Uganda has finally repossessed Uganda Railways after Rift Valley Railways (RVR) ran it down for 12 years.
The 120-year-old railway line was concessioned out in 2006 to what the revolutionary NRM government told us was a rich and experienced South African government railway company.
But like the case has been with many transactions under this government, the investors procured for the railway business were just a bunch of fortune-hunters who simply sniffed at an opportunity.
In the concession, Rift Valley Railways was supposed to rehabilitate wagons, procure new locomotives and rehabilitate existing ones.
It was also supposed to repair the track between Jinja and Kampala. It was supposed to increase freight volumes up to 217.3 million tonnes as a baseline and to reach a level of 275 million tonnes within a period of two years after the signing of the concession (2006).
As a country, we were also entitled to 11.1 per cent of revenue of the railway business. How this figure was worked out, I don’t know!
I had an opportunity to chair the parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) for two and a half years (from December 2014 to May 2016) and Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) was one of the companies that appeared before us.
The managers of URC, which was supposed to oversee the concession, told us (Cosase) that RVR breached the terms of agreement right from the start and was incapable of managing a business of this magnitude.
The country must know that two things happened immediately after RVR took over our railways. The investors took away all the brand new vehicles (4WD) to Kenya, where they had also entered into a concession to manage Kenya Railways.
As the investors were feasting on new vehicles and other assets, the revolutionary government was feasting on prime land. Most of Uganda Railways land was categorized as non-core assets and, therefore, not handed over to RVR.
The scavengers in government descended on it and by the time sale of Uganda Railways land was halted, the corporation had been stripped of all its residential houses in Kololo near the airstrip, in Nsambya and Kabuusu on Masaka road.
And this has happened to all corporations. Land belonging to Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) in Kololo, Bugolobi and in Industrial Area was robbed in broad daylight by the revolutionaries or their agents. Remember what happened to National Social Security Fund (NSSF) houses in Muyenga and elsewhere? What about the cotton houses in Nakasero?
Most of the buildings in Nakasero, Kololo, Bugolobi and part of Kamwokya belonged to the public. I fear to use the word government because Mr Museveni thinks government is his private company. These fellows have looted this country!
Therefore, what was supposed to be sold in the second phase was railway land in Jinja, Tororo, Gulu and Masindi. Phase one was for Kampala.
This is the condition under which Uganda Railways is being repossessed. And you didn’t have to be an engineer to know that RVR was a circus. First, even as a parliamentary committee chairman, I failed to know who these RVR fellows were.
In truth, they were not the South African government company that we had been promised. Maybe one of the original concession owners was a South African and, I think, another a British. Something like that!
Eventually, these ones sold their stake to a Cairo-based company called Qalaa Holdings, or something like that...
After failing to reap big in the railway business, the concessionaires, I am told, wanted to sell the line to the Chinese before running away.
That is how they rushed to evict poor people who had settled around the non-functional rail line. The intention was to sell the line to Chinese companies that want to construct the standard gauge railway. This didn’t work out, hence halting the eviction. That was the last business opportunity that RVR wanted to exploit before running away with their bounty.
If you want to know how poor and unprepared RVR was, even the $64 million they wanted to use to revitalize the business was borrowed from International Finance Corporation (World Bank) and German Development Bank (KfW). These fellows came in without money or, if they had, they never wanted to invest it.
And I think that is what the Umeme concession is all about. The investors came in with very little and are collecting billions which they repatriate and just reinvest a small portion of it. It is the reason parliament recommended termination of this concession as well.
One of our biggest problems in the electricity sector today is generation of excess power. We are generating about 685MW and consuming 550MW, according to Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA). And to pay off the excess power generated, we are spending Shs 68 billion on thermo generators and about Shs 11.57 billion on what is called deemed energy purchases.
The concessionaire (Umeme) has no obligation to expand the transmission lines. That is why only about 20 per cent of Ugandans are using electricity, which explains the excess. We should never have sold this business because it is capable of growing by itself if only managed properly by nationals (patriots).
That is where we are. Wait when these agreements with Chinese companies begin to run.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.