by Edward Ronald Sekyewa
Whereas much has been said about the ever deteriorating state of roads in Uganda’s capital city, all seems to fall on deaf ears as potholes in the city continue to grow bigger to the extent that some people have staged mockery fishing on some of them. The other day, a trailer lost its balance in a pothole on Ben Kiwanuka street and with a bang it fell with the merchandise on board. It took the police hours to make the road usable again. Plus most of the accidents that happen in the city are as a result of a motorist or cyclist trying to dodge a pothole. Ours has become the Pothole City.
President Museveni said in his State of the Nation address that he is going to form a road crack unit to fight corruption in the road sector. 1.2 trillion shillings was budgeted for roads in the 2009/10 budget and 919.5 billion shillings for the same sector in the 2010/11 financial year. Whatever these monies were or are used for, it cannot be seen in Kampala.
And although Kampala City Council (KCC) has received 15 billion shillings from the Ugandan government for maintaining roads in the city, there is little to show for that money. As a result, the junior Minister for Works Eng. John Byabagambi has asked KCC to show what the money has been used for over the years.
There were rumours that the central government was intentionally frustrating KCC by not providing enough resources for the road sector. This, it was rumoured, was meant to present KCC before the public as a body that cannot effectively run the city so that the central government could in the end take over the management of Kampala without politically hustling since the city is known as an opposition hotbed.
However, the Mayor of Kampala City, Alhaj Nasser Ntege Sebaggala has a different explanation of the terrible state of the roads in the city. He argues that the government has to set priorities and do what it has to do first before tackling other fields. In this case, the government found it wiser to construct up-country roads like the Kampala-Arua or Kampala-Mbarara roads because these are the roads that supply the city.
“What would it help if we had the best roads in the city when the roads that bring supplies are impassable? The government thought that it rather fix the supply roads first before embarking on roads in the city,” the Mayor said.
He added that although KCC has been receiving 15 billion shillings annually from the central government, this was a very small amount. However, he revealed that after fixing most of the up-country roads, government is now allocating more funds for city roads, providing 50 million USD to KCC for roads this year.
In a twist of events, the same Mayor came out on June 24 and told the press that KCC had failed to spend six billion shillings which was part of the 15 billion shilling road fund given to the council by the central government. Sebaggala blamed this on Town Clerk Ruth Kijjambu and Chief City Engineer Stephen Kinyera.
“It is hard to imagine that with all the poor roads we have in the city, KCC has failed to use the money meant for road repairs, therefore the public should know that the responsibility of the bad roads in town lies elsewhere other than with me,“ Sebaggala said. He further accused the contract committee of inflating contract sums in connivance with contractors, and called for their sacking.
“I have given the Town Clerk seven days to explain why she has failed to sack the current city engineers,” he angrily added.
Most of the pothole-riddled roads in Kampala were repaired prior to CHOGM in 2007, and billions of taxpayers’ money were spent. But three years down the road, there is nothing to show for the billions spent.
The Auditor General’s special audit report on CHOGM expenditure notes that direct procurement for roadwork contracts was done which denied the government the opportunity to benefit from competitive pricing and better quality.
The Ministry of Works received a total of 91.7 billion shillings from the CHOGM budget to improve, maintain and repair roads in Kampala and Entebbe. Instead of working on critical roads, the auditors discovered that the Ministry of Works worked on non-critical roads. The auditors further observed that the quality of the work done on the roads were poor.
A number of roads measuring 45.86 kms in Kololo and Nakasero were all worked on before CHOGM 2007, but all of them are filled with potholes today.
Apart from flouting procurement procedures in awarding roadwork contracts, both KCC and the Ministry of Works are faulted by the auditors for revising contracts which led to inflation of costs.
“It is unclear whether it is poor planning or inadequate funds which have now placed at risk the investment in this infrastructure which continues to deteriorate without any remedial measure being put in place,“ the auditors note in the report.
And the jailing of the former Chief Engineer in the Ministry of Works therefore comes as no surprise. Mr. Samson Bagonza was sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of office and causing a financial loss of 1.6 billion shillings in CHOGM deals. He is the first government official to be jailed for CHOGM-related cases.
Justice John Bosco Katutsi who handled the case said that “this court is tired of trying tilapias when crocodiles are left swimming,” referring to the possibility that Bagonza did not act alone but had some big men behind him. He added that “it did not require a professional engineer to know that regulations were not meant to be idle but to be followed to the letter.”
As a result of the terrible roads in Kampala, all people who drive in this city on a regular basis spend more. They do not only burn more fuel in traffic jams as everyone tries to negotiate this or that pothole, they pay more visits to garages for vehicle repairs and service because the craters in the roads accelerate the vehicle’s wear-and-tear process.
Kambo, a mechanic in Kampala’s Kisekka market said that they are making a kill out of the poor state of roads in Kampala. “Cars break down as a result of potholes in the city and in some cases they require spare parts which we sell and install in our garage, so the terrible roads in Kampala are indeed a blessing to us in this business,” he said.
While Kambo may be benefitting from the terrible state of the roads in the city, motorists are paying through the nose to continue affording to drive. Those with enough resources have resorted to buying Four Wheel Drive vehicles in Kampala, which are indeed manufactured for rough terrain. In Kampala, any driver would wish to have a 4WD because the terrain is really rough.
Apart from the environmental impact as a result of having 4WD fuel guzzlers in the city, other challenges are also emerging like lack of parking space due to the fact cars in this city are getting bigger and there are more of them. Agnes, a resident of Ntinda working in Kololo drives a 4WD Prado from home to work, which is not more than 15 km a day. It may cost her more money but she says that is the type of vehicle that suits the roads she drives on.