Kampala — That President Museveni reportedly relieved the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project coordinator, Mr Kasingye Kyamugambi, of his duties is not entirely surprising to some people in the know, but still, there is "yet an official communication to the effect".
Mr Kasingye, a civil engineer, previously working with National Planning Authority (NPA) and was tapped by the President to lead implementation of the multi-billion railway project in January 2016.
Sources say Mr Kasingye, then in NPA since 2013, was also part of the eight-member steering committee led by Brig Timothy Mutebile that negotiated the SGR contract whose Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) tender was handed to China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC) after government controversially short-circuited the previous contractor, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
The SGR is a classification of modern railway agreed upon under the African Union SGR protocol of upgrading and linking the continent's railway system to facilitate continental integration. Other countries that have so far upgraded to SGR include Moroco, Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt, South Africa, and Kenya.
Uganda's first phase of SGR, the (eastern) line running from Malaba to Kampala, about 273km (or 338km rail length), is expected to cost $2.3 billion (Ush8 trillion).
The cost has for a while been subject of debate, including a comparative-cost assessment by the parliamentary infrastructure committee which traveled to Ethiopia and issued its report in December 2016.
However, Works Minister Ms Monica Azuba in a rejoinder to the committee report submitted to Parliament defended that the $2.3b "is not the construction price".
Ms Azuba said: "In engineering projects, the planning estimates are refined by feasibility studies, culminating into feasibility estimates."
She added that feasibility estimates are further refined during design or engineering to arrive at the engineer's estimates which guide in the bidding but varies from the final contractor's price. The entire long term SGR network covering the rest of the country is tagged to a cost of $12 billion (Ush46 trillion).