- Issues. One major problem affecting the completion of the Northern Bypass, like all other infrastructure projects in the country, is the laborious land acquisition that is subject to several due processes. As a result, some discontented land owners have either rejected the money offered or gone to court.
- Unending. The construction of the second phase of the Kampala-Northern Bypass was flagged off in February 2015. The completion date, which was initially set for 2017, was later revised to May 2019. It has now been pushed to July 2021 as major doubts still linger whether this will be met, writes Frederic Musisi.
When the Northern Bypass is eventually completed in 2021, going by the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) timelines, it will have taken a total of 17 years to construct, a record haul for Uganda’s faltering project, particularly given its length; 23km.
The cost of the road is yet another sticky issue. The first phase, where construction started in 2004 and was completed in 2009, cost Shs118 billion while the cost for the second phase - expansion into a four-lane high way - is in the range of Shs448 billion, up from Shs285 billion; almost three times the original cost.
These figures are part of the contract signed on April 7, 2014, between Unra and the Portuguese contractor, Mota Engil.
The new contract price is mainly as a result of the several variations in designs, which Unra officials say are a result of “some unforeseen circumstances.”
The variations in designs covered service ducts for utilities; electricity and water; new works where the bypass meets the Entebbe-Kampala Expressway and pedestrian walkways. The variations also covered slope erosion control and drainage channels and replacement of the double bituminous surface with asphalt concrete.
According to the plan of the expansion, it was meant to add an additional carriageway (two lanes) of about 17.5km, construction of three new footbridges at Kyebando, Ntinda and at Naalya.
The blueprint also laid out plans to replace existing roundabouts with interchanges at Kalerwe, Busega, Naalya-Ntinda, Bukoto-Kisaasi and Namungoona/Lubigi.
An interchange is a highway intersection designed to permit traffic to move freely from one road to another without crossing another line of traffic.
A sixth interchange at Sentema was not in the initial plan, but when it was added, it necessitated reviewing the entire road designs, according to Unra’s director for roads and bridges Samuel Muhoozi.
“All these increases in works required more land, time and negotiations with the contractor,” Mr Muhoozi says. “New works come with new costs,” he adds.
However, if there is one cost that Ugandan taxpayers should brace for, it is the payment to Mota Engil for idle time.
Idle time is that for which an employee or contractor is paid but for which they are not doing actual work. This can be categorised as either normal, as a result of uncontrollable factors, or abnormal, owing to factors, which are controllable dynamics.
Mr Muhoozi describes cost for idle time as “inevitable” but says “as of today, we have not agreed with them on anything; whatever you are hearing are just rumours: we have only agreed on the new scope and its cost.”
One major problem affecting the completion of the Northern Bypass, like all other infrastructure projects in the country, is the laborious land acquisition that is subject to several due processes.
As a result, some discontented land owners have either rejected the money offered or gone to court. In other cases, the land has encumbrances, which means that payment can only be made until after due legal process.
According to Unra records, there are some 1,207 project affected persons, of whom 909 have been so far paid while the rest are pending, owing to contested land ownership or rejected compensation rates. The entire road corridor is 54 acres while the total bill for land acquisition is about Shs72b.
Mr Muhoozi admitted that acquisition of the project right way has been and remains “a very big issue,” which mostly affects the contractor’s productivity.
“We have, however, progressed, and think that what we have so far acquired (78 per cent) of the land will push us a long way,” he said.
The idea of Kampala-Northern Bypass was midwifed in the 1990s, mainly as a ring road to drive traffic outside the central business district and cure the city’s insidious part of history. The road starts at Namboole and winds at Busega where it connects to the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway.
The bypass is part of the northern corridor infrastructure development programme of the East African Community (EAC), which is aimed at easing transport and lowering the cost of doing business in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
Construction of the first phase was at first considered a walk in the park because most of the areas from Bweyogerere/Namboole through Naalya, Kisasi, Kyebando, Kalerwe, Kawaala, Namungoona en route to Busega, were sparsely populated at the time and relatively rural. Yet still, construction, which started in 2004 and was supposed to be completed by end of 2005, took almost six years. The story goes that as soon as the proposed corridor was surveyed and mapped, the land prices immediately shot up. Speculators, who were well connected, purchased land in the area and were paid a windfall as compensation.
The original plan and designs were to construct a dual carriage way but that did not materialise as the project gravitated from one problem to another, from the laborious land acquisition, poor supervision by government, and the contractor - Salini, an Italian firm.
For example, officials say the replacement of the Kalerwe roundabout on the Kampala-Gayaza road with an interchange has dragged for almost two years.
On one side, between Kalerwe and Bwaise, Ms Joyce Kwagala, the Unra land valuer, explains that one project affected person rejected the compensation rate offered by government, which has affected the entire section, including relocation of the electricity lines in the land.
On another side, around Kyebando, partial works have been undertaken on the two lanes that should connect to the non-existing Kalerwe interchange because of family disputes on the administration of the land.
“This specific case is in court, so we cannot pay for the land until court has determined who the rightful owner of the land is,” Ms Kwagala says.
“We don’t know how long the process will take, and the decision is up to court,” she adds.
However, the owner of the Kalerwe land in Kibe Zone, Mr Jack Ssekamatte, blames Unra for “taking him in circles” and denies delaying the road in anyway.
“They came here and surveyed my land, and half of my house was going to be demolished for the part they wanted: the reasonable thing to do was to take the remaining portion of the land because it is useless; they offered me Shs26 million for both the land and house, but where can money that buy in these times?” Mr Ssekamate says.
He adds that he engaged a private valuation firm, which valued his land and house at Shs500m. Mr Ssekamate says whereas he is willing to renegotiate it down with Unra to Shs100m, the roads authority “does not want to listen.”
In a December 10, 2018 correspondence, Unra described Mr Ssekamate’s property value as “unrealistic and speculative at best” and further indicated that their offer of Shs26m for 0.023 acres, a dilapidated residential building, and a 30 per cent statutory disturbance allowance still stands.
But Mr Ssekamate says: “If they think Shs26m is a lot of money, let them buy and construct for me a new house somewhere else, and this property will be theirs.”
“I have been to their (Unra) offices a dozen times but each time I go there, I am told the person who handled my file last time is unavailable. Then they assign me a new person; it is frustrating,” he says.
On the other hand, construction of the Namungoona/Lubigi interchange is taking longer than planned, which both Unra bypass project director Jude Kyobbe and Mota Engil project director Ricardo Infante blame on the impunity, particularly of taxi drivers operating in the area.
Given the high traffic volumes in the area, Mr Kyobbe says taxi drivers keep removing the plastic barriers employed to divert traffic.
“The entire area is quite messy; we made the diversions and put traffic signs to enable traffic flow but the taxi operations interfere quite often, interfering with our work. We have reached out to police for help but in vain,” Mr Kyobbe laments.
In spite of that, Mr Kyobbe says the slow progress of expansion of the bypass is as a result of constructing in urbanised areas, which means racing against existing traffic, exorbitant land prices, and relocation of utility services—water and electricity.
“Construction of urban areas cannot stop projects: in fact, this is the order of the day in capitals of developed countries, but what we don’t have here is order, and coordination among, say the concerned stakeholders, utility companies, security, and others,” he says.
Unra says the 2021 completion date for the bypass is “tentative” but “achievable” if the courts treat the ongoing cases over land ownership with urgency, and acquisition of the remaining 12.8 acres (of the 54 acres of the entire corridor) is handled expeditiously.
When this newspaper recently visited the by-pass, we found the construction equipment lying idle. Not even the contractor, whose face was found peppered with beads of sweat from the punishing sun, did not know when the road will be completed.