Infrastructure: Biting more than we can chew?

Artistic impression of Kampala-Jinja Expressway at Kinawataka, Kampala. A cross-section of donors that committed to bankroll construction of the Kampala-Jinja expressway have raised deep concerns over “excessive delays” in lifting the project off the ground, including clearance of a Partial Risk Guarantee (PRG) facility. Photo | File

What you need to know:

The issue: Infrastructure projects

Our view: Evidently, more thought has got to be put into building infrastructure for the future...

President Museveni has over the years promoted himself as a leader who makes long-term decisions for the national benefit, but a scorecard on the country’s road projects suggests otherwise.  An April 2024 ministerial report has brought a terrible secret into plain view, describing in great detail how dithering has shorn the country of infrastructural triumphs. A five-year Rural Bridges Infrastructure Project brings a host of glaring failures sharply into focus. The project, conceived in the financial year (FY) 2019/2020, set out to erect 15 new bridges, 17.5 kilometres of swamp crossings, and 30 alternative bridge mechanisms. Also penciled in for construction were arc bridges, footbridges, and metallic ladders.

The project has only seven bridges, a single swamp crossing straddling one kilometre, 18 cable bridges and footbridges, and two new metallic ladders to show for its success.  The project’s purse illustrates the limits within which the Works and Transport ministry must work. Only Shs99.6 billion of Shs300 billion meant to be disposable to the ministry was made available. Countless similar infrastructure projects are buckling under the strain of a torturously slow wait for funds.

A five-year Community Roads Improvement Project conceived during the FY 2020/2021 to rehabilitate up to 7,905 kilometres of community access roads has only received 30 percent of its Shs391.6 billion budget. The Rehabilitation of District Roads Project meant to run its course in 2026 is well and truly running off fumes. By February of 2024, only Shs190.4 billion out of the Shs991.4 billion estimated cost had been met. The Rehabilitation and Upgrading of Urban Roads Project has also not been spared the embarrassment of a dim showing.

The ministerial report also shows that the dwindling domestic funding for road development projects has visited its crimes on the implementation of externally funded projects. An absence of domestic funds typically sees externally sourced projects drift inexorably towards a crossroads since land acquisition, among others, is made that much more difficult. It is clear that the verdict of history on the arrested development of the infrastructure projects will rightly be harsh. The cost of failures in transport capacity building has never been clearer. Extreme weather events are showing just how systemic failures, the likes of which are detailed in the April 2024 ministerial report, can fashion an ending that feels anticlimactic and rushed. Half-finished projects, which are in many respects a piece of short-term thinking, end up splitting at the seams just when we need them most.

Evidently, more thought has got to be put into building infrastructure for the future. Indicators, both empirical and anecdotal, are suggestive of the central government biting off more than it can chew. It would probably do responsible authorities a world of good if they fixate their gaze on one long project and spare no effort to see it through to a logical conclusion. Our shoestring budget dictates as much. Short of that, we will keep going around in circles with infrastructure projects—excuse the pun—running out of road.

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