By J. Semakula, J. Masaba and K. Musoke
District chairpersons will have no excuse for losing the 2016 elections. One of the issues that always dogged their re-election was the poor state of roads.
Now the roads are “in their hands,” after President Yoweri Museveni handed over to them road construction equipment worth $106m (about sh276b) in June.
While district chairpersons have been relying on contractors to work on the roads, they will soon start doing it themselves.
However, some of the contractors who talked to Saturday Vision are bitter with the Government for throwing them out of business.
Axes to grind
Gerald Okumu, the managing director of Alma Conexious, a Jinja-based road construction firm, said the move will significantly affect their business.
“Losing the road construction contracts in districts is a big challenge to us. I do not know how we shall cope,” Okumu said.
He also said some contractors had borrowed money from banks to buy equipment, like graders, which have been rendered useless.
“We were caught off guard because the Government did not inform us in advance about its plan. We hope they can come to our rescue,” Okumu added.
Francis Xavier Mubuke, the executive director of the Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors, said: “We have held talks with the Government over the issue, in vain. We had asked the Government to allow the contractors to continue operating in 20 districts, but our proposal did not go through.”
Mubuke noted that the association had advised its members to diversify into other fields. He was pessimistic that the Government’s initiative would last a long time.
“With the corruption in Uganda, I do not see the equipment lasting for more than two years. The Government embarked on the project before building capacity.
It was a political blunder they will regret,” Mubuke warned
He also expressed his disappointment, saying not too long ago, the Government had rooted for the local contractors, but it had now turned against them.
“Countries like China have developed because they support the local people, but our Government instead frustrates the people,” he said.
As local contractors mourn the loss of juicy deals, the Government is making final touches on removing bottlenecks for the equipment to be used.
At the time the equipment was commissioned, local governments lacked trained drivers to operate it. The Ministry of Public Service had also imposed a ban on recruitment. With the ban, districts could not get drivers to man the equipment.
The shortage of drivers made use of the equipment impossible. Although the districts were eager to use the equipment, they had no option, but to park it.
Realising the challenge districts were facing due to lack of qualified drivers, the Government came up with a special programme of training the existing drivers.
Suzan Kataike, the works ministry spokesperson, said most drivers have been trained, while others are still undergoing training.
Some district leaders confirmed to Saturday Vision that their drivers had already been trained. The training is being carried out at the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) engineering facility in Kasana, Luwero.
Luwero district chairman Abdul Naduli said drivers in the district were among the first batch to be trained.
He also said Luwero got a tipper, lorry and pick-up trucks which were commissioned on Thursday.
Mukono chairman Francis Lukooya Mukoome also confirmed that their drivers had been trained. Mukono launched its equipment last Friday.
But some districts like Namutumba are yet to train their drivers. Namutumba road equipment is currently lying idle at the prison’s department due to lack of a qualified driver to operate it.
Equipment given number plates
In Uganda, vehicles are not allowed to hit the road without number plates. But at the time the road equipment was handed over to the districts, it had no number plates. But last week, the works ministry sent number plates to the districts.
Even after getting the equipment, the districts had no guidelines on how to use it. To prevent the districts from breaching the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) requirements, the local government ministry reportedly blocked district leaders from using the equipment until the guidelines were issued.
On September 22, the executive director of PPDA, Cornelia K. Sabiiti, issued the guidelines to the districts. Sabiiti copied the guidelines on circular No.3 to the permanent secretaries of the local government, finance, and works ministries and the Solicitor General.
PPDA spokesperson, Vincent Mugaba, said the guidelines were set during a consultative meetings with local government stakeholders and the PPDA. The guidelines focus on ensuring value for money.
To ensure that there is value for money, districts were tasked to strictly follow the procurement rules and methods set in the PPDA Act, 2003 and the Local Government PPDA Regulations, 2006.
The Act requires district leaders to vigorously supervise the works. Supervision should be carried out by qualified staff. Districts are also expected to use employees who are qualified to do the work and to manage the records.
More equipment sent
The equipment has been sent to districts in phases. Some districts got graders and pick-up trucks without excavators and loaders. This made the use of the first batch of the equipment hard. But more equipment has been dispatched to the districts to bridge the gap.
District leaders speak out
With most of the bottlenecks being dealt with, local leaders are eager to start using the equipment. Gomba chairperson Abdu Shem Kyabangi said the equipment gave hope to the people in his district.
“The new arrangement is good for new districts with meargre resources. Out of the 3,000kms of the murrum roads we have, we could only finance the maintenance of 20kms in a financial year. But with the equipment, we shall work on more,” Kyabangi said.
Mityana chairperson Deborah Kyazike Kinobe said the acquisition of the equipment was long overdue.
Kinobe said before getting the equipment, the district had only one grader, which was in bad shape.
Wakiso chairperson Matia Lwanga Bwanika said the district had been spending sh300m monthly on roads. He also noted that the contractors were inflating the prices of maintaining the roads.