Corruption cartels hamper revamp of KCCA’s ailing roads
What you need to know:
- About eight years ago, KCCA started implementing the Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP 2) that seeks to enhance the city’s infrastructure and institutional capacity. However, amid the crumbling road network in the city characterised by potholes, the political leadership has been alleging corruption in the implementation of the World Bank-funded project. In part one of this series, our reporter, Chris Kayonga, looks at the details of projects under KIIDP 2 to expose the opaque conduct during the award of road tenders.
The state of Kampala’s crumbling infrastructure riddled with gaping potholes, open sewers, blocked drainages and a shambolic transport sector recently jolted the public to undertake an exhibition on the micro-blogging site under the hashtag—KampalaPotholeExhibition.
To placate the citizenry, the central government doled out a paltry Shs6 billion to KCCA to undertake repairs of pot-holes for a road network in Kampala of 2,100 km of which only 616km is tarred.
The Lord Mayor, Mr Erias Lukwago, who heads political oversight at City Hall, says the city’s ailing roads will continue to rot away as long as a powerful cartel —whose puppet-masters are senior government officials— continue to receive kickbacks from lucrative tenders.
As a result, road construction has been inflated through the bill of quantities, nugatory expenditure and shoddy works.
Mr Lukwago, who has written to the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and the Inspectorate of Government (IG), which promised to conduct an enquiry, says he is ready to pay the ultimate price.
“I know that I was outing my life on the line, the day I came out and said, ‘look here, there are cartels here that are siphoning off this money, they are making huge kicks backs out of this,’ the network is very wide, the racket involves key figures within the central government, very influential figures and their proxies within the institution of KCCA. They are busy here and there manufacturing these figures,” he says.
Previously, no action was taken in 2020 when the Kampala Capital City Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report detailed the reliance of lumpsum prices, which tend to facilitate the siphoning of funds through issuance of overpriced contracts.
Among the complaints was a contract design of city roads that was estimated to cost Shs92.6b in August 2015 but rose to 70 percent in a period of only 10 months.
Mr Lukwago has compiled a dossier he has handed to the Parliament Committee on Physical Infrastructure, which has commenced an inquiry.
The probe will partly place the spotlight on the funding worth $183 million from the World Bank to implement the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP 2), which, among others, was meant to widen, upgrade and construct city roads, drainages and infrastructure.
This was anticipated to improve urban mobility in the five divisions.
“They are concocting these figures, it’s the reason why we had this hullabaloo about accessing the contracts. Fights in council, we insisted that please we want to look at the Bill of quantities. We had scuffles over this issue between the political leadership, the technical wing, the ministry for Kampala and we asked please break it down for us, we want the actual allocations that have been made. We want to look at the actual text of the contracts, that is why we had this ping pong,” Mr Lukwago revealed during an interview this week.
The State minister for KCCA, Mr Kabuye Kyofatogabye, agrees that there is lack of transparency in the bidding process.
“For international companies, that’s their trick, they exploit our weakness. They look into the law, they look into this, they look into that, it looks like it is a game, it looks like it is a connivance. Of course, competitive bidding has been done. But when we [the donor] reviewed, we found let’s say number three was better in area A,B,C so give him the contract and their decision takes precedence. Those are the challenges of the donors,” he said.
Mr Gilbert Sendugwa, a senior manager for Infrastructure Transparency Initiative, an African watchdog organisation, says ‘the lack of transparency is one of the key things that creates an environment that leads to unfair business practices, we have been seeing a growing trend of presidential directives on contracts. Give contract X,Y,Z to this firm and the explanation under that is that he has met this group of people and he has said that he is frustrated and disappointed by delays in execution of projects because of red-tape. That is dangerous also and it could be a driver for inflated costs. There will be temptations for firms in building relationships rather than building their capacities’.
In 2019, President Museveni authored a letter, directing the Minister of Works and Transport to award the Kampala-Jinja Expressway contract to a Chinese company.
Writing to then Minister for Works Monica Azuba Ntege, Mr Museveni directed that the Kampala-Jinja Expressway should be given to China Railway 17th Bureau Group Company (CR 17th).
He argued that his decision was premised on a meeting he had with officials from CR 17th during which they promised to build the road with their own finances and would then take over the road toll collection to recover about $1.4 billion that has been estimated to be the cost of the Kampala-Jinja expressway.
Officials from the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), however, say the Kampala-Jinja Expressway was planned as a public-private partnership and CR 17th isn’t offering anything new.
Cost of roads
Among the roads that were constructed under the World Bank project is the Lukuli Road (7.71 km), which stretches across Makindye Division. It cost Shs70.5b at an average cost of Shs9.1 billion per km.
The construction of Kulambiro ring road/Najjera link and Nakawa Ntinda and Acacia Avenue, measuring 9.77km in length, were built at a cost of Shs90.4b as each km cost Shs9.3b. The 8.06km Kabuusu-Bunamwaya-Lweza road was built at a total cost of Shs93.7b, with each km costing Shs11.6b. Some of these roads have design flaws and are narrower than what had been presented in the blueprints.
Nakamiro drainage channel, a distance of 3.28 km, was built at Shs20b, with Shs6.1b spent on each per km while Lubigi channel, measuring 2.58 km in length, cost Shs62b as each km cost Shs24b.
This was part of the Kampala City Drainage Masterplan in 2019, which was meant to rid the city of intermittent floods.
Located in Bwaise, Kawempe Division, these drainage channel projects have been extended several times as the contractor has failed to meet the deadline of November 30, 2022, after construction commenced in 2020.
Whereas there was a ray of hope that the new drainage channels would be widened to handle large volumes of water, Bwaise and the nearby areas continue to be ravaged by flooding.
Compared to its neighbours in the East African region, Uganda’s roads remain the costliest. For instance, the Kangundo Road, which is the greater eastern by-pass cost Shs3.1 billion per km, the access to Embakasi Industrial Park cost Shs5.8b a km and the Eastleigh Roads Phase II cost Shs6.2 b per km.
Averagely, a km in Nairobi costs Shs3.7b, while in Kigali, it costs Shs2.96b.
“We believe that the conduct of particular individuals in these cartels is criminal and invites for criminal sanctions, they should be prosecuted if we are to have roads in Kampala fixed, otherwise we shall be in a vicious cycle,” Mr Lukwago told Daily Monitor.
Officials have attributed the rising road construction costs to the soaring prices of fuel lubricants used on most road projects, and bitumen, among others. On numerous occasions, records show consultants and engineers quoting contrasting prices for the same projects.
The World Bank research published in September 2015 on the Cost of Road Infrastructure in Low and Middle Income Countries states that “...projects that take place in conflict settings would almost always be more costly than in other settings because of challenges such as insecurity and low government capacity”.
Higher costs can be due to the costs of monitoring in insecure areas, the potential for incurring substantial risks to visit the construction site, and the possibility of limitations on planning, the World Bank research partly reads. “In addition to protection of the staff working on the particular roads project, firms also risk supplies being cut off due to disruptions of transport networks,” it adds.
The research also indicates that the ruggedness of the terrain in a country, surface area and population density of a country are significantly associated with rising unit costs.
The World Bank research that was conducted partly in Uganda, Bangladesh and Ghana, among others, indicated that allegations of fraud, corruption, or collusion were made in about one fourth of the 500 approved World Bank financed projects as the estimates of costs of collusion and cartels in the road sector are large and range between 8 percent and 60 percent of the contract value.
There is barely any rugged terrain and insecurity that have directly affected the construction of roads in Kampala city.
KCCA plans to roll out the Kampala City Roads Rehabilitation Project funded by the African Development Bank, which will tarmac another 69km of roads at a cost of $287 million (Shs1 trillion). This means that each km of road constructed will cost Shs14 billion.
“We hope that all these agencies will come out and pronounce themselves on this matter. It is our prayer that they come in earnest, they come out urgently before this money is fully spent, because we don’t want to indulge in another post-mortem.
With the World Bank, the money is already spent but this ADB money, the Shs1 trillion is yet to be spent and that is the reason we raised the red flag before it is siphoned off, please come in, make some interventions,” Mr Sendugwa says. He says the criteria for the award of contracts should be based on monitoring, sanctions for delays and firms that espouse the values of transparency.
“When these roads were designed we were told that they were designed to last at least 15 years. These roads have not lasted that long. So, I think there is a need to investigate the value for money aspect,” he adds.
City Hall’s highest collection in its history was a paltry Shs93.2bn for the 2021/2022 financial year. Given the astronomical cost, this amount can only tarmac a 6.6 km road in the city.
In part two, we will interrogate the award of tenders allocated under the African Development Bank (ADB) fund and nugatory expenditure allocated to items such as tree planting, the distribution of condoms to workers and the relocation of utilities, which will cost billions of shillings.