Standard Gauge Railway – How ready are we?
Of late many African countries especially those in the East Africa and the Horn of Africa like Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia have embarked on the modernization of the old and traditional railway transport system. With Ethiopia almost done with its modern railway project in its Capital City of Addis Ababa, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and now Congo are soon commencing the construction of a Standard Gauge Railway that will connect these countries through its major towns.
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is most likely to boost these countries level of economic growth by facilitating faster movement of goods across border countries especially the perishable ones and also establishing a number of potential openings in terms of jobs creation in the region. The government of Uganda together with its regional member states, is seeking to construct a 1.5 Meter gauge railway line to replace the current 1-Meter gauge.
The project was expected to cost the Ugandan tax payers about $ 6.69bn borrowed from the Chinese Exim Bank but now with Congo also coming on board coupled with the daily skyrocketing price of the dollar against the Uganda shilling for the last few months, we anticipate a higher price at the end of the negotiations.
It would be prudent also to note that the delayed commencement of the project is as a result of Parliament’s establishment of a Select Committee to; inquire into the procurement and the contractual process of the company to handle the project and other related matters. This came after Members of Parliament; Theodore Ssekikubo, Abdu Katuntu, Paul Mwiru, Tinkasimire Barnabas, and Wilfred Niwagaba petitioned parliament to inquire into the allegations surrounding the termination of the contract between Government and China Civil Eng. Construction Corporation (CCECC) by the Minister for Works and Transport as well as what they regard as a huge amount of money to be spent on the project.
Subsequently on 4th November 2014, parliament directed that a Select Committee be established to inquire into the matters and on 11th of November, Speaker of Parliament instituted the committee. The Committee completed its investigations and writing the report as well which it laid before the House. Despite these short comings, as we have noted earlier, the project is of great economic value to the citizens of Uganda. In an interview with New Vision one of the leading Dailies in Uganda, Hon John Byabagambi, the Minister for Transport and Works noted that the construction works on SGR, will generate 60,000 direct and 150,000 indirect jobs. This is so the case because one of the conditions that was given to the contractor, China Harbor Engineering company Ltd, is to employ local people instead of importing laborers from China.
The local industries supplying different construction materials and inputs such as steel, cement, lime, aggregates, roofing materials, glass, electric power and electricity transition materials are also likely to create 20,000 additional jobs. In addition to that, the SGR will also improve on skill development among Ugandans with about 300,000 expected to be enrolled under the arrangement.
However, the above can only be achieved when there are Polytechnic Institutions to equip the masses with the required skills in the sector. In the current Financial Year 2015/2016, the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports requested forUgx8.9bn only for the construction of Tororo Railway Polytechnic to produce craft and technicians to provide skilled labor in the construction of the SGR but the money was not provided.
The failure by both government and parliament to plan and appropriate resources for the above mentioned timely priority is a clear indication that Ugandans will only provide casual labor as opposed to skilled one. This may result to perennial inability of Ugandans to provide skilled services like maintaining the railway gauge after its completion.
While appearing before the Parliament Select Committee on SGR, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development, Mr. Keith Muhakinizi who also happens to be the Secretary to the Treasury informed the Committee that the cost of the railway project would increase the national debt burden to over 80%. This implies that we don’t have the financial resources to fund the project.
Therefore, before government commits itself into such huge financial contract with a great a bearing to the country’s future. The masses need to be prepared to enable them gain fully at all levels of such undertaking. Nevertheless, the project is of great importance to the future development of the country.