Is gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for the weak lo­cal road con­struc­tion – If so, what can be done?

By: Mugoya Musa

For about six 7 years, the road sec­tor has been tak­ing the li­ons’ share of our na­tional re­source en­ve­lope. For ex­am­ple, in the cur­rent FY2016/​17, the sec­tor’s to­tal al­lo­ca­tion amounts to UGX 3.45tn, rep­re­sent­ing 13.1% of the UGX 26. 3tn na­tional bud­get.

It is true for any econ­omy to re­al­ize eco­nomic growth; it needs well de­vel­oped trans­port in­fra­struc­ture to smoothen trans­porta­tion of goods as well as en­hanc­ing tourism de­vel­op­ment. De­spite, the gov­ern­ment de­sire to in­crease the paved road out­put in Uganda, there have been  a few lim­i­ta­tions.

High cost of road con­struc­tion

In every fi­nan­cial year, Uganda Na­tional Road Au­thor­ity (UNRA) pro­poses unit cost of road con­struc­tion. In FY2016/​17, the pro­posed unit cost for up­grad­ing from gravel to Bi­tu­men is UGX 2.9bn from UGX 3bn in FY2015/​16. How­ever, the pol­icy state­ment fur­ther elab­o­rates that the mar­ket rates will de­ter­mine the ac­tual unit cost through a com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process.

There has been a huge pub­lic de­bate on the cost of road con­struc­tion in Uganda as op­posed to other coun­tries within the East Africa Re­gion. Mon­ica Azuba Ntege, Min­is­ter for Works and Trans­port in her re­sponse to the Na­tional Econ­omy Com­mit­tee’s con­cerns over the high cost com­pen­sa­tion of UGX 200m per acre for com­mer­cial plots in Luwero for the Luwero Bu­ta­langu road.

She at­trib­uted the high cost of road con­struc­tion in Uganda on the un­fair gov­ern­ment poli­cies and tax­a­tion regimes on con­struc­tion in­puts, land tenure sys­tem that obliges com­pen­sa­tion be­fore land us­age, the weak lo­cal con­struc­tion lead­ing to over de­pen­dency on for­eign labour which is ex­pen­sive, ex­pen­sive im­ported con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als like pe­tro­leum prod­ucts, in­fla­tion, high bank in­ter­est rates and dif­fi­cult of get­ting bank loans and guar­an­tees among oth­ers.

The other point she did­n’t point out is cor­rup­tion which could be ac­tu­ally the rea­son for the high cost. Road con­struc­tion in Uganda has been slowed down by the high-level cor­rup­tion es­pe­cially in the na­tional au­thor­ity re­spon­si­ble for road con­struc­tion. The re­cent in­quiry into the Uganda Na­tional Road Au­thor­ity in­di­cated that so far UGX 9tn has been used in the last seven years to con­struct 1,500km of roads. The same amount could have con­structed 5,147km of roads bas­ing on the in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of cost per kilo­me­ter. These fig­ures in­di­cate an av­er­age cost Ugx 6bn per kilo­me­ter.  This high cost has lim­ited road out­put which has av­er­aged at 140 Kilo­me­ters per year.

This high cost of road con­struc­tion which as a re­sult of a num­ber of com­bined fac­tors has left us with no value for money. A case in point is the pro­posed con­struc­tion of the Luwero-Bu­ta­langu road. The ma­tu­rity pe­riod of the loan that will fi­nance the pro­ject is 20 years as is the life ex­pectancy of the road.

The Deficit in paved roads.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan(NDP) II 2015/​2016-2020-2021, roads in Uganda are cat­e­go­rized as Na­tional roads-21,000kms, Dis­tricts- 32,000kms, Ur­ban-13,000km. This makes a to­tal of 66,000 km road net­work with the ex­cep­tion of the com­mu­nity ac­cess roads which amounts to 85,000km. Cur­rently only 4000kms of roads is paved[1], rep­re­sent­ing 6% of the 66,000km road net­work. This leaves 62,000km of the road net­work gravel. The NDP II tar­gets to achieve more 2205km paved roads in the pe­riod of 5 years thereby re­al­iz­ing an in­crease of 6,000km of road tar­mac.

As pointed out by the in­quiry, UGX 9tn in­vest­ment would have given us 5,147km of tar­mac roads, trans­lat­ing into UGX 1.75bn unit cost per kilo­me­tre. This will re­quire Gov­ern­ment to so­licit UGX 108.5tn to com­plete the tar­ma­ck­ing of the re­main­ing 62,000km roads. The cur­rent na­tional bud­get amounts to UGX 26.3tn.  To achieve com­ple­tion of the up­grad­ing of the re­main­ing 62,000 km of un­paved roads, it will re­quire the coun­try to rel­e­gate other sec­tor and spend its en­tire cur­rent bud­get for 4 years.

This is an in­di­ca­tion of the coun­try’s lim­ited re­sources to re­al­ize the com­ple­tion of the above re­main­ing road net­work in the lim­ited time pos­si­ble as most cit­i­zens may wish. The biggest chunk of the re­sources used to up­grade our roads are bor­rowed on ad­di­tion to the sec­tor be­ing dom­i­nated by for­eign con­struc­tors es­pe­cially Chi­nese.  This calls for change of strat­egy. The lo­cal con­struc­tion sec­tor as is the econ­omy has ben­e­fited less. A coun­try that took a de­ci­sion to in­vest the biggest part of its na­tional re­sources in the road sec­tor should have first build the ca­pac­ity of its lo­cal con­struc­tion sec­tor.

The need to change strat­egy

While ap­pear­ing be­fore the Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee on Com­mis­sion Statu­tory Au­thor­i­ties and State En­ter­prises, Allen Kag­ina, the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of UNRA in­formed the com­mit­tee of the po­ten­tial ca­pac­ity of Uganda En­gi­neers to work on our roads but lack the fi­nance to ac­quire equip­ment for road con­struc­tion.  Gov­ern­ment should forego one road con­struc­tion pro­ject and al­lo­cate those funds to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a fund to pro­vide low in­ter­est loans to lo­cal en­gi­neer­ing com­pa­nies to en­able them ac­quire equip­ment and bid for these con­tracts.

The other idea is for gov­ern­ment to go for first class mur­ram in­stead of tar­mac. For ex­am­ple, it is­n’t eco­nom­i­cally vi­able for gov­ern­ment to in­vest UGX 214bn con­tract­ing a Chi­nese firm, Shengly En­gi­neer­ing Co. Ltd to con­struct the 100km Kyen­jojo-Kab­woya road[2] when the com­mu­ni­ties through which the road is tra­vers­ing are in dire poverty. The first-class mur­ram would be a bit cheap and the rest of the re­sources would be in­vested in ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor to build the tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity of Ugan­dans to work on their roads or the agri­cul­tural sec­tor like es­tab­lish­ing wa­ter dams or dis­trib­ut­ing wa­ter pumps and other agri­cul­tural in puts to farm­ers to stim­u­late agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

The last al­ter­na­tive, would be for gov­ern­ment to en­able UNRA ac­quire more equip­ment and tech­ni­cal staff to un­der­take the con­struc­tion of our roads. It is high time a de­ci­sion ben­e­fi­cial to Ugan­dans is taken. Oth­er­wise, it makes no eco­nomic sense to pride in the num­ber of tar­mac roads out­put with ex­ter­nal fi­nanc­ing dom­i­nated by for­eigner con­trac­tors.


[1] http://​ea-agribusi­​unra-paves-1200km-roads-5000km-for-tar­ma­ck­ing-by-2016/

[2] http://​www.chim­pre­​mu­sev­eni-launches-con­struc­tion-of-kyen­jojo-kab­woya-road/