18 November 2012

Uganda: Roads Agency Seeks Power to Expedite Road Works

Failure to complete road works on schedule is a major challenge hindering infrastructural development in Uganda.

Several factors including natural conditions are responsible for the delays, with many people holding the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) culpable.

However, UNRA argues that they are not entirely in control of some factors that lead to the delays, citing the current composition of the laws and regulations governing public procurement.

Ayalew Kebede, the UNRA acting director of procurement, says the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) Act, 2003 was tailored towards supply of goods.

Historically, road works were undertaken through force account arrangements. However, with the quest for more dollars to match the overwhelming demand for a better national road network, this arrangement is not feasible for big projects.

"The current procurement laws do not address the specific nature of the road construction industry. This sector is defined by unique dynamics such as a lot of capital investment. There is a high level of risk. For example, natural conditions can affect road works," Kebede explains.

It is on this backdrop that the roads authority thinks the public procurement and disposal regulator should roll out accreditation to cater for such conditions.

Many projects have failed to take-off in the recent past due to bidding related complaints, with the highest profile one being the Karuma dam saga.

The roads sector is no different, as it is quite a jungle tale. Small-and-big construction companies jostle for the same projects.

UNRA says with accreditation from PPDA, the challenge of small companies unrealistically crying foul when they lose out to the big and better equipped firms will be reduced.

"If we get the accreditation, we will have classification of contractors. This approach will help the small and big companies. Small companies will get more jobs to do, while the big companies will concentrate on the big projects," says Kebede.

This would be welcome news to small local contractors, who get few jobs, which has in the long run affected the capacity.

So big is this a problem that a small company can take several years before landing another job.

Kebede says if granted accreditation, thresholds will significantly increase.

"Sometimes open bidding may not necessarily provide value for money. We want accreditation on some procedures to achieve this (value-for-money)," he argues.

A comprehensive accreditation proposal, which will also include suggestions on how to reduce procurement procedural time, will be presented to PPDA early next year, according to UNRA.

PPDA's stand

PPDA says it is its mandate to accredit entities. Under PPDA Regulation 342(1), the authority may accredit an alternative procurement and disposal system for an entity for different reasons.

Among these reasons is an entity working in a specialised field or discipline, which requires alternative or additional regulations.

PPDA adds that if works, services or consultancies require the use of an alternative system to comply with the provisions of international or other agreements, then an entity is free to apply for accreditation.

Issues like increasing thresholds for works projects are being handled under the amendments to the PPDA regulations, which have been submitted to Parliament, PPDA says.

PPDA argues that an accreditation proposal from the roads authority would be appropriately addressed.

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