Gulu was thrilled when in 2009 the municipality was picked among 19 others, where a modern market worth Shs 26bn would be built.
The markets are funded under the African Development Bank's Markets and Agricultural Trade Improvement Programme (MATIP). Contract terms from the ministry of Local Government indicated that construction would commence in October 2010 and end in October 2013. However, the contractor now says they will not beat the deadline, having had to make some changes in the scope of work.
According to the contract manager, Uma Mahesh of Dott Services Ltd, the market will take an additional six months to complete.
"There was change in the scope of our work and at some point we halted for a month; so, we need some more time," Mahesh said.
Mahesh added that the company also needs more time to import electric materials for wiring the market. This glitch would not be the first to befall the project. Last January, construction was halted after the Local Government minister, Adolf Mwesige, ordered the arrest of Gulu Municipal town clerk, Augustine Bujara, after it emerged that Shs 10bn had gone missing.
It was further discovered that Dott Services had reduced the scope of work by 9.6 metres from the original 54 metres, citing a spike in the cost of construction materials. At the time, the market was also being built as a single- storey structure contrary to the approved architectural plan.
Gulu Mayor George Labeja also indicated that the market was being constructed for only 1,800 vendors, leaving out hundreds more, who were operating in the environs of the old one. This has since been corrected. The market can now accommodate 4,400 vendors, a development that is likely to delay the construction process further, Labeja said.
Santo Olana, a trader who deals in fabric material at Kaunda grounds, where some of the vendors were relocated to make way for the construction, says they can't wait to return to the market.
"I am desperate to go back to the main market because everything here is not business-friendly," Olana says. "I recently made losses of Shs 50,000 because termites made moulds on the fabrics I had bought..."
Yet Olana's business may not return to its old home any time soon although the project supervisor, Godfrey Obura of the ministry of Local Government, has told The Observer that the ministry has not approved a deadline extension.
"The deadline is still October 2013. Dott Services can still employ more workers to beat that deadline," Obura said.
But Mahesh, who admitted that his company made unspecified losses in putting up the northern part of the market, added that Dott Services employs workers in stages to ensure that one thing is done at a time to ensure good quality. On his part, Gulu RDC, James Nabinson Kidega, warned Dott Services against sub-standard work.
"There was corruption and the 9.6 metres which was reduced should be compensated and the contracted company should come out very clearly on this," he said.
Upon completion, the market will have a nursery for mothers working as traders, a modern restaurant, CCTV cameras and fire-fighting services.