A united approach is key to fixing transport issues

Monday October 26 2020
By Emilly C. Maractho

There is a picture being shared on social media of three people immersed in mud with their heads barely above the mud with a placard that reads, ‘Work our road. We need good roads.’ It is not clear to me which road this is. But it could be any road in Uganda or from some neighbouring country. 
It reminded me of one incident in which a local government leader was made to ‘eat’ dust on the road by residents tired of the terrible roads that made life in their homes and on road difficult. 
I cannot even get into stories from rural areas and how farmers access markets, or the urban public transport that is hard to describe. The concerns are many, including fatal accidents and safety of road users. 
This is despite years of increased funding to the transport sector. By 2008, the government had sought to address the transport problem by developing a national transport master plan. 
Yet, a mid-term review of sector performance against the National Transport Master Plan, including the Master Plan for Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (NTMP/GKMA) of 2008-2023 in 2018, revealed several gaps. 
The review, funded by the European Union (EU), revealed the need to go back to the drawing board in terms of transport planning in pursuit of improved sector performance and governance. 
The technical assistance (TA) to the Ministry of Works and Transport (MoWT) by the EU is to enable the ministry build capacity for transport sector governance through a programmatic approach. 
The EU is funding the ‘institutional capacity building for the transport sector in Uganda’ in order to improve the transport sector in terms of governance, planning, and the implementation and sustainability of infrastructure. 
The support is also extended to the National Road Fund, Uganda National Roads Authority, and the Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers (UIPE). 
The TA to the MoWT is set to contribute to a strengthened capacity of the ministry in gender responsive strategic planning, as well as oversight in multimodal transport environment. 
This will include the preparation of a National Integrated Transport Master Plan to cover the period 2021 to 2040; setting up a functional transport planning office at the MoWT; and mainstreaming Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in the MoWT’s planning system. 
The TA is being implemented by an international consulting group of COWI (Denmark), WYG (United Kingdom) and Gauff Consultants (Germany). The Group has engaged more than 25 Ugandan and 15 other foreign experts to work with all stakeholders. 
The group has, as part of their fact finding extensively engaged stakeholders, making consultations with relevant ministries, departments, agencies, civil society, transport users, transporters’ associations, private shippers, and professional associations. This, the consultants believe, will enable Ugandans to own the plan and support it.
The proposals in the plan were discussed on October 21, in a stakeholder meeting held at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala that I attended. 
The meeting had representatives from several sectors of the economy. Some participants recognised that transport affects all of us personally. 
Depending on our need, one or more modes of transport will be of interest to us. Several participants expressed optimism, that if implemented, the proposed plan will provide improvement in transport services. 
There is critical need for integrated planning that allows for collective benefits to be harnessed. The National Integrated Transport Master Plan for 2021-2040 covers the whole country and is being deliberately developed with Vision 2040 and National Development Plan in consultation. 
According to the consultants, the plan is multimodal to ensure that ‘various modes of transport are strategically pursued, supported by modern transport planning tools like a multimodal transport model and multicriteria assessment tools’. 
The transport sector, it was noted, has largely been dependent on the roads subsector. The consultants have also adopted recently approved regulations for SEA, including the preparation of screening and scoping, as part of the process to write the SEA report. 
It is further envisaged that the implementation of the NITMP will lead to the transformation of the transport sector. As a result, the plan is being prepared with the slogan, ‘transport for transformation’. 
This is in recognition of the role of transport as a means to many ends, steering socio-economic transformation of Uganda. For instance, the linkage of transport to other sectors like energy, petroleum, tourism, lands, urban development, agriculture, and trade were emphasised as representatives from those sectors that made compelling contributions to improve the plan.
Fixing the transport problem is not going to be easy or quick, but this plan is a step in the right direction. How well it does to support the national development aspirations will depend on our support to its implementation once approved. 

Ms Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media studies at UCU.