Stan­dard Gauge Rail­way – How ready are we?

By: Parliament Reporter

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.