Uganda’s road infrastructure projects falling short of human rights principles
Uganda’s current political administration has prioritized road infrastructure development as one of the drivers of economic growth, thus contributing to the attainment of the National Development Plan II objectives of improved accessibility to markets and social services, reduced transport costs to stimulate production, competitiveness, improved trade, industrial growth and job creation. This stance is not only reflected in expressions of the Head of State, President Yoweri Museveni but also as a percentage in the national resource envelope.
The National Budget Framework Paper for financial year 2017/18-20/21 approved by Parliament on 2nd January 2017 proposed a budget allocation of UGX 4.86 trillion ((21.7%) in FY2017/18. A significant increase from UGX 3.82 tn in financial year 2016/17. The country has now embarked on the expansion of Entebbe International Airport and building of a multi-lane Standard Gauge Railway.
While the increased allocations have led to some visible improvement in the works and transport sector, often, the implementation of such projects are devoid of human rights principles. Prior and prompt compensation to those evicted by the implementation of projects is often delayed or not received at all contrary to Article 26 of the Constitution.
In October, 2016, the Parliament’s committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises recovered UGX 26.3bn meant for compensation of Projects Affected Persons(PAPs) from five (5) Chinese road construction companies working on different road projects across the country. After the query was flagged by the Auditor General in the report on the financial statements of the Uganda National Road Authority (UNRA) as at 30th June 2015. The funds were part of the UGX 47.7bn advanced to the contractors between late and early 2014 and 2015, (UNRA) for the purpose of compensation.
Both the Auditor General and the Committee faulted UNRA officials for involving a third party (the contractors) in the compensation process by transferring the funds meant for PAPs to their accounts and consequently failed to supervise adequately. The contractors also breached a number of provisions in the contracts further exacerbating the plight of PAPs. For instance, contractors didn’t open up independent imprest accounts on which PAPs money was to be deposited and withdrawn by UNRA’s authority.
There were also delays on part of UNRA to conclude on the valuation of properties of PAPs causing the contractors to trade with the money and use it also for daily operations as they awaited authorization from UNRA.
Failure to ensure prompt compensation of PAPs despite land and house evictions has a gross negative impact on the livelihoods of people living in those communities. For example, as a result of evictions, people’s rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of person, security of home, freedom from cruel inhuman and degrading treatment are grossly violated.
One of the major benefits of the projects has to do with job creation for locals, its however unfortunate that it is mainly dominated by foreign contractors with Ugandan offering unskilled low wage labour. Prompt compensation of PAPs is therefore one of the immediate benefits to citizens from such kinds of investment. Like many asserts, land often appreciates and depreciates and unless proper evaluation of PAPs’ properties is undertaken, chances are high, many will lose out on adequate compensation,
The issue of compensation has left a lot of questions unanswered. For instance; why UNRA would transfer the responsibility of paying PAPs to Chinese who can’t even communicate in any of the local languages, did corruption play a role? On assumption that the contractual provision to transfer money to contractors to pay PAPs was not a collusion between the contractors and then UNRA officials. If they (contractors) were brave enough to disrespect their employee (UNRA) by withdrawing the money without its authorization as per the contracts. Are they respecting the rights of the Ugandan labourers they employ to work on their road projects? By providing them with protective gear, commensurate salaries, sick leave and treatment in case of illness among others?
The failure by Government to ensure prompt compensation of persons affected by its projects coupled with delay in disposing of land cases in courts of law whose backlog stands at 3,846 in the Kampala High Court Land Division alone are worrying. It’s also in my opinion that the proposed land laws on quick land acquisition from the citizens for government projects will not solve but instead exacerbate the already existing compensation problems.
 National Court Census Report of October 2016