By John V Sserwaniko
In a bid to demonstrate transparency, UNRA management mid last week convened a meeting with MPs and other elected leaders from districts making Kampala Metropolitan Area-basically Wakiso, Mukono, Kayunga, Buikwe, Buvuma and Kampala itself. UNRA (Audit) Director Moses Kasakya, who represented ED Allen Kagina, made it clear the meeting was meant to abreast leaders with information regarding what UNRA does, has managed to do and is planning to do. He said it was important for the elected leaders to do monitoring and oversight over UNRA work from an informed point of view. For instance he explained the four categories of roads in Uganda (District roads, urban roads, Country Access roads and National roads). UNRA, which Kasakya said has previously been bashed for roads it’s not responsible for, is concerned with national roads whose network stretches 20,500kms. Kasakya revealed of this, over 5,000kms is tarmacked or paved. The figure doesn’t include roads under construction and will be added soon. He also educated MPs about the 6 regions which UNRA has created (for decentralization purposes) to bring services nearer to the people while picking instant feedback. The regions are Central, Northern region covering anything north of Karuma (excluding Karamoja & Soroti), Southern region covering everything beyond Masaka all the way to Kabale, Western region covering Kasese, Fort Portal and nearby areas and Eastern region covering the stretch between Jinja, Mbale and beyond. Under regions are stations including Kampala which hosted the Kyambogo meeting at which Kasakya was speaking. With him came the managers heading the different stations and regions. They each addressed the leaders at the well-attended stakeholder engagement meeting.
After listening to presentations from the UNRA team, it was time for the leaders to give feedback and first to speak was Kawempe Mayor Emmanuel Serunjogi (aka Oweddembe). Representing the Alliance of City Mayors, Serunjogi demanded such stakeholder engagement meetings become more frequent for the elected leaders to get updated latest information regarding UNRA work. He regretted the fact that it was more than 2 years since a similar meeting was held early 2017. Serunjogi also used the opportunity to bash UNRA for the ineptness with which Portuguese firm Motal Engil has gone about the Northern bypass road expansion project. He said the contractor interfered with people’s businesses in areas like Kalerwe by fencing off their work places yet up to this day (5 years later) the road isn’t in place. Saying he was tired of pleading with his Kawempe residents not to riot, Serunjogi accused the contractor of indifference, pride and arrogance. He said in the last 5 years flooding had remained a problem for people along the bypass because of mistakes committed by Motal Engil and wondered why UNRA was so lenient and patient with such “a lazy contractor.” He was supported by Rubaga Mayor Joyce Sebugwawo who cursed Motal Engil for the suffering their delay to complete the bypass expansion project has caused her voters especially in the Busega neighborhood. She wondered what it will take (perhaps a riot) for UNRA to crack the whip on the very floppy contractor. Nansana Municipality MP Kasule Sebunya is another participant who had no kind words for Motal Engil. He spoke of the huge financial loss the delay in delivering the road is going to occasion on the Ugandan taxpayer. Just like Serunjogi, Sebunya said he was tired of repeatedly being attacked by voters and having to explain for UNRA’s ineptness regarding the delayed completion of the Northern bypass 2nd phase. Sebunya accused UNRA of being indifferent to NRM and President Museveni’s manifesto promises. He demanded that UNRA closely collaborates with local governments to deliver more road works rather than returning billions as unused monies to the consolidated fund. He advised that emergency procurement approaches be used for the inadequately-funded local governments to benefit from such unused monies. The leaders were intrigued that, whereas they aren’t seeing any progress, UNRA officials insisted that 56.2% of the work had been delivered by the contractor. Having started in July 2014, the road was supposed to be 100% completed in 2017 but as we talk now, Motal Engil’s ineptness has prolonged the work to 2022 and in the process hiking the cost. UNRA officials explained that difficulties in compensating PAPs (1,561 of them) and increase in the scope of work had partly contributed to the delay. Sebunya wouldn’t take any of that. He insisted, along with other leaders, that what Ugandan taxpayers want is a road being in place and not explanations regarding the constraints the contractor faced.
THE MUKONO TEAM
For Mukono South MP Muyanja Senyonga, it was an opportunity to share grievances relating to the 74kms Mukono-Katosi-Nyenga road. Accusing the UNRA Axel Mobile Maintenance teams of ineptness, Muyanja said a lot of illegal activities were being carried out on the road something that impairs its quality and will lessen its lifespan. He said there is a lot of illegal settlement and access in the road reserve and overloading (beyond permitted tonnage) was rampant yet the offenders go unrestricted because the UNRA mobile enforcement teams rarely visit the road. He said the last time they visited was 2017 when they came around twice. Saying the offenders aren’t from the area but people from far off places, Muyanja said he had been calling ED Allen Kagina to directly report to her. “But your ED is very inaccessible. She has refused to pick my calls and doesn’t reply my text messages,” said Muyanja, a former Mukono Mayor. He also rebuked UNRA for failing to commence the 24km Kibuye-Busega-Mpigi road project yet Parliament authorized the borrowing of billions from AfDB. “I was in the committee of National Economy and we passed that loan in the FY2017/18. Why are you not acting on that project as UNRA? Is it procurement or pure incompetence? Let me remind you that as a country we are already at 41% and we shall soon become ineligible to borrow from any lenders yet agencies like UNRA are just playing with borrowed money on which the taxpayer is already paying interest,” Muyanja Senyonga furiously said. He also ranted about issues regarding the ferry at Koome Island. Next to speak was Ntenjeru’s Fred Baseke who narrated why his voters were very bitter with a contractor called SBI that did a major road in his area years ago and left without meeting pending financial obligations to the community. “They for instance removed culverts and never put them back and as of now my people can’t access churches, homes and their businesses. They blasted rocks resulting into certain obligations which they didn’t act upon. They acted like crooks and unceremoniously left the area,” Baseke said. “I have been writing letters to your ED Allen Kagina raising all these issues and since 2017, she has ignored me and there has been no response to my issues. The UNRA people I raise it with deny responsibility saying it’s the contractor and as an elected leader I’m wondering why UNRA behaves as if SBI the contractor is the boss and not the other way round.” He said there are agreements SBI signed promising to compensate certain families but the contractor quietly left without honoring his obligations towards such residents. He said he was recently forced to use Parliament and raise the matter with State Works Minister Gen Katumba Wamala who drove to Kayunga for a meeting to resolve the issues “but he was frustrated by both UNRA and the contractor as none of them was represented yet we made sure we notified them about the meeting.” He said this amounts to disrespecting the people of Ntenjeru who he said are also suffering floods that used not to happen until SBI was contracted “and they did such a bad job.”
BUIKWE SOUTH MP
Next was Buikwe South MP David Mutebi who read out figures to justify his anger with UNRA. “In the FY2017/18 we as Parliament passed Shs4trn for you and in the end finance gave you Shs2.6trn but in the end Shs500bn remained unspent and unused. It had to be returned to the consolidated fund. If this isn’t incompetence, what are we to call it?” Mutebi wondered as UNRA bosses uneasily turned in their seats. “Why should we continue appropriating money for you which you can’t absorb? You aren’t effective yet other agencies like Road Fund would do better with such money. You must be having a planning problem because it can’t always be procurement problems. No it must be more than that.” He then referred to Lugazi-Kiyindi road which he said UNRA was maliciously omitting every financial year despite heavy concentration of economic activities in that area. He also demonized a contractor called RCC saying its officials are indifferent and disrespectful to elected leaders. He also complained about Kagina’s inaccessibility saying he and the community he leads had drawn up a comprehensive list of 8 justifications why Lugazi-Kiyindi road needs to be prioritized. Eng Kafeero Sekitoleko, who chairs the Physical Infrastructure committee of Parliament, complained about the 14kms Jokaz-Mukono road and demanded that money that had previously been earmarked for its upgrading under the “low cost sealing” approach be diverted to an alternative road agreed upon between UNRA and Mukono area leaders. He said he had reached out to Engineer in Chief at the Works Ministry begging him to support his proposal. He also blasted UNRA for not adequately collaborating with the SGR teams something he said had bred intrigue resulting into the flyover project (aimed at decongesting Jinja road near the EC) being delayed. He stressed David Mutebi’s concern regarding UNRA’s chronic failure to absorb funds allocated. “I’m a member of the budget committee where I represent you and I’m always pushing hard for your budget not to be cut but I’m beginning to give up because I’m overwhelmed by your ineptness as UNRA.” He gave the example of the Hoima-Wanseko road project for which Shs235bn was appropriated to UNRA but only Shs34bn has been spent so far. He said even Finance Ministry officials are very uncomfortable with UNRA over this. He also demanded that the teams overseeing the new Nile Bridge begin active collaboration with UNRA Axel enforcement teams because they (Bridge teams) generate a lot of overloading-related data which could instantly be utilized by the enforcement teams. He said in absence of this collaboration, there are many overloaded trucks that go unpenalized yet all the information is captured as they cross the Nile Bridge on their way to Kampala. He said this unrestricted overloading of trucks is the reason for many cracks on the roads around Bweyogerere area. He said the Road Bill which his committee is processing will have remedies for all these enforcement-related challenges and called on UNRA officials to make input into that legislation which he said will go a long way in ensuring durability of roads. UNRA’s Moses Kasakya claimed absorption problems had now been overcome. He attributed the problem to the fact that UNRA would be allocated money before completing procurement processes which would be prolonged as a result of dissatisfied bidders petitioning IGG or even PPDA. He at length spoke about Kibuye-Busega-Mpigi saying the would-be best evaluated bidder had quoted too little there is no way he would ever deliver the project. “We are now in the flying mode and as MPs just do your part to approve the money. We too shall do our part,” Kasakya explained as the clearly dissatisfied MPs laughed him off. In one of the sessions, UNRA Highway designs specialist Eng Moses Ochore took the MPs through the 10 major highway projects UNRA has prepared to facilitate government interventions aimed at eliminating traffic jams on all major roads leading into and out of the city. Destined to cost trillions of shillings, the grand projects include Kampala-Bombo Expressway, Kampala-Jinja, Kampala Southern bypass, Kampala-Bombo Expressway, Kampala Flyover project, Nakasero-Northern Bypass Express route, Kampala Outer Beltway/Ringroad and Kampala-Busunju-Hoima Expressway. Eng Ochore eloquently made a case why this was necessary expenditure and gave 10 economic justifications. He said these investments would result into reduction in vehicle operating costs and time spent in commuting besides increasing urbanization, job creation, public satisfaction, revenue generation through road toll fees as well as the GDP & FDI for GoU to get cash to develop more roads. “All these overall will result into the cost of doing business being significantly reduced,” he told an attentive audience. Despite being long, the MPs enjoyed Ochore’s presentation because it was big on pictorial illustrations.
After Ochore more feedback came from the audience including MP Kasule Sebunya who demanded resumption of the debate ex-Works Minister John Byabagambi spearheaded under the old UNRA to ensure there is a UNRA road in every constituency as a way of politically empowering incumbent MPs. “It only takes UNRA financially supporting local governments to use emergency procurement towards the end of a FY so that unused money isn’t returned to the Consolidated Fund. Local Governments lack the money yet voters keep attacking us saying its none of their business to know which road is UNRA’s and which one isn’t,” Kasule said. Mukono RDC Fred Bamwine suggested that UNRA be legally permitted to fund road-related expenditures in local governments instead of returning unused cash to Consolidated Fund. He said districts now have road equipment but lack fuel and allowances for drivers. He called for an integrated approach between UNRA and local governments so that more road projects can be delivered. Nakawa Mayor Ronald Balimwezo and Wakiso LC5 Vice chairperson Betty Ethel Naluyima demanded that UNRA prioritizes more Kampala and Wakiso roads because (in their own words) the two districts contribute over 70% of the government budget. Makindye Ssaabagabo MP Sempala Kigozi accused UNRA of being unserious and putting him in political problems by playing hide and seek on Busabala road. He said he had done his part and wouldn’t be calming down residents should they resume rioting over the same. Mukono deputy RDC Hood Hussein demanded for accountability on how UNRA spends money meant for community mobilization. Buvuma LC5 Chairman Alex Mabirizi decried absence of ferry operations at Kiyindi landing site saying many economic activities, including palm oil growing, had been negatively affected. He said they have been told so many lies they don’t believe anything UNRA says anymore. He said the 52 Islands he leads are economically very productive (significantly contributing to foreign exchange earnings through fish exports) the very reason UNRA should prioritize transport infrastructure in Buvuma. He also decried continued neglect of Lugazi-Kiyindi road. Other speakers demanded that UNRA works with Railways and other sister agencies in a more integrated way to harness service delivery in the transport sector.
For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.