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Landlinked Uganda’s roads key to progress

Interview - June 24, 2014
Uganda likes to regard itself as more “landlinked” than landlocked. As a “landlinked” country, where 90% of cargo is carried by road and 90% of movements of passengers are done by road, a quality road network is vital to support Uganda’s ongoing economic development and to further regional integration with its neighbours. The Uganda National Roads Authority’s executive director, Arthur SSebbugga Kimieze, discusses with United World how the UNRA and the Ministry of Works and Transport are working to improve the road network, as well as exploring water transportation options on Lake Victoria. He also explains how the UNRA is promoting local content in the transportation sector and the strategic plan to improve connectivity with its East African neighbours.
Kindly give us an overview of the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA).

UNRA was established as an act of Parliament in 2006, and it became operational on the 1st of July 2008. It was put in place to effectively manage the national road network (NRN). Prior to the formation of UNRA, there was the Road Agency Formation Unit (RAFU), which was created in 1998 and operated until 2008. It was a project arrangement under the Ministry of Works and Transport (MWT). It was tasked to manage the projects for development, while the Ministry handled the maintenance of the NRN. RAFU served as the precursor to the formation of UNRA.
UNRA was created as part of the general reforms in the road sector (RS). These reforms spanned Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where they wanted better road management. UNRA and the Uganda Road Fund (URF) were created from those reforms.

How is UNRA structured in relation to the Minister of Works and Transport?

UNRA’s management reports to the Board of Directors (BoD). The BoD gives us the policies. I report to the Oversight Body (OB). The BoD is answerable to the Ministry of Works and Transport (MWT). MWT Minister, James Abraham Byandaala, is the sector Minister who is in charge of overall policy and the sector’s strategic direction. This includes UNRA. The MWT Minister is part of the Cabinet that answers to the people of Uganda through H.E., the President of the Republic of Uganda.

What is the current state of Uganda’s road network?

All in all, Uganda has about 80,000 kilometers of public roads. They have 4 categories. First, we have the national roads (NRs) or the trunk roads, highways, or main roads. These are the roads that link Kampala with the regional centers, the district headquarters, and our neighbors (namely, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Sudan, and DRC). The roads that lead us to these countries are the responsibility of the UNRA. At the moment, we have about 21,000 kilometers of such roads, of which a modest fraction (3,500 kilometers) is paved. Secondly, we have the district road network (DRN), which is about 20,000 kilometers and is the responsibility of the district local government (DLG). The country has about 111 DLGs.

Thirdly, we have the urban roads (URs) that total about 5,000 kilometers, which fall under the purview of their respective urban authorities (UAs), including the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). Finally, we have the community access roads (CARs) that connect villages to social services (e.g., schools, health centers, etc.). They span about 35,000 kilometers.

How would you describe the dynamics between MWT and UNRA?

The MWT is responsible for many things: policy, strategic planning, and so on for so many modes of transport. UNRA receives its directions from the MWT, and is focused on roads. As a land-linked country, the most predominant mode of transport here are the roads. That is why UNRA is that important. 90% of the cargo in our country is carried by road. More than 90% of the movements of passengers are done by road.

Indeed, roads impact the socio-economic development of this country. Uganda is predominantly an agricultural country. A lot of these activities take place in the rural part of the country. Roads must take the implements used to do agriculture. These roads must then take agricultural production and transport them from the farm to the market. Schools are connected to the road network. You cannot have a school without an access road. As for public administration, by policy, there is an NRN leading to every district in the country. Many services rely on a good road network in this country.

Being land-linked further increases the importance of roads to Uganda.

The fact that we are a land-linked country means that we have every reason to have a good road network. We cannot connect with our neighboring countries unless we use these roads.

Your website indicated that you are also responsible for lake transportation.

Yes, we are. We are responsible for around 9 ferry crossings, but that is for inland water. It does not necessarily connect with the ferries outside Uganda.

Under the UNRA Act, a ferry connecting 2 NRs is also defined as a part of that NR; otherwise, one would have to provide a permanent bridge across the water body.

What are your thoughts on the possibilities of water transport?

ENG. A. S. KIMEZE: We can do with water transport in some parts of the region such as Lake Victoria, which leads to Tanzania then Kenya. We could also link to the DRC using Lake Albert. However, we still need to develop that.

Can you tell us more about your master plan? How are you connecting Uganda with your neighbors to make Uganda the gateway of the East African Community?

We have a strategic plan in cooperation with the other governments. We have identified a number of key NRs that link us to neighboring countries. For instance, we have the Northern Road Corridor (NRC), which runs from Mombasa to Nairobi. It comes to Malaba, Busia, and runs through Bugiri, Jinja, Mukono, Kampala, Masaka, Balara, Kabale then Katuna, which is the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Malaba and Busia are 2 main borders to Uganda and Kenya. It is a very important road, and should be kept in good condition at all times.

As for the other corridor, I can see it from Entebbe Airport (EA) to Kampala City, then north to Luweero, to Nakasongola, Gulu, Atiak then Nimule, which is the border between Uganda and Sudan. That is another major corridor. If trucks come from Kenya through Malaba, they can go straight to Tororo, Mbale, Soroti, and Lira then connect with the road from Kampala to Gulu. That also takes you to Southern Sudan.

Another important corridor is the one towards Congo. From Mbarara, you can go to Ntungamo, to Rukungiri then Ishasha and connect with Congo. There is also the road from Masaka to Mutukula, which link us to Tanzania. We need to maintain the corridors that lead us to neighboring countries because they support the region’s economic growth.

How are you empowering local content?

The government has put out a policy that we develop the national construction industry. That policy has a number of objectives, including the development of local contractors, consultants, and suppliers. It also seeks to strengthen regulatory institutions like the Engineers Registration Board (ERB), the Architects Registration Board (ARB), and the Surveyors Registration Board (SRB). These are the people who are involved in the construction industry, as well as support the professional institutions. There is the Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE), the Africa Association of Quantity Surveyors (AAQS) in Uganda, and so on. The policy stipulates that a certain percent of the work (around 20%) should be assigned to national contractors.

What are the local firms mainly engaged in?

The scope for roadwork is large. At the moment, the local firms are mainly engaged in low-cost road maintenance. We would like to develop them so that they could compete in new works and the reconstruction of existing roads. We could also have arrangements, with national firms participating in joint ventures so that they have the opportunity to develop local capacity and grow. This way, we could retain the profits that have been going out of the country.

What are some of the main challenges that you are facing in developing the Road Master Plan (RMP)?

First, there is the weak construction industry. Our contractors still have to be equipped to handle major construction work. Their capacity is so far limited to road maintenance. They need to meet the contract prerequisites. They need tender security in processing tenders. The performance security is 10% of the contract signed. If the job is UShs50 billion, the contractor must come in with UShs5 billion (US$2 million, roughly). That is a lot of money. If they go to a bank, they will need a lot of collateral. Some work has to be one in the area of knowledge and technology for road construction. They lack the equipment. The cost of funding is high. There have been attempts to help them through the Crossroads Program (CP). It is a program that is supporting the development of local doctors here, as well. The government and its development partners such as DFID support CP. Within it is a facility for a contractor to be supported when he is processing his bids. He supported in accessing the bid securities. That way we are able to give more opportunities to more contractors to participate in local construction and maintenance works. Our goal is to nc4ease their capacity so that they could do large-scale work, beyond road maintenance.

Speaking of increasing capacities, how are you working with the local universities?

We are working closely with the universities. We are partnering with them for some of the postgraduate courses. Right now, we have around 4 engineers from UNRA taking up their masters on Infrastructure Management (IM) with Makere University (MU). We have the capacity building of our contractors, and the training of our engineers—these things are very important.

Can you tell us about the tenders that you are about to open up for foreign investment?

To a good extent, we have attracted the Chinese companies. They are winning most of the tenders. Usually, if it is using government financing, it is mostly from loans from the African Development Bank (ADB), and World Bank (WB). We also have other development partners like the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA).We have also attracted financing from the European Union (EU). The EU has been a very big financier for road development in this country.

Recently, there has been an innovation of blending grants from the EU and loans from commercial banks like the European Investment Bank (EIB). That way, we could enlarge our portfolio. From the EU alone, we could get, let us way, €50 million. However if we get another bank like the EIB, we are able to raise more money. The sum can shoot up to €800 million to €900 million.

Basically, rather than depend on EU grants, we are looking to combine it with loans from European banks.

Currently, we are going to implementing the dueling of the Kampala Northern Bypass (KNB) using that kind of financing. KNB was done in 2 phases. The 1st phase (21 kilometers) is complete, but only 4 kilometers was dueled. The outstanding 17 kilometers is going to be dueled, along with the 2nd phase.

The same thing is also being applied to the Mbarara Bypass (MB). It is about 20 kilometers, and it is going to be dueled using the same financing mechanism.

We are attracting financing and are in negotiations with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to fund some roads in Eastern Uganda. The eligibility of those countries is different. We shall have countries from Africa and other Islamic countries.

Where is the US in all this?

The US is participating. We have had interest from American companies. They are bidding. After all, it is an OCB. They are free to bid. In fact, we have companies working here right now. There is a company called EUTAW, which is working on the Mukono-Katosi/Kisoga-Nyenga Road (MK/KNR). We also have ARS Consulting.

We have been preparing the design for the Kampala-Jinja Expressway (KJE). It is a big job, which is estimated to cost around US$1.1 billion together with the 17 kilometers of the Kampala Southern Bypass (KSB). It will run from Namboole (outside Kampala) to the Southern end of the town, through to Munyonyo, way into the Kampala Internal Road (KIR) and join the KSB.

We are looking for financing for the KJE and the KSB. That is an opportunity for investors to explore PPPs. We could have an arrangement that spans 20 to 30 years.

We are also planning other expressways such as the one from Kampala to Mpiji. KJE will exit the East and will eventually lead to Kenya. This one should lead you to the Southwest of the country, leading up to Rwanda and Congo. We are going to put up an expressway from Kampala to Congo, towards the North. Those are going to be big projects that would require significant investments.

How are you attracting foreign investors?

We have engaged with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a wing of the WB, as a transaction adviser. We have just signed a contract with them a couple of weeks ago. They are settling in now. They are waiting to review all of the engagements that we have. They are going to assess all the work that we have done in terms of preparation and design then they will advertise these opportunities in the papers.

The trend before was to have investors come in by umbers, and we did not have the capacity to check their capacity or their terms of financing at the time. IFC will do that now on our behalf.

Transparency and accountability are key components to a successful organization. How are you promoting these values within UNRA?

The bulk of our expenditure is incurred for procurement. You could say about 90% goes to that. We have had to carefully look at the Procurement and Disposal Unit (PDU), as well as the Contracts Committee (CC).

When UNRA began in 2008, it had a small department for procurement and disposal (PD). Within 3 years, we discovered that it was inadequate for managing the portfolio under it. We restructured that Department into a Directorate, and got engineers who could look at the specifications for the procurement.

The bulk of what we do here is actually engineering work. It is not procurement for supplies. It is mainly the procurement of roads. It has to do with the procurement of engineering services—bringing in engineering firm to do the feasibility studies and the design, and eventually to handle the supervision of the contractors (when they are in place).

We have had to look at how they are working with the assistance of DFID. We have what is called the Independent Parallel Bid Evaluation (IPBE). I cannot tell you how good that system has been to us.

Can you tell us about the process involved?

What happens is when we get our bids back here in UNRA, we send copies to a British consulting firm hired by DFID to carry out our IPBE? They do this while we do our independent bid evaluation (IBE) here, which results are submitted to the PDU. PDU looks at the report then submits it to the CC for approval. The CC receives the report and keeps it. It does not announce the results until it has received the IPBE from the consulting firm in the UK.

What happens if there is a discord between the 2 reports?

Should there be a discord with the results of the IBE and the IPBE, the reports are returned for re-examination.

How often does this happen?

These days, there is hardly any discrepancy between the reports. .

What effect has this had to your system?

It has given our system credibility. Having our staff know that someone is watching has dramatically improved the situation. Bidders are confident that the playing field is level.

Does this mean that the complaints you get are less?

Yes, the complaints that we get are less.

What is your vision for Uganda’s roads?

I want people to see that Uganda’s roads are nice, safe and accessible. I want a road network that supports the social development of the country, bringing the products from the rural areas to the markets. Here, you have few (or no) accidents and quick journey times from one district to another. I want it to allow the transport of implements of agriculture production. It should be a secure road that children go through when they go to school. I want Uganda’s roads to be one that considers its environment.

Speaking of the environment, has there been any concern in that area?

We have been using gravel for road construction for a long time. In some parts of Africa, this gravel is a brownish soil material that has been used for years to construct roads. When this gravel is unsealed during the dry season, it erodes. During the wet season, you get mud down the rivers and the lakes. The waters become silted and eventually, they turn into swamps.

When you leave it open after extracting the material, hazardous pits form where animals and children could fall, and mosquitoes could breed. These are real environmental issues resulting to health problems.

Apart from the danger of breathing in the dust during the dry season, there is the contamination of the water systems during the rainy season.

We need to look at how to best seal these gravel roads through cost-effective means. We need to look for alternative materials to seal these gravel roads.

There is also the issue of trees. For the longest time, we have been cutting down trees for wood and bitumen (which are used for roads). In the most recent past, we have found bitumen at the market that could be used at lower temperatures. We are looking into alternative uses for that to save the environment.

We are looking at a Green Uganda.

What message would you like to convey about Uganda’s roads?

We have an ambitious road development and maintenance program in Uganda. We still have scope for road development. It is a priority in the country. About 15% of the National Road Budget (NRB) is going to road construction and maintenance. This is important because roads and such infrastructure form the backbone of our economy. That is why infrastructure is a priority in Uganda. Roads directly support the economy. They allow access to agriculture, schools, health centers, and support administration. Roads keep the country together, allowing its citizens to work as a unit. Roads unite us.

What motivates you as the Executive Director of UNRA?

I am motivated by my job of providing a good road network for my people. That is why I wake up in the morning. That is why I barely sleep at night. I am driven to serve the people. They are the ones for whom these roads are for. They are the ones who have paid for these roads, and the ones who have employed me.