KAMPALA - As the government continues to invest heavily in the construction of roads, dams, bridges and other infrastructure projects, a recently released report reveals that 73.5% of Ugandans are not satisfied with the quality of works on the projects.
The report comes as a result of a survey of citizens' needs, stakeholder concerns and perceptions on infrastructure transparency. The survey was carried out by CoST Uganda - the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group that promotes transparency by disclosing data from public infrastructure investment, helping to inform and empower citizens. The agency also enables citizens to hold decision makers to account.
CoST Uganda commissioned this study in October 2018. According to the organization, the study aimed at identifying key concerns of the citizens on infrastructure projects; good practices in relation to infrastructure transparency and accountability.
It also intended to identify ways in which transparency and accountability in public infrastructure projects can be improved and how the CoST approach can be adapted in the infrastructure sector to enhance transparency and accountability.
This study was done in the districts on Kampala, Wakiso, Jinja, and Gulu. 62 key informant interviews were conducted with public procurement entities in Kampala, development partners, district local leaders, private sector, government ministries, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) and the media. Six focus group discussions were also conducted with citizens and one with journalists.
The survey team was led by Dr. Firminus Mugumya who worked together with the CoST team at the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC).
What citizens said
57% of the respondents said there were inadequate consultations with citizens before the commencement of centrally procured infrastructure projects. As for local government projects, 32.6% stated inadequacies with the consultation.
Some citizens also revealed that inadequate engagement is one of the reasons they've often denied road infrastructure projects the right of way. Some of the communities studied also complained about infrastructure projects disrupting their businesses; including the destruction of their properties without compensation.
There were also concerns over the inadequate display of basic project information on site, as well as caution messages. Where this was reported to have been done, citizens complained that most were in English and too technical for many to understand. Others responded that the print quality of information boards is often poor; making the majority fail to comprehend what's being communicated.
Stakeholders speak out
Olive Kabatwairwe, the programme officer CoST - Uganda chapter said the survey team met respondents around the new Nile Bridge. "This is one of the projects we assured in 2017. They also interacted with citizens in Jinja municipal council who expressed their concerns on the Nile Bridge project; with many of them saying they were never consulted. Some said their properties were damaged as a result," she explained.
"The other projects were in Wakiso. There was a focus group discussion about the Namasuba-Ndejje-Kitiko road where some citizens were comfortable with the works but others had concerns in relation to delays in the completion of works. People gave in their land and expected the road to be done in a short time; only for the district to tell them they did not have enough funds," she added.
She revealed that many of the residents complained that the drainage on this road was poorly done, making some points on the road flood during rains.
"The same happened in regard to the Nansana-Katooke-Wamala road. Here, citizens gave their land but are not satisfied that works are substandard. They expected tarmac but the road still has marram. The road has become dusty and has forced many people to close businesses along it. They say they did not get what they expected. That means there was a gap in communication by the district when they were engaging the citizens on what to expect after donating their land for the project," Kabatwairwe also stated.
In Gulu, she revealed that citizens complained about not being involved in the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) road projects.
"The citizens said they never got employment opportunities. The district leaders, on the other hand, said they were willing to engage them but the challenge was that they themselves didn't have information from the central government agencies. There is limited engagement between local governments and these agencies on centrally procured projects. At least seven districts we have engaged have raised that complaint," Kabatwairwe explained.
"We, therefore, recommend that the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies bridge that gap in regard to access to information and involvement of the district leaders at all stages of the projects so the districts can have feedback to give to their communities," she added.
Susan Kataike, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Works and Transport expressed that the public should appreciate the fact that there has been a tremendous improvement in terms of kilometers of road and quality.
"Many can see that more national roads have been built and there is more connectivity throughout the country. However, when we talk about quality, I would love that the people understand that most of the treatment we give roads is not what they deserve. For roads that need to be reconstructed, we opt to keep maintaining them over a period of time as we look for money to upgrade them to the right standards," she explained.
She elaborated more; emphasizing that constructing these roads requires a lot of money and it is no secret that lack of funds is a huge challenge to the ministry.
"Agencies like the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) have a lot of roads designed already but there is no money to build them. The local governments over time keep giving new roads to the central government but they can't be done without funds. We already have a big backlog for roads that need to be maintained. And whenever a road's maintenance regimen is delayed it makes the road deteriorate more and more. If we had the funds, all would be good," she explained.
In regard to the consultation (or the lack of it), Kataike said that the ministry; through its respective agencies ensures that project beneficiaries are consulted before a road is done.
"We do feasibility studies to determine the technical and economic viability of the projects. This we do in consultation with people in the areas of operation. These roads go through people's compounds and other properties so how can we not consult them? We approach the leaders in these communities; who then introduce us to the people and consultations are made. It is strange that people say they are not consulted yet we have to often compensate them. Consultations are done and this is how we conclude on the compensation amounts,' she explained.