One of the major talking points of the manifesto that the ruling NRM released in the run up to the 2011 general elections was the promise to add at least 3,000 kilometres of tarmac to the national road network if it was granted a fresh mandate.
According to what later came to be known as the “Peace, Unity and Transformation for Prosperity” manifesto, this was to be achieved by way of implementation of an eight point action plan which entailed rehabilitation of 10 existing roads, complete the upgrade of at least four roads from gravel to tarmac, and commence on the upgrade of 39 roads from gravel to tarmac.
Contained in number five on the eight action point plan was the planned expansion of at least three roads to provide more lanes. Among those that were to be expanded was the Kampala Northern Bypass.
“In the next five years, the NRM government shall undertake the following:…complete the design and commence works for capacity improvement multiple lanes of the following roads: Kampala Northern Bypass (17km)…” the manifesto reads in parts.
Pursuant to the promise the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) handed the contract for the work to the Portuguese firm, Mota-Engil,Engenharia E Construcao SA, in May 2014.
UNRA corporate communications manager at the time, Mr Dan Alinange, said the entire bypass from Busega roundabout to Mandela National Stadium in Bweyogerere was to be turned into a dual carriage way.
The new design of the road, which is part of a plan to complete the East African Northern Corridor linking Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, would see the roundabouts at Kalerwe, Busega, Ntinda, Kisaasi and Nansana removed to pave way for the creation of flyovers aimed at easing traffic flows around them.
This necessitated acquisition of more land. Mr Alinange said that valuation of property that would be affected by the expansion had already been finalised and that payments would commence in June that year.
Work on the Shs209 billion project that is being undertaken with funding from the European Investment Bank, the European Union and the Government of Uganda, was meant to begin in June 2014 and had been expected to take 30 months to complete.
Computed from June 2014 when work was meant to have kicked off, the completion date should have been December 2016. That puts the project more than one and a half years behind schedule.
It sounds unbelievable that 17 kilometres have not been delivered in a period of four years.
If work were near completion, it would have meant that this particular contractor has been working at the pace of covering 4.25 kilometres per year!
The slow pace at which work is being done suggest that the problems that plagued the first phase of the project, which was undertaken by Salini Costruttori and saw 10 bridges, one pedestrian footbridge and several access roads constructed have come back to haunt the second phase.
Work on the first phase began in August 2004 and had been expected to be completed in 2006 at a cost of Shs87 billion, but it was not until 2009, three years after the scheduled date, that it was completed. The delay also pushed the cost of the project to Shs100 billion.
Now there are fears that the delays being experienced will result in an increment in the project cost as was the case with the first phase.
Government has over the years argued that its decision to prioritise investment in the development of infrastructure is because it not only creates jobs in the short run, but also enables it to bring down the cost of doing business, which in turn attracts investments.
So far, it seems that the only thing which it seems to have achieved is in the area of creating short term jobs for those working on this particular road.
For now ongoing works on the road have meant endless interruptions in the flow of traffic, which are not doing business any good. It is affecting travel and delivery of goods and services.
That is also a put off for potential investors as no one would love to put his money in a country in which movement is heavily encumbered by traffic gridlocks such as are being experienced on that road at this point in time.
At inception, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication, Ms Susan Kataike, said one of the things that the expansion of the bypass was meant to achieve was to decongest traffic in the city, especially the heavy trucks headed towards western Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and parts of northern Uganda, by diverting them to branch off at Bweyogerere.
More of the trucks that should have been diverted are making their way into the city in order to beat the disruptions on the road.
The traffic grid lock in Kampala instead seems to have increased, which is associated with problems around the Northern bypass which was meant to link the western and northern parts of the city, but is not serving that purpose.
Decongestion of the city has, therefore, failed.
The decongestion would had also been expected to reduce the amount of carbon emissions that the bulk of these trucks have been releasing in Kampala, but that too has not happened.
On Monday afternoon, Mr Allan Ssempebwa Kyobe, the media relations manager in the office of the executive director of UNRA, Ms Allen Kagina, attributed delays on challenges that UNRA has been having in acquiring land in the areas in which the project was planned for implementation.
“Delays in the area of compensation were occasioned by absentee landlords, missing documents from landowners to facilitate compensation. In some sections there were family land disputes while in others some affected persons disputed compensation,” he said.
Mr Kyobe said that as of April this year full access had been obtained for land at Sentema and Hoima road interchanges, but he added that acquisition of land for planned interchanges for Gayaza Road, Naalya and Kyebando areas and a few other outstanding areas are yet to be sorted. He, however, expressed optimism that they will be resolved soon.
“UNRA’s land acquisition team and the legal team are working together with the courts of law to solve issues of land ownership and compensation. The acquisition of the project’s right of way is being prioritised in sections to ensure that the contractor proceeds with the work uninterrupted,” he said.
We do agree with government that investment in infrastructure is one way through which Ugandan can create employment opportunities, enhance productivity, increase incomes and competitiveness of the national economy, but we just do not seem to be getting the execution of infrastructure projects right.
Almost all major infrastructure projects have been dogged by inefficiencies right from planning, procurement and execution, which have often led to delays in delivery as we are seeing with this particular project and an increment in project costs, which amounts to a loss to the country.
The World Bank’s Economic update report, “Infrastructure finance deficit: Can Public-Private-Partnerships fill the gap?” reveals that Uganda annually loses at least $300 million (about Shs1 trillion) or nearly 30 per cent of the approximately $1billion (about Shs3.6 trillion) that it spends on infrastructural development because of inefficiencies that arise during the implementation of those projects, which is unacceptable given that we have an infrastructure gap of about $1.4 billion (about Shs5 billion).
Government must take decisive action to address this inefficiency. It could begin by bearing pressure on UNRA to call the contractor to order so that they expedite the speed of construction. Government should in the same breath be working to ensure that contractors who sleep on the job pay punitive penalties for delays.
Finally, government needs to up its planning act. Delays in execution of work have been partially blamed on failure by the government to compensate in a timely manner some of the project affected persons. This means that our planners design and procure contractors before acquiring land. Why not adopt a system that enables those in government to first plan, acquire the land, make designs and then commence execution of the projects.