In a space of seven days, President Museveni has commissioned the construction of three roads in Gulu, Bugiri and Kampala.
The commissioned roads include Olwiyo-Gulu-Acholi Bur-Musingo in Kitgum, Musiita-Lumino-Busia, and the expansion of the Kampala Northern Bypass. While the flurry of activity could seem pegged to the 2016 general elections, the government’s focus on the roads sub-sector goes back seven years when a decision was made to prioritise road infrastructure development.
A year before that decision was made, the World Bank concluded in a report that Uganda’s economic growth was impeded by under-investment in electricity and transport infrastructure.
Similar findings were made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). The DFID study was commissioned in 2008 to investigate the impact on Uganda’s economic growth of two possible scenarios, (1) an additional $100 million of roads expenditure annually, with no improvements in efficiency; and (2) the same increase combined with a halving of unit costs.
“The study estimated the addition to annual growth as 0.5 per cent in the first scenario and 1.0 per cent in the second. Further additions to the annual growth rate could be expected if the railway and especially power investments were also to take place,” reads a working paper authored by David Booth and Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, the former executive director of Makerere Institute for Social Research (MISR).
Booth and Golooba’s paper, titled ‘Aiding Economic Growth in Africa: The Political Economy of Roads Reform in Uganda,’ further quotes DFID research as having predicted that the above infrastructure investment would raise real incomes, improve export competitiveness by reducing transport costs, increasing Uganda’s attractiveness as a tourism hub and a provider of educational and health services to elites from neighbouring countries such as Sudan and DRC.
The prediction of infrastructure development to spur economic growth is supported by cases from other areas. For instance, in Europe roads contribute 11.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (about €2,290 billion) and around five per cent of the total number of persons employed.
Based on the above expert consensus, the government in 2008 took a strategic decision to focus on building a robust road infrastructure network as synergy to Uganda’s economic growth potentiality.
Four important strategies were employed; establishment of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), charged with mandate of planning and procuring services of private firms for road construction and maintenance; setting up a Road Fund providing for the direct transfer of fuel levies and other road user taxes directly to UNRA and district councils for road maintenance purposes; and reorganisation of ministry of works and transport.
Despite the pressure on the resource envelope, government increased the annual budget allocation to the ministry of works and transport, raising it from Shs 563.7bn in the 2007/08 financial year to Shs 1.1 trillion in 2008/09. This year, the allocation was Shs 2.3 trillion. Of that money, Shs 1.7 trillion is for the roads sector. Since 2008, at least Shs 7 trillion has been allocated to the sector.
STATE OF OUR ROADS
In 2008, when the above policy shift was taken, the paved roads were 3,050km. With Shs 7.2 trillion, UNRA has paved 1,527km of roads, while 1,500km of major roads are currently under construction. The agency is further expected to commence the construction of 1,872km. The authority claims that the rest of the funds have been used for road maintenance and construction of bridges.
Speaking to The Observer, Dan Alinange, the UNRA spokesperson, said they “have made good progress” so far, despite some challenges.
“We have utilised our resources well and we anticipate better results,” he said.
Alinange explained that before constructing a road, they look at its economic potential.
“We have to make sure that resources are put to proper use and meet the target that informed the policy of prioritising road infrastructure development.”
But weighing in on whether the investment in roads is translating into economic dividends as predicted, Dr Fred Muhumuza, a senior manager at audit firm KPMG, says the expectations have not been met.
“It has not been possible to realise the spur in economic growth as predicted by the previous researches,” Muhumuza said.
In 2008, when government took the decision to prioritise road infrastructure development, Uganda’s economic growth averaged 6.8 per cent. However, it has since slowed to an average of 5.5 per cent.
Muhumuza, who less than two years ago was working as a principal economic advisor at ministry of finance, planning and economic development, argues that the earlier predictions would have been right if there was a balance of allocation to other sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, health and education.
“It is not good to prioritise one sector against others. We have worked on roads but now what is the benefit?” he asked.
ROAD USERS’ VIEWS
In 2012, a survey commissioned by the CrossRoads Secretariat, found that road users, especially drivers and motorcyclists, were dissatisfied with the condition of the road network.
“Major reasons for this widespread dissatisfaction include the narrowness of the roads and potholes [the top reasons given by all groups] coupled with poor maintenance and drainage, dust, poor signage, lack of pedestrian paths, congestion and poor driving by other road users,” notes the survey. CrossRoads is a four-year donor-funded programme working to improve Uganda’s road network and industry.
Two more surveys have been commissioned since then, and from the findings, road users’ satisfaction with the state of roads has improved. Alex Mugova, a market system development specialist at CrossRoads Secretariat, says; “From the subsequent surveys, the trend shows that the state of roads has improved, but you should know that if more roads are constructed and well rehabilitated, the road users will be more satisfied.”
UNRA also intends to put additional funds to road maintenance because “if this is ignored, it will be expensive” in the long run.
Mugova argues that since more resources have been committed to the road sector, people would expect better services.
“However, this is not the case due to delays and lack of transparency in procurement,” he says.
In September last year, UNRA expected to commence construction of Kanoni-Sembabule-Villa Maria road. However, it was delayed to this year although a contract was awarded and funds were committed. This is similar to the roads of Musiita-Lumino-Busia/Majanji, Acholi Bur-Musingo, Olwiyo-Gulu, Gulu-Acholi Bur, Kigumba-Masindi-Hoima-Kabwoya.
UNRA’s Alinange explains that the delay to commence construction of the above roads is due to procurement challenges. He says the current procurement process, which is subject to donor rules, needs to be harmonised.
“For instance, before work commences you have to compensate landowners. This is extremely expensive, besides delaying the construction,” he says.
Alinange argues that if the land law is also amended, infrastructure development would be easy. “But now that land belongs to the people instead of the state, if the state wants to do anything, it has to first compensate the landowners,” he said.
CrossRoads attributes the delay in commencement and completion of construction works to contractor-related challenges.
“For the contractors, the key issues were the difficulties that they have in accessing finance and equipment, coupled with a countrywide lack of skilled equipment operators and experienced works foremen, and their lack of business planning and financial management skills...,” notes the report, titled ‘Two years of progress towards improving Uganda’s road sector.’
Busongora North MP William Nzoghu, the shadow minister for infrastructure, says if road infrastructure development is to be achieved, then the corruption in the sector has to be fought.
“The corruption involved in the procurement of contractors is what has led to these delays in commencement. You will find that a contract is awarded to someone without competence to handle the work, who then in the end sub-contracts,” Nzoghu explains, giving the example of Mukono-Katosi road which was awarded to Eutaw, but it subsequently sub-contracted a Chinese firm to construct the road.
COMPLETED ROADS (PAVED)
Jinja-Bugiri, Kawempe-Kafu, Soroti-Dokolo-Lira, Lira-Kamdini-Karuma, Masaka-Mbarara, Kampala Northern Bypass (phase I), Kabale-Kisoro-Bunagana, Fort Portal-Bundibugyo-Lamia, Mbarara-Kikagati and Busia-Bugiri
ROADS UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Tororo-Mbale-Soroti, Jinja-Kamuli, Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road,Gulu-Atiak, Vurra-Arua-Koboko-Oraba, Mbarara-Ntugamo, Ntugamo-Katuna road, Mukono-Jinja, Ishaka-Kagamba, Nakapiripit-Moroto, Kamwenge-Fort portal, Kafu-Kiryandongo, Luuku-Kalangala, Atiak-Nimule, Mbarara Bypass, Mpigi-Kanoni
Awoja bridge (Mbale-Soroti), Mubuku bridge on Kasese Rwemi road, Kilembe bridge on Kasese-Kilembe road, Nalubale bridge (Jinja rehabilitation), Daca-Ure-Eventre and Uzurugo on Wandi
This article was produced with the help of a grant from the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME)