Last week, Government signed a contract with China Railway Seventh Group to design and construct Masindi-Biso, Kabaale-Kizirafumdi and Hohwa-Nyairongo-Kyarushesha-Butole road.
The 97km road added to a long list of about 700km dubbed critical oil roads that are supposed to be tarmacked ahead of onset of oil production in 2021.
Costing about $600m (Shs2.2 trillion), the critical oil roads are one of the largest infrastructure projects the country is undertaking as it gears up for oil production.
Prior to this latest addition, a number of other contracts were signed the previous years, with work already under progress. All the roads will have lifespan of between 15 to 20 years.
In 2017, the National Environment Authority cleared a total of six roads in what came to be one of the biggest interventions in ensuring that the oil roads are ready before the production begins.
The Uganda National Roads Authority gave itself a timeline of two years to ensure that the 14 roads within the region would be upgraded to the bitumen standards. A number of the roads are already under construction, while others are at the procurement stages.
Among the roads that are already complete is Hoima-Tonya-Kaiso road while Kyenjojo-Kabwoya, Kabwoya-Hoima-Bulima and Mubende-Kakumiro-Kibale-Kagadi roads are nearing completion.
Contracts for a number of roads were signed last year and works are already progressing. These include; Masindi(Kisanja)-Park Junction -Paraa-Pakwach (Tangi Junction)/Buliisa/Wanseko-Bugungu, 160kms, Hoima - Bukumi - Butiaba-Wanseko-111kms, Buhimba-Nalweyo-Bulamagi- Igayaza-Kakumiro-93kms, Lusalira- Nkonge-Lumegere -Ssembabule-97kms, Masindi-Biiso/ Kabale - Kiziramfumbi/ Hohwa-Nyairongo-Kyarushesha-122kms.
The last lot that will be signed in the near future is for the 98 kilomotres Karugutu-Ntoroko and Kabwoya-Buhuka road.
Ms Allen Catherine Kagina, the executive director of UNRA, said the contractor for the latest road construction is expected to deliver timely quality work and government will be strict on the agreed timelines for the key deliverables.
She also said the contractor will pre-finance the construction for 12 months, from where the government will take over the financing.
"The contract agreement between UNRA and the contract is to the effect that the contractor will pre-finance and execute works for a period of 12 months from the commencement date while GoU/MoFPED secures funds for paying or the works to be executed. Within this period, it is expected that the contractor will use his own money to fund the implementation of works and at the end of one year, after funds are secured, government through ministry of finance will pay for all works executed under the arrangement and works to be done," Ms Kagina said.
The UNRA executive director said government is moving towards the 'design and build' method where contractors are expected to look for funding to design and build the roads as opposed to the previous ones where China's Exim Bank provided the funds.
With the introduction of the local content policy, 30 per cent value of all big contracts are reserved for the local contractors. This, government says, will help in boosting the capacity of the local contractors to undertake big construction works.
Ms Kagina said this will be strictly enforced to ensure that the contractor actually works with such local contractors. She also said they will makes sure such contractors are local to avoid a situation where big contractors register subsidiary companies as local ones and end up doing inside business.
"The local content has been provided for in order to enhance the capacity and the capability of the local companies to prepare them for future similar projects and also it is in line with the current government policy on local content," Ms Kagina said.
She said a project management team is already in place to monitor the performance of local content compliance in the contract.
Apart from the local content, the authority also tasked the contractor to ensure that locals are employed during the construction works to ensure that they benefit from the road works passing through their areas.
"We expect that these contractors will work closely with the local communities and provide them with employment. This will help the feel they are part of the ownership of these government projects that target the ordinary persons. So please offer them employments even as casual labourers and those with qualifications, recruit them as staff," she said.
Mr Bian Peng who represented the Chinese construction firm promised to abide by the set guidelines saying the company will deliver timely quality work. He also said the company has plans to employ local people as casual labourers during the construction works.
"We have a plan to work with the local people in the area. We shall give them jobs," Mr Peng said.
Clearance from NEMA
In 2017, after lengthy social and environmental impact assessment, the National Environment Management Authority cleared all the oil roads to proceed with construction works.
Ms Kagina, said the Authority has a tight timeline to complete the work on the oil roads and that the clearance by NEMA is a positive gesture towards achieving the targets.
"We appreciate the role of NEMA as a regulatory agency, for supporting us to undertake the Environment Impact Assessment Studies for the 14 roads in a timely manner that would help us to meet the target of having the project complete by 2020," Ms Kagina said.
She says as a strategy to meet the tight time lines, UNRA undertook the environmental impact assessment studies using the in-house approach as opposed to the use of externally procured consultants.
"This in-house approach has been found to be time and cost saving, yet with better avenues for quality control" she said.
According to Ms Kagina, extensive consultations were also carried out with national, district and community level stakeholders in order to capture and address their concerns. Such engagements, she said will continue even during the project implementation phase.
She said a process is underway to form Grievance Management committees in all villages traversed by the projects.
"These will serve as quick avenues for host communities to channel their project related complaints for redress. This will enhance impact mitigation and ensure project social acceptance," Ms Kagina said.
Ms Christine Echookit Akello, the deputy executive director of the National Environment Management Authority said the step taken by the UNRA to engage all the different actors is a positive trend. She said the oil roads traverse through a complex eco-system that needs careful planning and executions. Many of the roads pass through the wildlife protected areas, forest reserves and ecologically sensitive areas which are breeding habitats for different flora and fauna.
Akello said keen attention has to be paid to such complexities so that while the construction works are going on, the other species are not grossly affected.
"As we build the roads, but we are saying they are oil roads and we are building within the setting of the landscape. Understanding that there is protected area systems, we have central forest reserves, we have even community forest reserves, we have the Uganda wildlife protected areas system, we have the communities settling in those areas, we have a mix of very many things which we must understand both ecologically and also socio-economic and that's very very important because when we design our roads and fit within that landscape, we shall never be wrong", she said.
DESIGN AND BUILD METHOD
Government is moving towards the 'design and build' method where contractors are expected to look for funding to design and build the roads as opposed to the previous ones where China's Exim Bank provided the funds.