Ugan­da’s road in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects falling short of hu­man rights prin­ci­ples

By: Mugoya Musa

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[1] 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.

[1] Na­tional Court Cen­sus Re­port of Oc­to­ber 2016