Two years after your appointment as the Executive Director of UNRA what would you regard as your biggest achievements so far?
UNRA executive director, Allen Kagina. Photos by Charles Etukuri
Two years after her appointment as Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) Executive Director, Allen Kagina in her first ever major interview spoke to Sunday Vision about the changes within the Organisation, her fight against corruption and why she is cancelling some road contracts.
Two years after your appointment as the Executive Director of UNRA what would you regard as your biggest achievements so far?
Restructuring: The Board approved the new UNRA structure with a total establishment of 9 Directorates and 1740 staff members. The staff established increased from about 1000 to 1740. Staff salaries increased almost 3 fold for most positions.
Recruitment: Over 1,200 staff members have been recruited so far out of the 1,400 budgeted for. We hope to hit the target of 1400 staff members by the end of June 2017.
Stakeholders’ engagements: We have had constructive engagements with local Government leaders, Property Affected Persons (PAPs), Members of Parliament, the media, Development Partners, Service Provider and Civil Society Organizations. At regional level we initiated the East African Road Authorities’ Forum. These engagements have increased UNRA’s social capital in terms of improved relationships, networks and partnerships.
In-house design capacity: We have built in-house design capacity which has not only improved the quality of road designs but also saved the tax payer billions of shillings. Our staff have designed all the rehabilitation roads and are currently undertaking feasibility studies and preliminary designs for over 500km of oil roads. The same team has completed the design of Atiak – Adjuman road to be funded by EU.
Establishing the Construction Unit: When I joined UNRA, I promised that UNRA would construct roads using in-house capacity. Most people including my colleagues thought it was not possible. We have made substantial progress in establishing the construction unit; the staff has been recruited and procurement of equipment is in advanced stages.
Using the supervision team, we have been able to supervise in-house Moroto, Koboko-Maracha and Kamuli town roads, Rushere – Nshwerenkye and Nakalama – Tirinyi – Mbale roads. We plan to start the construction of Kitala – Gerenge road next financial year.
In-house Land Acquisition: We stopped using consultants for land acquisition because of inefficiencies and corruption. We are now using in-house Teams and the process is much improved. Titles are being processed and returned to owners within a short time which was not the case.
Procurement: we have stopped insider trading and significantly reduced corruption in the procurement process. The remaining pockets of corruption in procurement are being investigated and the culprits will soon be brought to book. Those involved in corruption have no place in UNRA.
The Fika Salama Initiative: This initiative in collaboration with Uganda Police Force, drastically reduced road carnage on Kampala – Masaka road which had reached alarming proportions. However, we were unable to sustain it due to resource constraints and the accidents are on the rise again. We plan to relaunch Fika Salama in the next financial year.
Road reserve: We started the clearing of the road reserve by demolishing structures which were paid for but Project Affected Persons refused to vacate. Our enforcement team has done a good job in sensitizing people not to encroach on the road reserve.
Social and environmental safeguards: We have made significant progress in turning around compliance with environmental and social safeguards which caused the cancellation of financing of Fort Portal – Kamwenge road project by the World Bank. We are now a model in implementing social and environmental safeguards in Uganda.
Improved Systems: We have improved the payment system which has significantly reduced delays in paying service providers. A modern IT system is being installed to replace the obsolete system we found in place. Internal controls have been strengthened; the vigilance of internal audit in verifying variations has saved the taxpayers a lot of money claimed by unscrupulous service providers.
Reduce cost legal services: We stopped outsourcing legal services from private law firms. We found a huge bill of over sh17 billion which UNRA owed to law firms. We now handle all cases in-house and our team has won most of them which saved a lot money.
UNRA Regulations: Since the enactment of the UNRA in 2016, more than 10 years ago, there were no regulations to operationalize the Act. We drafted the regulations, the Board approved them and submitted to the Minister of Works to issue a statutory instrument.
Strategic Plan: The preparation of the new strategic plan is in advanced stages. Once completed, the strategic plan will provide the direction UNRA will take in the next 5 years.
Other Achievements Completed road projects:
Atiak – Nimule
Ishaka – Kagamba
Bundibugyo/Nyahuka Town roads
Ntungamo – Mirama Hills
Fortportal - Kamwege
Koboko – Maracha Town roads
12 bridges were completed in the past 2 years.
Alla (20m) and Enyau (15m) Bridges in Arua
Birara Bridge (Span 32m)
Kyanzuki Bridge on Kasese Kilembe road (Span 39.2m)
Pakwala (15m) and Nyacara (15m) Bridges in Nebbi
Goli (20m) and Nyagak (3 lines of 4.5m dia turbo sider culverts) Bridges in Nebbi
Mitaano (60m) Bridge in Kanungu & Ntungwe (69m) Bridge in Kasese
Emergency construction of Ndaiga Bridge along Bugiri-Malaba road section (Span 40m)
Kabaale Bridge (linking Kyankwanzi to Ngoma in Nakaseke) (Span 100m)
Ruboni access Brdige to Mt Magaritta tourist Site Kasese
Maliba – Nkenda – Bugoye – Nyakalingigo road in Kasese
Agule-Aleles Ngora Bridge
Buwanku Bridge on River Mayanja linking Nakaseke to Kyankwanzi in Ngoma SubCounty
2000km were regravelled; and
11,214km underwent routine mechanized maintenance
2 Modern ferries were acquired; Wanseko-Panyimur and Zengebe-Namasale.
What have been some of your key challenges?
Procurement delays caused by internal weaknesses and administrative review caused by bad losers. Evaluations are taking unacceptably too long.
Contract management is still a challenge. Most contractors are not performing as per the contract. Most of them are not fully mobilized in terms of personnel and equipment. It was partly because of poor contract management which led to cancellation and suspension of funding for a number of road projects by World Bank largely due to poor management of environment and social safeguards.
Team work at all levels is still a challenge. Staff members continue to work in silos and not taking advantage of synergies of working with others. Decision making is slow and sluggish and this is affecting our performance. Most staff lack confidence and fear taking decision and responsibility.
Inadequate resources particularly transport and other logistical support. The budget for non-wage recurrent is not commensurate to UNRA’s business. This has resulted in inadequate and untimely facilitation.
Staff performance is still low partly due to capacity and in some cases due to incompetence. The productivity of staff is still unacceptably low. This is partly the cause of delayed procurement and completion of projects.
The cost of road construction remain very high with some roads projects going above the USD 1 million per kilometer. This is unsustainable; the cost must be brought down.
Delayed feedback to internal and external stakeholders remain a challenge. Request for information or clarifications take unnecessarily too long to get feedback.
We have also received negative publicity arising from COSASE business in Parliament hence affecting the image of the organization which we are trying to build.
You were appointed shortly after the President sacked the previous team and set up a commission of inquiry into UNRA headed by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire. How did you find UNRA?
What I found was an institution, where to give credit where it is due, some good work had been done. There were a number kilometers of roads that had been upgraded and rehabilitated, many roads being maintained, a number of bridges constructed, a number ferries operating. However, UNRA was running with many audit queries, lack of clear accountability to the public and too much interference in the procurement process.
You embarked on a cleanup process of UNRA? How far has the process gone?
We have just done the first stage which was the restructuring. We are embarking on the second stage which will involve reviewing and reengineering processes and improve systems that enable those processes to provide online services.
Many of our processes are still manual and bureaucratic meaning that service is not optimum. The UNRA Act requires us to operate in a businesslike manner. The processes that we are reviewing will facilitate new ways of doing business.
What changes have you carried out internally to ensure there is no repeat of previous abuses?
As much as possible we have tried to put out information and make processes transparent so that you can tell that when you put in your bid you don’t have to follow it. What I found was that people would place in their bids and then follow from desk to desk. We now do not allow contractors to follow their bids desk to desk. They are allowed to seek for information through the Public and Corporate Affairs department. For those with questions on land acquisition, we have a call centre and PR desk specifically dealing with land matters.
We have also tried to insulate ourselves from middlemen. Whenever there is a problem with any service it creates an industry of brokers. These middle men are a cost to the economy. They often present themselves to clients as problem solvers but often misinform them about the service they purport to provide.
We have had cases where they extort money from clients to chase contracts and payments on their behalf. Some have gone as far as demanding money from clients in the name of UNRA staff. Some of them intimidated our staff at work claiming they have been sent by a ‘big person’. Others have incited communities to demonstrate and riot when we constructing or maintaining roads
The Justice Bamugemereire team handed over its report to President Museveni highlighting so many issues of fraud. What actions have you taken?
The Inspectorate General of Government is using the report to investigate those who were found to be culpable in abusing office and the resources of UNRA as well mismanaging UNRA. The reforms we are undertaking will address institutional weaknesses related to procurement delays and project management.
There are complaints that similar issues cited in the report are still happening under your watch for instance there are claims that some of the contracts of most of the roads are either flawed or skewed to favor certain contractors.
That is a matter for investigation and that is why we now have an Investigations Department to follow up on any such information. We encourage the public to share any information that will help UNRA improve its services.
Besides, for the last two years we have signed very few new contracts as a result of budget constraints. Most of the road projects we are managing were procured in 2014. New projects will commence in the year 2017/18 with procurements of road projects to support production of oil.
On the issue of Dott Services, has UNRA implemented UNRA Commission of Inquiry findings that it be blacklisted?
With regard to the Commission of Inquiry Report, Dott Services challenged the report in court and got a ruling quashing that portion of the report relating to Dott . The judge ruled that the information in the inquiry report cannot be used to investigate the company.
What haven’t you prosecuted your former officials who were implicated in these financial abuses?
They are going to be prosecuted by the IGG. The President handed over the Commission Inquiry report to the IGG.
You have recently cancelled some contracts for the construction of key roads case in point is the Musita-Lumino road. Why was it cancelled?
When we sign a contract with a company, it is expected to meet standards set out in the contract. Failure to perform attracts various financial and non-financial penalties. UNRA gave the company the contract in 2014 to be completed in September 2017. By this time, progress of works should have been about 90% completed. They initially complained about lack of access to site because of slow land acquisition.
However, the people in the area had allowed the contractor to proceed even as they, the land owners waited for compensation. Despite several notices to correct, the company failed to perform. By the time of termination of contract they had only registered 13% progress. What we do when a contractor is not performing, we give notice of correction and time in which to improve the rate of work. The main problems with this contractor is that they had not fully mobilized equipment to execute the works. The personnel on the ground were changed, the lab did not even meet the UNBS specifications.
There must be a time when government agencies look out for the best interests of the many and not just the few. We had to decide whether to continue with a contractor who was not performing and we waste tax payers money or we terminate and get somebody better.
There were also unconfirmed allegations that a number of people outside the project were benefiting from this contractor by way of fuel for their vehicles and other financial benefits. This matter is now under investigations to determine whether there is truth in these allegations
There have been incidents where a given road breaks down before its intended period. A case in point is Fort Portal-Hima road which was funded by the World Bank and prematurely failed two years after even when it was supposed to last 15-20 years. In this case what actions does UNRA take against those involved?
What UNRA is expected to do, is to require any defect to be remedied. In fact we are expected to retain some money when we are not satisfied. When a road is constructed you must have quality assurance all though the sections and if you are satisfied that it’s met to the standards then you give the completion certificate and then you release the retained money.
Remember that even after completion there is 12 months of defects liability period so that in that period any defect that we would have identified on the road is repaired by the contractor at his own cost. I don’t know the facts about this one because it was before my time but I think a technical audit was done.
There have been complaints in the manner of recruitment in UNRA which some claims hasn’t been open?
My honest opinion is that this was a very transparent process. The long lines that you saw in Kyambogo were applicants being submitting their applications. However, if you are looking to recruit 300 people and you get 45,000 applications there are people who are not going to be satisfied.
Some people actually wrote to us and said they were not satisfied and we respond to them. When we started the online system of receiving applications, there were people who would fill in the forms but not submit by clicking the submit option at the end of the online form.
There were many other people who didn’t want to use the system and come directly and apply to the ED or Directors. We had many lobbyists. It would surprise me if they were no complaints.
You were in the spotlight of recent over the rent you are paying for your current offices. At the cost of shs 9 billion for two years, some feel that the money should have instead been used in building your own office space.
I agree that we should reduce rent expenditure and build our own Headquarters. We are in negotiations with National Housing to acquire Kyambogo property where we currently have our training school.
The building we were in before we moved to current HQ location had two major issues. It was too small to accommodate the new numbers.
The previous location hosted approximately 350 people. Vehicle parking space was very limited and most of our vehicle parked on the roadside causing inconvenience to the public. We also lost vehicles to thieves who would target staff when they parked their vehicles on the street and entered the offices to work.
We paid rent of Ugx 4.5b/ equivalent at current dollar rate for 4000 sq meters. In the current location we are paying Ugx 4.7b/ annually for 6000sq meters and hosting 600 people and adequate parking pace. We are paying in Uganda shillings.
What has UNRA done to ensure that they improve on the bidding process especially after the Katosi saga in UNRA?
We have revised the eligibility and evaluation criteria and will shortly put it out in the papers so that those who wish to bid for contracts know our expectations.
We have reduced the interface between the public and the procurement directorate. That is where we had challenges. Staffs were pressured to reveal information or pass a particular bidder. Efforts are in place to make the procurement process move faster so that we can have a contractor on site very quickly.
We also have an internal mechanism where the directorate must report on the progress of every project to top management.
There are also complaints over your preference of Chinese companies in the road construction against the local companies. Why?
I am not sure I understand it myself. I also found out when I came in that majority of the contractors working with UNRA were Chinese. I tried to find out why the other areas in the world were not interested and I was told that Chinese companies get support from the Chinese Government. Most of them are state owned and that the government in China support their expanding out of China into other countries. So they were able to bid lower than the other contractors were not able to compete in as far as pricing was concerned.
Parliament directed some five chinese firms to refund monies meant for land compensations which they had banked into their accounts after being paid by UNRA. Did you recover the money?
Let me correct the impression around this story. I have seen it reported several times and some of it is not factual. UNRA was appearing before Parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE).
When we appeared we were told to respond to the Auditor General’s report for 2012-13 and 2013-2014 for which the new management was not in office that is why the former Executive Directors and Directors of UNRA were called to appear alongside us.The contracts which we were being called to respond to were not signed by us but by the previous management.
We found that in those contracts the management had provided within the contracts of the civil works, money for land acquisition. UNRA was supposed to carry out the land acquisition and then instruct the companies to pay the project affected persons (PAPs).
A number of these companies would put money in their bank accounts, trade with it and then pay PAPs from the principal. COSACE directed that the money should be returned to treasury. When the money was returned it was no longer in the UNRA account to PAPs. We had to write to treasury and ask for a supplementary to pay the PAPs.
There are claims that you failed to implement the recommendations of the (COSACE) which recommended that the Chinese Companies which were implicated in different scams that the committee was investigating.
The parliamentary report recommended that the companies which involved themselves in trading be blacklisted. UNRA does not have the mandate to blacklist. It’s with PPDA. So when we received the report we wrote to PPDA and gave them the recommendation of Parliament. I am sure PPDA is following up.
Why did you cancel the tender for the construction of the Rukungiri-Kihihi-Ishasha road?
The top three companies failed due diligence. A review of the internal processes showed that within UNRA, there were critical gaps in the process of procurement. So I used my best judgement as Accounting Officer and the authority under the PPDA Act to reject all bids.
We are no in the process of re-tendering mindful of the fact that the project should have started more than a year ago and doing all we can to fast track the process of getting a credible contractor with capacity to execute the contract within time and budget.
There have also been concerns that road construction in the country is a very expensive venture. How much are your estimates on per Kilometer of road in Uganda? Why are the rates lower in other countries?
That question doesn’t have a straight answer and it’s difficult for me to state to the public what the unit cost per kilometer should be. Besides, if we want cheap roads, we may get them but pay the price in quality. I think the focus should be on value for money and that often means paying more for quality.
Like I have said in the past, roads are different, the way houses or furniture is different if somebody came and placed a 3 stories building next door it would not cost the same as here because perhaps the material and designs are different, the over heads are different, the terrain is different.
We have different types of roads. Some are asphalt, some double safe or single surface dressing, the material mix is different, the designs are different and so forth. Some roads are under rehabilitation while others are upgraded from gravel and yet others are reconstructed. Let me give you an example.
There is a road that will start from Kitale in Kenya, through Uganda to Rwanda, funded by the African Development Bank. In Rwanda, its a rehabilitation project but in Uganda it will be a new road. So it will not be correct to compare Uganda with Rwanda on the costs of this regional road.
We have established a cost estimation department in UNRA and they are going to be working together with the consultant to estimate what is optimal for Uganda and even then it will not give the kind of comparisons people are asking for.
For instance in Ethiopia I am told material is provided by the Government. Here it’s the contractor supposed to look for it. Land acquisition is a big component of construction here. In other countries the land belongs to the Government here it belongs to individuals. There are many factors that come into play.
What is the status of the Mukono-Katosi road?
Work is progressing very well. It’s at 74% completion and is expected to be completed this year in November. We had a challenge of land acquisition and at a certain point we did not have money for land but we expect it will be completed in time and relieve the Jinja main highway of traffic.
Why was the area between Kyetume and Lulwe been left out?
We had a realignment done. In some of the areas going east, we are sharing alignment with the Standard Gauge Railway. There was realignment to the right to give way to the SGR construction. We are currently undertaking compensation on the new alignment so that construction can begin.
There have also been reports that the Government seems to have shifted its plans on the road construction and more efforts is now on the oil roads. What happens to the roads that had been shortlisted for tarmacking or those that the President had promised to tarmacs during elections?
The roads which were in the programme and had received funding are continuing. Oil roads were allocated extra funding and the emphasis right now is that as a country we must be able to produce oil by 2020 that is why we have very short timelines to deliver the roads to. Service the oil area. We are supposed to provide roads to Kabaale airport, to the refinery and the other areas.
Lastly on the question of weighbridges. There are claims that corruptions is till ripe. What are you doing about them?
Weigh bridges are still a challenge for three reasons. One, the entire system needs an overhaul and when I talk about the system I am not talking about the weighing system only but even the penalties. The penalties are very low. If you have overloaded a truck by 50 tonnes on top of the 50 you are supposed to carry, the proceeds from overloading are much more than the shs 300,000 fine you pay.
There is no deterrence in the level of fines. Secondly, the number of weighbridges is still inadequate for the entire network. We have now connected the country from border to border. You can travel from the furthest border to another in a maximum 7 hours. Whereas we have connected the country we but don’t have the gadgets to protect the roads.
Thirdly, the challenge of corruption at weighbridges has to be handled differently. Because the process is largely manual, the incentives for corruption are high.
We are in the process of procuring more mobile weigh bridges and will have all of them centrally connected so that we can monitor activity from any station. We would also like to propose to amend the law to impose express stiff express penalties.