The World Bank's decision to suspend funding to some road projects could slow down efforts to get agricultural produce to the marketplace, and possibly also delay plans of producing oil, writes ALON MWESIGWA.
The World Bank has suspended funding for two more road projects in Uganda to force government to act on the issues with the 66km Kamwenge-Fort Portal road, an action that could easily hurt plans to connect farmers in rural areas to consumers in urban settings.
The development lender announced last week it was withdrawing funds from The Albertine Region Sustainable Development Project ($145 million), which supports the protection of the sensitive biodiversity around the oil fields, and The North Eastern Road-Corridor Asset Management Project ($243 million), whose aim is to deepen the integration of East Africa through laying a foundation for regional trade, after it was concerned with the deterioration of human rights.
This affects the ongoing construction of the 100km Kyenjojo-Kabwoya road and the 340km Tororo-Mbale-Soroti-Lira-Kamdini stretch respectively, two key roads that are critical in supporting industries such as agriculture.
The suspension comes shortly after the bank cancelled the $190 million support for the Transport Sector Development Project (TSDP) where the Kamwenge-Fort Portal road was being constructed.
The lender accused government of looking on as the people's rights were being abused, including poor safety, child abuse, and poor workers' welfare, and sexual abuse of some young girls.
The contractor for the Kamwenge road, the state-owned China Railway Seventh Group Company Ltd, has done little to address the World Bank's concerns. The Kamwenge community, which mainly grows maize, accuses the company of running a stone quarry, where stones are blasted without approval from the national environment watchdog, Nema.
The locals say their houses have been destroyed while pollution from the quarry has caused unprecedented diseases.
In a statement, Uganda National Roads Authority boss Allen Kagina said: "Government is committed to protecting the rights of children, women and workers and ensuring that all environmental issues related to the upgrading of the road are expeditiously resolved." The government also added that it had "put in place a contingency plan to ensure the projects continue to be implemented and the beneficiaries do not suffer any adverse effects from this decision (by the World Bank)." The statement, however, does not state what the contingency plan entails.
The Kyenjojo-Kabwoya road is one of the projects expected to impact the goings-on in the oil-rich region. With more than 800,000 tonnes of equipment expected to make its way to the oil-rich Bunyoro sub-region as the country prepares to produce oil, there have been calls by the industry to speed up the construction of new roads to support the transport system.