How Covid-19 has affected govt infrastructure projects

Thursday June 18 2020

The construction site at Kabale airport. The

The construction site at Kabale airport. The project is one of those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO / COURTESY 

By Franklin Draku, Nobert Atukunda, Fred Muzale & Damalie Mukhaye

In February, Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) issued a bid notice for “consultancy services for preparation of feasibility studies and detailed engineering designs from gravel to paved standard for six selectednational roads”.
The roads include Kabwohe-Bugongi-Kitagata-Kabira-Rukungiri (66Km), Mitooma-Rukungiri (33Km), Kamuli-Kaliro-Pallisa (90Km), Gulu Corner-Kilak (100Km), Corner-Kilak-Patongo-Abim-Kotido (110Km), Ntusi-Lyantonde-Rakai (150km), Arua-Ure (54Km) and Noko-Obongi-Ajumani (78Km).

However, more than a month later, Unra extended the bidding process after the government announced a lockdown of the country and subsequent extensions.
“Following extension of the lockdown period and the PPDA [Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets] circular dated April 1, all procurements for which receipt and opening of bids fall within the lockdown period have beensuspended indefinitely. Unra shall advise bidders on the new submission dates within five days after the lockdown period,” a notice signed by the Unra executive director, Ms Allen Kagina, reads.

Those were not the only affected road projects. Across the country, a number of government projects that were set to be completed this year will not be completed because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted global economies.
This, in effect, could cost Ugandan taxpayers billions of shillings in additional costs because of the delays.

Explaining the impact of the delays in relation to costs, Mr Mark Ssali, the Unra spokesperson, says all the contracts take care of such delays and that they are catered for.
“Projects are funded by both local and foreign funds as per the approved budget, and the funds are secured in advance. Therefore, all projects have funds as appropriated, and these funds cannot be diverted for any other purpose,” he says.
Last year, government rolled out an ambitious plan to construct Shs4 trillion 700km of critical oil roads to be tarmacked ahead of the onset of oil production next year.
Most of the roads are still under construction and their completion dates have been affected by the Covid-19 and the subsequent global lockdowns.

Also affected are the road constructions under Uganda Support for Municipal Infrastructure Development funded by the World Bank in 22 municipalities across the country, and eight refugee hosting districts. These have been joined by projects under the Albertine Region Sustainable Development Plan covering all the districts in the Albertine Graben.

Mr Ssali says although some contractors heeded the call for encamping workers and hired the free schools for the purpose, the lockdown made it difficult for many of them to transport materials that are far from the construction sites.
“Restriction on transport within the site area is affecting some delivery of some materials to project sites, for example where the asphalt plant is far from the project site, but this is being handled on a case-by-case basis with the help of Resident District Commissioners (RDCs),” Mr Ssali says.


A view of the construction site at Karuma
A view of the construction site at Karuma Hydropower project in 2018. PHOTO/COURTESY.

To ensure that work continues, some contractors replaced the foreign workers who were caught up by the pandemic in their home countries with local experts, giving a chance to Ugandans to showcase what they have learnt.
“Some Chinese staff on these projects had gone [back to their country] and could not come back, but they were immediately replaced. These were mainly top administrators,” he says.

USMID/ ARSDP projects
The Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID), and the Albertine Region Sustainable Development Plan (ARSDP) have all felt the impact of the lockdown.
At least 22 municipalities and eight refugee-hosting districts are implementing the USMID programme, while all the districts under Albertine Graben are implementing ARSDP programme.
Ms Sheila Naturinda, the ARSDP spokesperson, says for all the projects under the ARSDP, the contractors could not work normally because of challenges in hosting and transporting workers to and from sites within the given hours before curfew time.
She says this affected the speed at which the work is done, since many contractors had to reduce their workforce by almost 50 per cent.
She also says supervision of works has been difficult because of limitation in movement and that the lockdown found some of the engineering consultants out of the country.

“This delayed work but we have since advised them to use their Ugandan counterparts so that work continues. This gives an opportunity to our local consultants to take lead roles in such work, even as the foreign consultants do quality assurance,” she says.
Ms Naturinda says construction works were also halted in some places because some contractors could not adhere to some of the standard operating procedures. For example, contractors were required to put up camps to house all workers, procure temperature guns and personal protective equipment for the workers, among others. These are seen as additional costs on a contract.

Mulago National Specialised Hospital, which had partially reopened, with the hope of being fully operational in March, was affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. Initially, the hospital was scheduled to open in December last year.
Dr Byarugaba Baterana, the Mulago hospital executive director, says the opening of the specialised hospital will be discussed after coronavirus disease has been contained.
Also affected is Lubowa specialised hospital project, whose construction was already marred by controversies. Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, says most of theconstruction works of health facilities have been halted following the lockdown.

“It is not only Lubowa, all constructions have been affected because the presidential directive was that if people cannot stay at the site, they should not come and the construction had been halted. Most of the contractors could not accommodate the workers at the sites hence they had to halt the works,” Dr Atwine says.
Asked when the construction will resume, Dr Atwine says she has no idea since she does not know when coronavirus will be controlled and the lockdown lifted entirely.
“This means the projects won’t be completed in time,” she says.
A number of other health facilities that werealready under construction or renovation have seen their progress slowed down by the pandemic.

Entebbe, Kabaale international airports
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority said expansion works on Entebbe International Airport would be completed next year. The expansion includes building of a new passenger terminal, cargo centre and fuel centre, at a cost of $200m (about Shs740b). However, with the lockdown, there have been delays and work is not expected to be complete until beyond next year.
Construction of the $294m (about Shs1 trillion) Kabaale International Airport in Hoima kicked off in 2018, and work was supposed to be in phases, with the final phase to be handed over to the government in 2022. It is not clear how much of the work has been accomplished so far, but the 2022 deadline seems now untenable.

The departure section of Entebbe airport.
The departure section of Entebbe airport. Photo/ Eve Muganga.

Karuma 600MW Hydropower project

The Karuma hydropower project, the government’s lead energy infrastructure programme expected to generate 600MW, is one of the projects affected by the outbreak.
The$1.7 billion project, whose construction started in December 2013, was slated to be commissioned in November this year, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, the completion date has been deferred.
Mr Simon Peter Kasyate, the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL) spokesperson, says much as the current general progress is at 97 per cent, the construction has partly been affected.

He says some staff from China, who had gone on leave, have not yet been able to come back to the country due to the suspension of passenger air transport.
“It might be too early to say that the date of commissioning this dam will be affected because we are trying to use the local materials and some staff within the country to ensure that construction continues. But in the long run, you never know what will happen,” Mr Kasyate says.
He adds that the contractors have already notified the Ministry of Energy that they will not be able to deliver the project on time since some of their staff are stuck in China.
Isimba Bridge on River Nile connecting eastern districts of Kamuli, Kaliro, Buyende, Iganga and Kayunga is one of the affected projects. Before the lockdown, officials from both Unra and those from UEGCL said the work will be completed before the year ends.

However, the lockdown has slowed the process and now they are revising the completion time.
The Kayunga-Nakasongola access road was not spared by the coronavirus pandemic outbreak.
Mr Pius Mugalasi, the managing director of Omega Construction Ltd, the firm contracted to construct the 3.6 km road`, says due to the outbreak and the lockdown, the completion date has been pushed to June next year.
Construction of several classrooms across the country for primary and secondary schools and other projects have also been affected by the lockdown.