Sunday, August 19, 2012


An Interview of Engineer Peter Ssebanakitta, the Executive Director, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and Old Boy of St. Mary’s College Kisubi. The Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) came into effect on July 1, 2008 and celebrated two years of its existence on July 1, 2010. Below are excerpts of an interview with Engineer Peter Ssebanakitta, the Executive Director. LET US GET FIRST THIS OUT OF THE WAY. THERE HAVE BEEN ALLEGATIONS OF ‘INFLATED’ ROAD COSTS. WHAT IS INFLUENCING THE RISE IN ROAD COSTS? All our major projects go through an international competitive bidding process and we award contracts to the lowest qualified bidder. Many road development projects in Uganda are funded by development partners like the World Bank, European Union and the African Development Bank. These institutions actively monitor and participate in the procurement process of road contractors. With all these oversight agencies, it is inconceivable that UNRA would unilaterally raise construction prices. This is impossible. Rising road construction costs are not only a problem in Uganda, but they seem to be a disturbing regional trend in the construction industry. Recent experience from other donor – funded road projects in the sub – region confirm that average unit costs of road projects have significantly increased. Petroleum based products such as fuel, lubricants and bitumen, as well as other materials such as cement and steel are significant components of road construction cost consumed by heavy duty equipment in clearing and grubbing of site, in excavation and dumping of soil, compaction of earth works, pricing and compaction of sub-base layers, for heating asphalt mixing plants, and for transporting asphalt concrete. Bitumen is also used in priming the road base course and producing asphalt concrete for road wearing course. International Price Indices have shown that the cost of diesel fuel has more than doubled in the last 3 years. IT IS ALLEGED THAT UNRA IS SITTING ON HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF UN-UTILIZED FUNDS FOR ROAD REPAIR, YET OUR ROADS ARE IN A BAD STATE OF DISREPAIR. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE? UNRA was allocated about UGX 948 bn in the Financial year 2008/09, the year we started operations. The biggest component of this budget was for national road development, entailing rehabilitation or upgrading to tarmac that constituted about 85% (UGX 800 bn). The remaining funds were for road maintenance, the patching of potholes and grading. UNRA’s emphasis over that first year was on completing ongoing projects and starting new projects that had ready designs but lacked funding like (Kampala – Masaka, Matugga – Kapeeka and Kampala – Mityana), and to prepare designs for new projects. While UNRA managed to absorb all the money allocated to road maintenance, funds for new roads construction were not fully absorbed in FY 2008/09. About UGX 600 bn of the road development money was absorbed in that first year, leaving a balance of about UGX 200 bn committed to projects still under different stages of construction, design and procurement. These were both donor/grant and Government of Uganda funds committed to road projects under different stages of construction cycles. UNRA pays for work done and cannot advance contractors money just for the sake of absorption. HOW DOES THE PROCUREMENT PROCESS AID OR COMPLICATE THE PROGRESS OF THE PROJECTS? The average procurement period for a contractor and consultancy services is approximately 15 and 12 months respectively. For large procurements and some donor funded projects, tenderers must be given up to 3 months to submit bids. After all this is done, there are delays resulting from re-evaluations and unnecessary appeals to PPDA and IGG. UNRA handles so many contracts, yet we endeavour to be fair, open and transparent. You have to know that where there is lots of money, the devil tends to visit. The current procurement law under which we are working has opened our system to a number of speculators and untested companies, which are delaying and frustrating our infrastructure development because when they fail to win a contract they make appeals, a process that wastes time. THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND UNRA BOARD ARE BEING ACCUSED OF INTERFERING WITH THE PROCUREMENT PROCESSES. WHY WAS THE CONTRACTS COMMITTEE DISBANDED AFTER TWO YEARS? I would like to state that in all my work related to procurement in UNRA, I have been guided by the PPDA Act and Regulations. There was only one incidence among the hundreds of procurements handled by UNRA that I disagreed with a decision of the Contracts Committee and I handled this disagreement in line with the provisions of Regulation 42. There were valid arguments on either side of the divide whether or not specific requirements for personnel and equipment could be relaxed to save Government Shs 60 bn by choosing a lower bidder. To insinuate, however, that by bringing up this debate and challenging the Contracts Committee, the Executive Director is ‘issuing tenders as if he is shopping for tomatoes’ and that this is tantamount to interference goes beyond the realm of common sense and reason. The authors of these allegations would have wished me to completely distance myself from the key organizational function of procurement. Actually, by and large, I left the various organs undertake their roles unimpeded. It appears the few times I questioned the Contracts Committee’s decisions; I stepped on some raw nerves including the authors of these allegations. Constituting a new Contracts Committee was a decision of the entire UNRA Board. All I can say is that, a good hunter does not wait to see the animal. When the grass shakes, you spear. Management also wanted some of these people to concentrate on their core jobs. That’s all I can say. THE LOCAL ROAD CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY IS STILL UNDERDEVELOPED. MOST GOODS AND SERVICES ARE IMPORTED AT HIGH PRICES DUE TO HIGH TRANSPORT COSTS, LACK OF RESEARCH TO ‘ADD VALUE’ TO LOCAL PRODUCTS, ETC. CONSTRUCTION MACHINERY IS NOT READILY AVAILABLE. TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE THESE DYNAMICS AFFECTED UNRA? The major problems that affect the construction industry include the following: Too much emphasis is placed on the business aspect of firms with little or no emphasis on technical competence; There is a lack of critical mass of local professional managers and specialists with sufficient experience and knowledge in the management and operation of large construction projects; The management capacity of local firms is very weak both at company level and project implementation level; The number of contractors is too high for the workload available; There is a lack of enabling laws and conditions to regulate the conduct and support the development of the industry. There is also a lack of equipment and qualified professionals. All these make it difficult to ensure value for money from quality works. HOW IS UNRA RESPONDING TO THOSE CHALLENGES? UNRA is championing the following intervention measures: The establishment of a Regulatory Body to safeguard the interests of the industry; affirmative action to ensure regularity and certainty of work opportunities for local companies; and the improvement of technical and business skills of private firms. In addition to that, UNRA is encouraging the use of local materials, including the incorporation of ‘marginal’ materials in road structures for low – volume roads. We shall experiment with the use of mechanical stabilization as a possible replacement for chemical (lime or cement) stabilization, and the use of recycling to reduce construction costs. UNRA HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF NEGLECTING KAMPALA ROADS. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THIS MATTER? UNRA and Ministry of Works acknowledge that the state of some roads in Kampala is indeed unfortunate. Hon. John Nasasira (Minister) tried to take over Kampala roads but was blocked by the Solicitor General. When Government decides and with good planning, UNRA will intervene in Kampala roads. OKAY! UNRA’S JURISDICTION IS ELSEWHERE. WHAT HAVE YOU ACHIEVED? Despite all the constraints and challenges, UNRA has achieved a lot over the last two years. There are approximately 1,000km of tarmac roads currently under construction. They include: Soroti – Lira (123kms), Kabale – Kisoro (100km), Kampala – Gayaza – Zirobwe (42km), Matugga – Semuto – Kapeka road (42km), Kampala – Masaka – Mbarara (300km), Kawempe – Kafu road (166km), Kampala – Mityana road (57km), Fort Portal – Bundibugyo (103km) and others. This FY 2010/11, physical construction of over 1,000km of roads will start. These include: Mbarara – Kikagati (75km), Nyakahita – Ibanda – Fort Portal (208km), Gulu – Atiak – Nimule (104km), Vurra – Oraba (92km), Mbarara – Katuna (154km), Malaba/Busia – Bugiri (82km), Jinja – Kamuli (69km), Mukono – Katosi (72km), Mpigi – Maddu – Sembabule (135km), Moroto – Nakapiripirit (90km), Ntungamo – Mirama Hills (37km), Ishaka – Kagamba (72km) and Soroti – Mbale – Tororo (140km). Most of these roads are in advanced stages of procurement, while some of the contracts have been awarded. UNRA has also embarked on feasibility studies to design a total of over 2,000kms of new road upgrading projects in various parts of the country. A new road to Entebbe and the second Nile Bridge at Jinja are also under design for construction. UNRA IS INHERITING AN ‘IMAGE’ PROBLEM. THE PUBLIC AND THE MASS MEDIA ARE MORE USED TO WHAT THEY SEE AS SHODDY, ABANDONED, NEGLECTED, DELAYED OR POORLY DONE ROAD WORKS. THEY ATTRIBUTE MOST OF THESE TO UNRA, MINISTRY OF WORKS AND TRANSPORT, ETC. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THIS NEGATIVE PERCEPTION? It is true the road sector has had an image problem in the last few years. This is mainly because of problems on some major road projects and the condition of roads within Kampala. The establishment of UNRA has given us an opportunity to make a fresh start with a new mandate. We are building our image and trust by educating the public about our new mandate and our projects; and most importantly by delivering on our promises. We want the general public to be our partners and hold us accountable. This can only be achieved if road users are well informed about our projects and get to know our limitations. We are not going to make false promises, but we will do our best to improve the national road network. I believe the general public now appreciates our efforts when they see the difference.

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