Magazine article New African

Roads, Rail and Airports to Support Rapid Economic Growth

Magazine article New African

Roads, Rail and Airports to Support Rapid Economic Growth

Article excerpt

Abraham Byandala, Uganda's Minister of Works and Transport, had a large undertaking when tackling the infrastructure and construction challenges of Uganda. Today, just over a year into his position, he speaks frankly to Darren Moore about the support, new initiatives and even some of the legal framework he has had to overhaul in order to streamline the activities of the ministry.

What were the major challenges you inherited when you were appointed the Minister of Works and Transport?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The major problems were that we had slipped behind with maintenance. We identified that funding was inadequate, basically we required around UGX600bn (US$238m), but we only had 280bn so there was a 300bn deficit. The second problem we encountered was having a lack of local capacity, and we are trying to address this by participating in a programme called "Crossroads" with the UK's development agency DFID, which aims to build competency and capacity within Ugandan society.

We are also planning to form a construction industry commission here in Uganda, and that too will also help in creating construction industry skills and even with funding. Thirdly, we identified that our workers, while they may have technical competency, lacked technical confidence. This fundamentally affects our decision making process as nobody wants the responsibility to take a decision and this ultimately causes delays that have financial costs and can end up as contractual disputes.

The lack of confidence goes right into the execution of works as they do not have the courage to challenge the consultants, which can lead to future problems in the client/contractor relationship. Finally we identified problems with our procurement process, which was fraught with difficulties and ethical in consistencies.

What programmes and initiatives did you then put in place to mitigate some of these challenges?

With the procurement process and with organisations such as the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), we decided to work with our development partners on evaluation programmes such as parallel evaluation, in conjunction with an independent consultant. This way we can see if there are any major discrepancies in the evaluation process.

This has helped in a major way and we also elevated the procurement section to a top management team at UNRA. As for the maintenance aspect, we have established what are called second-generation funds, and set up the Uganda Road Fund. This fund is built with a levy on every liter of fuel purchased. It operates by collecting and banking this levy and dividends are remitted monthly.

We are currently assessing how these funds are banked, due to our current laws-where specific legislation is in need of amendment-to ensure that the Uganda Road Fund operates in an efficient manner and this will hopefully make the contentious issue of attaining funding for road maintenance a thing of the past.

In the area of capacity building we are working with our development partners on technical assistance and providing our people with opportunities for advanced training and relevant further studies.

In what ways are you looking for private capital to play a role within the infrastructure renaissance in Uganda?

We are informing contractors who have the ability to mobilise funds that we are open to discussions. We hope to attract contractors and investors, as we are committed to providing good infrastructure for the tourism sector, while also focusing on some of the urban areas and also large-scale projects in the agro-productive areas. We have priorities these, including the areas of oil production, so as to raise significant revenues out of these investments.

What plans do you have to improve the aviation sector?

We plan to upgrade some of our airports, firstly by building a second runway on Entebbe, the country's international gateway, and upgrading airports in Gulu, and Kasase by the DRCongo border. …

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