Crisis Over Chogm Preparations

Posted: August 26, 2007 in Blog
 
Came back from Karamoja to find this splashed on the Monitor’s front page…
CHRISTOPHER MASON & GRACE NATABAALO
KAMPALAALL around Kampala, billboards bear the faces of well-known Ugandans announcing that they are ready for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in November.

But a closer look shows that although these celebrities may be prepared for the conference to be hosted in Kampala, much of the city’s infrastructure is nowhere near being able to boast the same claim of readiness.

Less than three months ahead of Chogm, preparations are far over budget, beautification projects are behind schedule, and some Chogm roads are unpaved, uneven or unsafe for those using them, offering commuters daily reminders that work may not be finished in time.

Coupled with the massive amount of work that needs to be completed before November, it emerged last week that Finance Minister Ezra Suruma was short of money and wanted Parliament to give him an additional Shs62.8 billion. But after three days of debate within the NRM Caucus, that amount has now been revised downwards to Shs57.3 billion.

Initially, the government budgeted Shs55 billion this financial year for the conference preparations, which may now be completed at the end of October instead of September as had been planned. Some 53 heads of government and the queen of England and thousands of other delegates are expected to descend on Uganda for the summit late in November.

The Chogm organisers also need another Shs45 billion for road repairs and Shs14 billion for the redevelopment of State House Entebbe. This brings the total amount of money required this financial year for a successful Chogm to a whopping Shs171 billion of which Shs18 billion is already available.

This means that Parliament as a whole will vote to make available Shs153 billion. The money for the road works and State House redevelopment had been budgeted for and is only awaiting approval from Parliament. What is necessary is the speedy approval of the money.

“The shortfall [of Shs57.34 billion) will materialise,” said Chogm taskforce spokesman Kagole Kivumbi, adding that many of the contracts were not put in place when the Shs55 billion figure was arrived at. Already, Shs80 billion which was budgeted for in the last financial year has been spent on the various Chogm activities.

MPs initially delayed a decision on Dr Suruma’s request for more money. They demanded accountability for money spent so far before approving any new requests. That accountability is yet to be produced by the Chogm organising task force.
But now with the NRM Caucus in agreement with the minister, the money will be passed because the ruling party has an overwhelming majority.

Finding the extra money means cutting by 4.8 per cent the budgets of other government activities, Dr Suruma said. The minister’s revised Chogm budget includes a near top-to-bottom increase in conference costs. Much of the proposed spending for the 2007/08 financial year is doubled, tripled or more in the updated budget when compared to expense listings published in a Chogm progress report that was released in March.

According to the revised figures, for example, the Chogm task force requires a security budget of Shs16.3 billion. The last progress report listed security spending at Shs6.4 billion.

Expenses under the ‘Immigration’ category were listed as Shs172.89 million in the last report. The MPs were told that Chogm organisers instead require Shs599 million for immigration-related expenses.

In addition, the minister has asked MPs for a Shs45 billion increase for road repair costs. In the last report, infrastructure expenses (including road repairs and beautification projects) were listed as Shs23 billion. Altogether, the minister’s document shows infrastructure expenses totalling Shs74 billion. The financing issue is crucial to how the government manages the home-stretch preparations for the conference.

As projects expand in the rush to complete them on time, more money will be needed.
In mid-May, Mr Kivumbi said much of the necessary work would be completed by August. However, in mid-August Mr Kivumbi placed a newspaper advert reassuring Ugandans that Chogm preparations, namely hotel and road projects, would be completed, or inspected, in September.

“By the time our colleagues at the Commonwealth Secretariat [in London] come in the last week of August to inspect preparations, we want them to have a clear picture of the facilities,” Mr Kivumbi said. “It’s understandable that beyond that there will be road work and other work that still needs to be completed.”

Besides budget issues that affect every aspect of the preparations, two major public infrastructure categories are central to pre-Chogm work: road reconstruction and a revamp of the Entebbe International Airport.

Kampala drivers have for months borne the burden of navigating ripped-up roads, partially-paved surfaces and the dust rising off gravel roads that await final surfacing. The slow pace in completing road works in around the city and major highways has also affected pedestrians and it could cost the country millions of shillings in tourism revenues. The cost of public transport has shot up due to the sorry state of the country’s public road network.

During rush hour on Kampala’s Yusuf Lule Road one recent morning, dozens of people were forced to walk on the busy road because much of the pavement is ripped-up and blocked by piles of debris running from the roundabout close to Fairway Hotel along the golf course to Garden City Mall.

“Every day I walk along here and worry that I will be hit by a car or boda-boda,” one woman walking on the road said. She preferred anonymity because she said she did not want to be seen criticising Chogm. ”It has been like this for so long, why can’t they make it safe?” For much of the route, the sidewalk has been replaced with piles of soil dug up from the road. At other spots the pavement is in place, but holes have been dug about every 15 feet in line with the drainage ditches.

With no streetlights along the road, a night-time walker could easily fall into the holes. This week workers began laying a new pavement along the route. The 2.6-kilometre stretch of Yusuf Lule Road under construction remains scheduled to be completed by the end of August, but much work is still needed if workers are to meet that deadline.

Among the other projects, the Akii Bua Road reconstruction, which began on June 8, is only 10 per cent complete, while the maintenance works to be done on Kibuye-Zzana section of Entebbe Road are only 20 per cent complete, according to the most recent report. Several of Kampala’s main roads have, however, been resurfaced in the last week or two, making life more manageable for drivers and giving hope that other remaining works can be completed on time.

“We are committed to deliver our projects on time, and the end of September is the target,” said Mr Samson Bagonza, the engineer-in-chief of the Ministry of Works and Transport. “Some of the projects may spill over, but we are working on a tight programme.” But already some Chogm roads paved earlier have developed potholes, leading to concerns that those fixed more recently will also soon be rattling the teeth of those who drive on them.

As well, the newspaper advert produced by Mr Kivumbi said the 32km of roadwork being done between Entebbe Airport and Kampala will be completed by September 30. Another progress report by Mr Bagonza on the status of roads, marinas and street lighting projects, said the route to Kampala from Entebbe was 20 per cent completed.

One waits to see if the end-of September deadline for completing this road will be met.
The report found the first attempt at resealing was unacceptable and workers have begun re-doing the work. In the meantime, signs along the road warn drivers of loose stones that have chipped off from the first attempt at paving the road.

The company working on the road, Energo Projekt, will re-do the road at its own expense, the Ministry of Works said last month. The State Minister for Works, Mr John Byabagambi, blamed the bad results on a “technical fault”, and added that the quality of the bitumen used on the road was substandard.

Beautification work along the route is less than half done, according to officials.
Before visiting dignitaries lay eyes on the road to Kampala, the airport will be their very first impression of Uganda.

Renovations to the facility include an expansion of the arrivals hall, refurbishing of the departures area, installation of passenger boarding bridges, construction of a Very, Very Important Person (VVIP) lounge and domestic passenger terminal, installation of parking for more airplanes and the building of an air traffic and air space management radar.
Like many other projects, the airport work was supposed to be finished in August, but officials now say the projects will be completed by the end of September.

“The works are going slowly mainly because of finances,” said Mr Richard Okulo, the director of Entebbe International Airport. ”If they were available, work would go much faster.”

To address that issue, the Civil Aviation Authority recently signed a loan agreement with a syndicate of banks for $40 million. Meanwhile, some projects like the construction of improved facilities for customs and baggage claim are about three-quarters completed. But other works are less than half-done, for instance construction of a larger parking space for VIP jets.

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Comments
  1. Shannon says:

    “With no streetlights along the road, a night-time walker could easily fall into the holes.”

    Theoretically. Not that it’s happened to you or anything . . .

  2. cmason2 says:

    *Ah-hem*

    Let’s just say I was able to write that line with authority from first-hand experience.

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