The European Union (EU) has suspended funding for a regional road project after the construction company allegedly breached the terms of the contract. The project which started in March 2013, covers construction and rehabilitation of roads linking Rwanda-DR Congo and Burundi worth Euro 25 million.
The project tender was won by two companies, SAFKOKO and SAFRICAS with a timeline to finish works by the end of 2014. The EU released an advance payment of Euro 7 million which was equivalent to 30 per cent of the total cost of the project. However, the funder claims the progress is disappointing and the work done so far can be equated to 3-5 per cent of the total project.
The Minister of State in Charge of Transport, Alexis Nzahabwanimana, and the head of the European Union Delegation to Rwanda, Michael Ryan, confirmed the suspension. The minister said the project implementation was not on course as planned.
"The problem lies with the contractors who did not abide by the contract," the minister said. But neither the minister nor the EU official cited specific terms of the contract which were breached.
Ryan told The New Times that the suspension of funding is temporary and will be lifted as soon as the contractors can account for the advance payment. "We share the same concerns with Economic Community of Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) and the beneficiary countries, that's why I have decided to suspend the funding," said Ryan who is overseeing the implementation of EU projects in the region.
"Although we have decided to suspend the funding, talks are ongoing in Rubavu District with all the concerned parties to see how we can realise this project in the planned timeframe," he said. Ryan hinted on the fact that little had been done on the DR Congo side mainly on the side of Bukavu and Goma.
The contractors had asked for the extension of the contract promising that they would deliver once given more time. Ryan, however, said the contractors have since August 2013 given him unconvincing excuses, adding that the contract can only be extended if he sees results worth Euro 7 million.
The contract consisted of rehabilitation and bituminisation of the road linking the Ruzizi II and Ruzizi I bridges via the Major Vangu roundabout up to the junction of the Kamembe road (12.46 kilometres) and rehabilitation of the Ruzizi I bridge.
This involved three sections in three countries which included the construction of tarmac road linking the port of Goma to the border with Rwanda named 'Petite barrière' (3.4 km), improvement of a 6.7-kilometre road by widening and construction of the road surface and the wearing course using asphalt concrete between Uvira and the border with Burundi.
For Burundi, it involves the rehabilitation and strengthening of the 15.4-kilometre road between the Chanic roundabout in Bujumbura and the border with the DR Congo, construction of a parking area and a freight warehouse. While on the Rwandan side, in Gisenyi town, it involves the construction of three tarmac roads totalling 5.5 km, as well as a parking area for the immigration service of Rwanda.
When contacted, the proprietor of SAFKOKO, Emmanuel Sebulikoko, refuted the claims, saying he has invested more than the required 30 per cent. "This controversy has multiple faces. There has been issues related to countries that have done little in expropriating people from road reserves, sabotage from the supervising company that tried to push us out of business and the individual misunderstandings," he said.
Sebulikoko said his company has close to ten heavy trucks and six factories set up for the project. "We have invested more than Euro 20 million but the supervising company has been presenting false reports about our performance with has delayed the approval of our work plan," he said.