Officials from Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) on Monday faced the wrath of legislators over the unregulated high unit costs of roads construction.
Unra officials led by their Executive Director Allen Kagina were appearing before parliamentary Budget Committee on the Financial Year 2018/19 Budget Framework Paper.
During the meeting, Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala County) revealed statistics showing high and varying disparities of unit cost of constructing roads in the country that have cost tax payers trillions of shillings.
Apparently, Uganda has the highest unit cost for roads in the entire sub-Saharan Africa.
“Statistics says that for the construction of Kampala-Entebbe Express Highway, each kilometer of a road cost almost Shs8bn. But for Northern Bypass, you (Unra) are using unit cost of Shs13bn per km which is 3.8m dollars. Are you comfortable with these disparities because doing a road is not rocket science,” Muwanga said as MPs in the committee responded in awe.
Patrick Isiagi Opolot, MP for Kachumbala County complemented Muwanga’s submission adding that the unit cost of roads is even worse for oil roads and is reportedly to be over 10 times higher than the unit cost of other roads.
MPs on the committee accused of Works ministry officials who were also present of sleeping on duty rather than regulating activities of Unra especially as far as setting unit cost is concerned.
“You (Works ministry) must regulate Unra so that they can also watch over the contractors. If the contractor has a unit cost that surpasses the standard unit cost then Unra must play their watchdog function. I propose that we get a framework on unit cost to guide the country,” Kyankwanzi Woman MP Anna Nankabirwa said. She called for need for Unra officials to benchmark on unit cost from countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya.
Isaac Wani, the Unra director network planning and engineering attributed the varying unit costs on Entebbe Highway and Northern Bypass to difference in the land terrains and topography.
Eng. Samson Bagonza, chief engineer at the Ministry of Works and Transport said that unit cost of a road is also derived from procurement and the ministry takes what the engineer has set up.
“The ministry is not sleeping we are performing our roles. We are the ones who set standards, and Unra follows the general specifications for roads and bridge works which are developed by the ministry. These rates are derived from procurement. For a particular project, Unra carries out a design and from there the engineer produces confidential cost estimate. It is from the confidential cost estimate that Unra uses to compare with the bid received from procurement,” Eng. Bagonza said.
He added, “With these current unit rates, we are advising Unra that may be the best way forward is by advertising for tenders and only accepting bids within a specified budget. So we need to cap and say we can’t go beyond this.”
The MPs through their committee chairperson, Amos Lugoloobi, resolved that parliament is going to appropriate for funds for Unra and Works ministry officials to conduct benchmark studies to compare the road unit costs in other countries.
“We are going to look for money for you to undertake this study so that you get to know how much it costs to put up a road and please benchmark on countries that seem to have the same climate and topography,” Lugoloobi said.