By Naboth K. Muhwezi
Just a few years back, the Government signed an agreement with the Chinese government to construct a sh1.19 trillion four lane highway connecting Entebbe and Kampala. Subsequently, construction was commissioned at Kyengera in 2012 by President Yoweri Museveni.
The 51km highway will start at Abayita-Ababiri on the existing Kampala-Entebbe road, go through Ssisa, Kabojja and end at Busega where it will join the Kampala northern bypass highway.
According to the agreement, the government of China, through Export-Import Bank of China, would lend up to $350m (sh875b) at a 2% annual interest repayable over 40 years. The remaining $176m (sh315b) will be provided by the Government of Uganda in addition to $40m to compensate land owners along the route of the highway.
As the multibillion project progresses, however, there is growing skeptism about the economic viability of the project to address the current pressing needs of ordinary Ugandans like instituting a more dependable transport system that benefits majority ordinary Ugandans.
Besides, ever since the 9th Parliament approved the $350m loan, there has been growing concern in some circles over the increasing debt burden our leaders continue to pass on to posterity.
When compared to the Northern corridor highway, which passes through Tororo-Kampala-Atiak up to Nimule, the glaring disparity in social- economic value leaves a lot to be explained as to whether the new Entebbe-Kampala highway was a national priority like other highways in the country which one would say are the ‘pulmonary arteries’ of Uganda’s economy.
A report published by world highways in March 2013, says the northern corridor transport network is Uganda’s most important highway as it forms 7% of the countries road network and close up to 32% of its traffic.
Statistics indicate that the corridors trans-shipment traffic is over2.2 million tones a day at a growth rate of 20% annually. In addition, Uganda relies on the Port of Mombasa for up to 80% of its exports and imports, 95% of which pass through the northern corridor highway.
Going by the above report, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) stands to realise over200% tax rise from the increased tonnage of goods in the next 10 years. Similarly, a multitude of Ugandans using the highway including farmers riding their produce to nearest towns or markets; patients going to hospitals; students/ teachers commuting to schools; worshippers walking to Churches and Mosques; and if you like, voters moving to political campaign platforms and voting stations are all basic social needs today’s ordinary Ugandans and those to be born would indirectly benefit from the sh1.19 trillion.
On the other hand, the Government has not given figures on the economic returns it expects out of Entebbe-Kampala highway. What is clear is that it will be a road toll highway requiring vehicles that use it to have fittings with electronic billing devices and with ‘limited access’.
In the spirit of true patriotism and equitable distribution of resources, sh1.19 trillion could widen part of the northern corridor as from Jinja-Kampala to create a conducive internal trade environment for a bigger number of Ugandans and also boost URA’s income through tax collection from regional countries (Kenya,Rwanda,Burundi,DRC and South Sudan) all served by the northern highway.
Alternatively, if sh1.19 trillion was invested in controlling floods and construction of water reservoirs in northern and eastern Uganda, it would greatly increase agricultural productivity and food security in the food insecure regions devastated by hunger over years.
Additionary, the agreement stipulates that the Government of Uganda will pay an interest rate of 2% of the loan over 40 years. Using abstract figures, at an interest rate of 2%, sh875b will be accumulating approximately sh17.5b per year.
In other words, for the repayable period of 40 years, the accrued interest rate will be sh17.5b multiplied by 40 years totaling to an estimate of sh700b excluding the principle loan and other costs like mantainance, repair and depreciation which add up to over sh2trillion Ugandan children and grandchildren will have to pay to the Chinese children of the time. How Ugandan children will pay back is a puzzling question a writer of today cannot give an accurate answer.
As we look forward to celebrate the completion of this magnificent highway, there is need for our leaders to reflect on how best they can plan for our meager resources for the benefit of majority Ugandans and posterity who will be obliged to pay back.
The Chinese have a proverb which says that,’ if you are planning for one year, prepare a garden; 10 years plant a tree; lifetime educate people’.
We ought to remember that we have a duty to justify the purpose for which we exist as Ugandans not Chinese, Indians, Europeans or Americans because it is from the deeds of our generation that posterity will judge us fairy or harshly.
Therefore, it was not a good planning strategy for our leaders to prioritise the construction of a toll road with limited access to Ugandans, the majority of who may never access in their lifetime. Ugandans need projects that will enhance their social-economic lives to produce and save for our next generation.
The writer is a journalist