Kampala — On Sept. 7, President Yoweri Museveni finally commissioned the 66km Fort Portal--Kamwenge road, almost 18 months after it was expected to be completed.
The class two tarmac road which runs from Kamwenge District to Fort Portal town in Kabarole District was built by the Chinese Railway Seventh Group at a cost of Shs 119 billion.
It was initially funded by the World Bank with construction beginning in August, 2013. It was expected to be handed over to the government in February, 2016.
However, the bank later pulled out of the project when it got reports that the Chinese company's officials and workers were involved in cases of sexual abuse, misconduct and mistreatment of staff working on the project.
A report on the impact of the road construction, published in 2015 by the NGOs Joy for Children and Bank Information Centre, found increased rates of secondary school dropouts because of pregnancy as a result of alleged sexual abuse by employees of the construction company.
The report said, at least nine girls had quit school between September and December 2014, all claiming to have been made pregnant by workers constructing the road.
The report noted that girls were often targeted on their way to school. The report also documented safety failures for workers and suggested there had been little local engagement about the road project.
At the time, the World Bank had sunk into the project Shs 54 billion. The government was forced to mobilise up to Shs 65 billion to complete the road project.
Speaking to people from the two districts at Buhinga Stadium in the western town of Fort Portal during the commissioning of the road, Museveni thanked the World Bank for providing the initial funding for the road, reiterating the government's position to prioritize roads around the country.
"Funding of the road was started by the World Bank but when a man from Kamwenge defiled a girl, someone reported to the whites (World Bank) who started a war. It was a big offence," he said.
Museveni said although the country was in the middle of an election year, after the World Bank cancellation, he found some "little" money to complete the road.
Museveni urged the people along the road to maximize the benefits that come out of such infrastructure. He said the residents along the road should avoid transporting poverty in the morning from Kamwenge to Fort Portal and back.
"These roads must now be used to transport wealth and not poverty," he said.
Museveni asked the people along this route to emulate the people of Bundibugyo who are now utilizing their road (Fort Portal-Bundibugyo-Lamia road) to sell cocoa to the rest of the world.
The Fort Portal--Kamwenge section is part of the Nyakahita-Ibanda-Kamwenge road which the government expects to improve connectivity/accessibility of rural economic and social centres in the region.
It will serve places of high tourism attraction like Kibale National Park, improve access to an area of high agriculture and livestock potential, facilitate mining activities and facilitate the development of the hydropower plant at River Mpanga.
The Kmwg-F/Portal Rd gives u a perfect👌ride thru the thick kibale Forest 🌳 with spectacular views of the tea states pic.twitter.com/FyP0xqGtoX
-- Frank K Tumwebaze,MP (@FrankTumwebazek) September 6, 2017
The road also connects western Uganda to the northern corridor as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo via the Fort Portal-Bundibugyo-Lamia road.
Aggrey Natuhamya, the LC V Chairman Kamwenge District thanked Museveni for taking leadership to complete the road following the pulling out of the World Bank.
Monica Azuba Ntege, the Minister of Works and Transport also urged the people along the route to put maximum economic use to the upgraded road so as to fight poverty and improve the quality of their living standards.
Following the cancellation of funding for the road project, Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Vice President for the Africa region told The Independent last November via video conference that although the decision was deeply regrettable, the bank was "adamant and very clear that it would not compromise on the environmental and social safeguards it had set.
"The full commitment to upholding these safeguards is to ensure that no harm is done to the local people as a result of the bank's financed projects."
Diop said: "The word "safeguard" for us is not a technical word; it means life and well being of people and not destroying the environment."
"It means the people who have been displaced from their land have been compensated properly; it means ensuring that as you implement development projects, people are not negatively affected and they can continue living their normal lives."
Samuel Muhoozi, the Director Roads and Bridges Development at the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) told The Independent during the commissioning that the roads authority took the World Bank decision and has since put in place mechanisms to ensure that environmental and social safeguards are followed.
Muhoozi said challenges which dogged the Fort Portal--Kamwenge road came at a time when UNRA was reforming.
"We now have a robust engagement plan that helps us deal with the project beneficiaries," he said, "Some of those problems would have been avoided if there was no disconnect between UNRA, the contractors and the people where the project is going to be."