCECC to work on the existing but dilapidated railway line from Malaba to Kamplala/Malaba to Nimule, before the SGR project was envisaged, started in 2004. In 2010, President Museveni invited the company to start work on the line.

Early this year however, Ministry of Works started a process to terminate the MoU with CCECC after the advent of CHEC coupled with several meetings and consultations.

Both Attorney General Peter Nyombi and Solicitor General Francis Atuke were not readily available by press time to say whether they assented to the new deal. Mr Nyombi’ known phone number remained switched off while Mr Atuke was reported out of the country.

The minister said CCECC could go on with works on the existing line. The company says it has, so far, injected Shs7b in the preliminary work.

The overall cost project for the SGR is $1.5b (about Shs3.91 trillion).