On September 26, 2016, the executive director of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), Ms Allen Kagina, and officials of the Chinese firm, China State Construction Engineering Corporation, were at Manafwa District headquarters where they publicly signed contract documents for work on the 44.5km Mbale-Lwakhakha road.
The aim of fixing it was to expand and upgrade it to an all weather road, which would enable the communities here to enjoy improved access to markets for their produce and other vital infrastructure such as schools and health centres; create another strategic link between Uganda and Kenya through Lwakhakha and the Kampala-Gulu-Juba corridor; and eventually become an alternate regional and national trade and transport route for Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.
Those have not been realised because work has never commenced.
UNRA’s director for communications, Mr Mark Ssali, attributes it to delayed payment of compensation to project affected persons. Mr Ssali says initial payments will be effected beginning next week, but even then it will be for only people in the first 10 kilometres of the road.
It is wise for UNRA not to commence without payment of compensation, but one wonders why it has taken it so long to make arrangements to pay!
The problem though is that delayed payment of compensation is not confined to the Mbale-Lwakhakha road.
While work on the Entebbe Expressway is ongoing, several landowners accuse the roads authority of refusing to pay up yet there were never any disputes over valuations for their land.
This has precipitated the thinking that some unscrupulous individuals within the Authority are putting money meant for compensation to their personal use before probably availing it whenever it becomes convenient for them to do so.
Whatever the reasons for the delayed payment, the situation points to an even bigger problem – inefficiencies in planning on the part of both UNRA and government. An efficient system would have provided for planning a project, making designs and acquiring land prior to commencement of the work. This is not happening yet it would have helped to avert scenarios like what is being played out in the Elgon region.
It would also have given the Authority ample time to deal with compensation and valuation disputes such as those that delayed work on projects like the Mubende-Kakumiro-Kagadi road and Phase II of the Kampala Northern Bypass.
UNRA and government must put their act together.