Minister defends Shs45.6 trillion Standard Gauge Railway project cost

Friday April 7 2017

Left to right: Dr Dorothy Okello, the president

Left to right: Dr Dorothy Okello, the president Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers, Eng Proscovia Njuki Uganda’s first female engineer and Eng Monica Azuba Ntege, the Minister of Works and Transport during the Female Engineers registration enhancement conference in Kampala last week. PHOTO BY STEPHEN OTAGE 

By Nelson Wesonga

Parliament - Works and Transport minister Monica Azuba, has refuted a Parliamentary report that indicates that Uganda’s planned Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), is overpriced.

Ms Azuba in a rejoinder to report of Parliament   says the $12.8 billion (Shs45.6 trillion) that has got many Ugandans hot under the collar is merely a planning estimate.

“It is not the construction price,” Ms Azuba, an engineer, said in a February 14 rejoinder to the House’s Physical Infrastructure Committee December report on the SGR.

“In engineering projects, the planning estimates are refined by feasibility studies, culminating into feasibility estimates,” she said.

She says the feasibility estimates are further refined during design or engineering to arrive at the engineer’s estimates.

“The engineer’s estimates, guides in the bidding, but varies from the final contractor’s price and, therefore, construction price,” Ms Azuba said.

Ms Azuba’s rejoinder comes after the tabling of a report on the project by the Physical Infrastructure Committee to the House on Wednesday.

Among other conclusions, the committee says the cost of the project is very high.

To arrive at the conclusion, the committee based on its findings during benchmarking trips to Ethiopia and Kenya.

While in the two countries, the committee established  that Ethiopia constructed its rail track at the cost of $5 million (17.8 billion) per kilometre, Kenya at $6.23 million (Shs22.2 billion) yet Uganda’s planning estimates each kilometre will be Shs8.42 million (Shs30 billion) per kilometre.

Furthermore, the committee accuses the SGR team passing off a Class 1 SGR as a Class 2 SGR, a charge Ms Azuba rejected.

The committee’s report says whereas Class 1 SGR allows a maximum speed of 100 kilometres per hour (km/h) for the cargo train, the maximum speed for the one Uganda will construct is 80km/h – the latter a feature of Class 2 SGRs.

A Class 1 SGR annual haulage tonnage is at least 25 million tonnes.

But Uganda’s SGR annual tonnage is 20 million tonnes.

The report adds that the [SGR] management team “deliberately misguided and misled the country”.

“Punitive action should be taken against any officials who might be culpable of making misleading claims of the actual work that is going to be done,” the MPs recommended in the report.

They suggested that government should renegotiate the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).

In reference to classification, Ms Azuba says there is no universally agreed classification.

“Each country has its own classification. American classification, for example, is based on annual revenue it generates...” she said. “China Class 1 is determined based on role of network, annual freight volume, speed, carvatures, among others. Any information contrary to the above facts, therefore, is misleading.”