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Oil roads: Unra has two years to deliver 600km

As Uganda pushes to have its first drop of oil out by 2020, the Ugandan National Roads Authority (Unra) is under pressure to deliver 10 critical roads within the oil region measuring 600km within two years.

Cabinet in December last year directed Unra to have the roads in place to facilitate transportation of construction materials by the oil companies and to Kabaale International Airport.

The said roads have been divided into five packages of Masindi-Paraa-Buliisa; Hoima-Butiaba-Wanseko; Buhimba-Nalweyo-Bulamagi; Lusalira-Nkonge-Lumegere-Ssembabule; and Masindi-Biiso(Kabaale-Kiziramfumbi, Hohwa-Nyairongo-Kyaruseha.)

Two oil companies, CNOOC and Total, said only one per cent of the machinery they need to construct oil wells has been transported while the heavy reminder cannot be transported on the existing roads.

During a tour to the area in question by journalists earlier this week, Michael Ochola, Unra’s project manager, estimated that it takes one year to construct one kilometre of a road. Now that they have 600km to construct in two years, the authority agreed with stake holders to start with only the critical areas to make them motorable.

Roads such as this are expected to be completed in two years

Practically, Ochola said, there might not be need for tarmac immediately for the companies to start transporting their materials.

“It is true that 600km is a lot to do in two years but within this distance, we have identified priority areas that we should begin with and these are escarpments, sharp corners, swamps and bridges. Once these are done, it will be possible for the companies to transport equipment to the sites,” Allen Kagina, the Unra executive director said.

NO RUSH
Even with the need to deliver in time, Kagina cautioned that they had to go slow, especially in areas with delicate ecosystem.

The identified roads pass through Budongo forest, Murchison falls National Park and numerous swamps and need too much environmental attention during construction.

“The oil will be here for about 25 to 30 years but what happens when it gets done? We cannot destroy the ecosystem which will remain here longer even when the oil is done,” Kagina said.

If work that is to be done in six years is pushed to two years, it leaves questions on whether Unra will not compromise the quality of the roads. Kagina said that even with the quick construction, quality the roads will be paramount.

RAY OF HOPE
On many of Unra’s projects, delays have been caused by glitches in land acquisition where certain individuals have rejected government compensation of their land, valuing it higher.

Unra said that for these particular roads, 60 per cent of the land to be acquired either belongs to National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), which are easier to work with on compensation issues than the remaining 40 per cent of the project-affected persons.

According to guidelines, a contractor can only take on the road after Unra has secured passage of at least 30 per cent of the corridor.

Unra’s head land acquisition, William Matovu, said that they are yet to find the perennial glitches with land acquisition since it is moving on steadily. He added that they are trying to fix acquisition work of three months in 14 days and that by the end of this financial year, there will have been total compensation.

“We have commenced payments to people within about 45km, which have been assessed and approved by the government valuer. We are now engaging UWA and NFA and by the end of December, we shall have 30%,” Matovu said.

The authority has secured a Shs 3.27 trillion funding from Exim Bank and UK Export Finance for this project and according to Kagina, a taskforce to fast-track the completion of the roads in time has been put in place.

“We have always had challenges of procurement because of inadequate in-house capacity which we have worked on. We have also faced challenges of lobbyists, people calling in from different places lobbying for contracts and intimidating staff. I want to ask all those people who call that they should let our stuff work,” Kagina said.

“A new team has also been recruited in Unra to particularly work on these roads so as not to compromise any other on-going projects “because they are equally important.”

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© 2016 Observer Media Ltd