Kampala — The procurement process for the proposed Kampala-Jinja Expressway (KJE) could veer off the course line with the last minute entry of a Chinese company, state-owned China Railway 17th Bureau Group Company, after the initial phase of the tendering process had closed.
The Chinese company, according to sources familiar with the proceedings, is promising to finance and construct the 95km road in partnership with a local contractor to be completed earlier than the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) time lines.
A delegation led by the company's chairman for Africa business, Mr He Ping, met President Museveni mid last month at his country home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura District, where the lobbying took place.
According to a State House statement, Mr Ping told the President that "if given the opportunity they would partner with a local contractor to have the Kampala-Jinja Expressway successfully constructed."
The President, according to the statement, said it is only fair to have a joint venture with a government company and directed Finance Minister Matia Kasaija and other concerned agencies to discuss the proposal.
Prior to the Rwakitura meeting, sources intimated that the Chinese company had in October written to Unra expressing interest in the project. However, the Chinese interest came after Unra had already commenced the tendering process the previous month. Unra had already completed the public opening of bid qualifications submitted by eight companies/consortia that had expressed interest in the Kampala-Jinja Expressway project.
The consortia included China Communications Construction Company and China First Highway Engineering Company; KJ Connect (with Vinci Concessions as the lead member); Strabag/ICITAS/EGIS/AIIM/STOA with Strabag as lead member; and Enkula Expressway Consortium, China Wu Yi Co. Ltd, Korea Expressway Corporation and SK Engineering and Construction among others.
Sources said that upon the expression of new interest, Unra wrote to China Railway 17th Bureau Group Co. Ltd about the ongoing tendering and informing them that the process could not be sidestepped nor reversed.
The company consequently wrote to the Parliament's Committee on Physical Infrastructure expressing interest in the project and re-tabled their proposals.
In November, the committee, summoned Unra executive director Allen Kagina and her management to provide a status update of the road projects underway, including the Kampala-Jinja Expressway. The Unra team reportedly told the MPs that the tendering process had already commenced and could not be varied.
When contacted yesterday about the matter, the vice chairperson of the committee, Mr George Nsamba-Kumama, promised to get back to this newspaper to discuss the matter at length but was yet to do so by press time.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Works and Unra have since shortlisted four consortia to proceed to submit bids for the project. The shortlist was announced by Works minister Monica Azuba on December 18.
"Following the conclusion of the evaluation process and no-objection from Development Partners (African Development Bank, French Development Agency and European Union), four consortia out of the eight were shortlisted having satisfied all the minimum qualification requirements," Unra said in a statement. The shortlisted companies are now expected to submit technical and financial proposals whose evaluation will run until the end of the year
The Unra director for Roads and Bridges, Mr Samuel Muhoozi told Daily Monitor yesterday that procurement for the Kampala-Jinja Expressway has reached advanced stages and investors have already injected in money.
"It is difficult to reverse the procurement anyhow and it is not in order. It is a good idea to partner with local contractors but if the company wants, they can participate in the upcoming projects," Engineer Muhoozi said.
A reversal of the ongoing tendering process for KJE means Unra would have to opt for direct procurement which was applied on the just completed Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, leading to an expensive road project of about Shs1.765 trillion.
The Unra officials say the planning estimate for the KJE is Shs3.7 trillion pooled through Public Private Partnership arrangement. The government has already committed a principal of $400m (Shs1.4t) and the preferred bidder will have to mobilise $600m (about Shs2.2t) through a mix equity and debt.