Three years into her appointment as Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) executive director, ALLEN KAGINA spoke to Zurah Nakabugo about her fight against corruption and changes made within the organisation as UNRA marks 10 years of existence.
You have been at the helm of UNRA for three years now, describe for us how you found the authority and what you have achieved so far?
In my three years of service in this institution, I have been addressing the challenges of lack of communication in the institution, lack of stakeholders’ engagement, accountability, lack of processes, lack of systems and many others.
I found the institution when it had done some work like paving and maintaining roads. It was doing what it was mandated to do but my coming in was addressing how the work is done. So, my entrance into the organization coincided with the commission of inquiry which brought out a lot of mis-management.
Some of my other achievements include, the board approving a new UNRA structure with a total establishment of nine directorates and about 2,000 staff members. Staff salaries increased almost three-fold for most positions. And over 1,400 staff members have been recruited.
How did you manage the incidents of corruption at the time you came in?
I also found when there was perception and incidences of corruption, and also found that we as an institution, we are not very good at communicating. Despite the so many achievements that were made by UNRA, it was only known within the circles of UNRA, and maybe the media, but the rest of the country didn’t know what was taking place here.
I worked at improving communication and becoming transparent in order to manage corruption. And for any organization that benefits from the treasury, which is the taxpayers’ money, it’s incumbent upon that same institution to report, and people know what you gave them, or what you have done.
What is UNRA doing about the issue of shoddy works done by contractors?
Some shoddy work occurs due to not having the correct contractors on job or weak supervision by UNRA. We are now building the supervision capacity of the staff, [to ably handle] accountability and reporting. The mechanism we use now for supervision is supervision team, not individual monitoring.
We supervise as a team to ensure that what we agreed on with the con- tractor is done. The team also has the environmental impact assessment team, social management team and communications team and they do a holistic assessment of the performance rather than leaving all that to an individual.
How do you assess the contractors now?
The quality of work is a reflection of who is doing the work. We are much careful now and strict in procurement. When we do evaluation, we are following the criteria we put out for bidding.
What are you doing to promote local capacity of contractors?
All contracts below Shs 45bn are reserved for local contractors and many local contractors are in maintenance work on roads and small bridges. Then 30 per cent of big contracts above Shs 45bn is reserved for local contractors. We want also to use such opportunities to build skills for local contractors.
There is an exercise taking place at UNRA together with the ministry of Works [and Transport], where we profile contractors, by looking at their performance, capacity, personnel at work and equipment, and financial capital.
Some Chinese contractors have been faulted for abuse of Ugandan workers, the natural environment and many complaints raised by the public, yet these very companies continue to receive contracts.
Why is this so?
We have an investigation unit; when such matters are reported by people, we use a grievance unit to start investigations. We have the inspection team of our project and work together with the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, which protects workers, to inquire and take action.
As UNRA marks 10 years of existence, what is there to show?
A lot, for example, the paved net- work has increased across the country. You can move from Malaba to Congo border on tarmac road. We are finishing some roads connecting Mbale to Karamoja, and in the next five-year plan, we shall do all roads in northern Uganda like from Atiak to Adjumani, up to South Sudan.
How many kilometers of road are paved?
By end of July, UNRA alone shall have 4,755km of road tarmacked yet there are also urban authorities that tarmac roads.
Our road network is 20,544km, but we have tarmacked the trunk roads and the next step will be moving to district roads which connect to communities with tourism attractions, minerals to improve businesses and industries in those areas. Some of the roads we are doing now are greenfield with new alignment such as oil roads, Kampala-Jinja Expressway, Entebbe Expressway and other roads which are murram, we shall upgrade them.
How does the problem of delayed land compensation affect your work?
Compensation is one of the challenges that we have faced in relation to delivering our mandate in time. This is because the land tenure system in Uganda leaves land in the hands of people and the government can’t construct a road without compensating people to acquire the land.
To acquire land titles of the road, you find when people have conflicts on the land; the Northern bypass was largely hindered by conflicts of ownership. There are people who have big land, without titles, others have fake titles while other beneficiaries don’t have letters of administration. We can’t compensate anyone without a title and this delays the work.
How are you dealing with speculators who buy land where big road projects are yet to pass to target compensation?
This is not something that you can control easily, since people look for opportunities and speculate when they hear that we are going to con- struct a road in an area and compensate people.
They start to buy land in that area and it appreciates very fast. To solve this, we use the chief government valuer to give the actual value of land to avoid people giving any value they want.
How are you fighting corruption?
We want to be a glass house where you can be able to look into the institution and ask us, how much or how long it takes to construct a road. Why is it that [someone] is paid higher in compensation than the other?
When we hide that information, it’s when we get worried. We are going to open a new website on which we can [answer such] questions. The second way to fight corruption is to put in place a mechanism where people report.
If people don’t have where to report, how will you know if the staff are corrupt? We have telephone lines such as 0414318106, 0414318101 and 0414318102 where any incidents can be reported. Corruption thrives where information is limited. When people hold information here as if it’s a personal property, we also investigate them.
We are transparent with information; let people come to UNRA and question us on our working methods, payments, [and] the procurement processes. Predictability is the biggest weapon against corruption. When systems are not predictable, then somebody can sit on your payments.
The systems we are building will allow us to give you client service standards. [We will use the] investigations unit that can even prosecute our own staff and also teach people ethics and compliance where people have clear instructions and know what to do.
What are some of the biggest problems of UNRA?
When we went through restructuring, we almost created a new institution because many new people came in, and the immediate challenge we encountered was capacity; we now have an intensive capacity building programme. Another challenge is that some companies that benefited from weak systems due to inadequate supervision and a poor procurement system are not willing to change.
We know this by putting out a tender and the whistle-blowers come through ventilators and windows, which delays the process. They go to parliament, ministry of Finance, ministry of Works and Transport, IGG and they stop us, to investigate.
The process which was to take six months, takes two years. But as you do investigations, and you are stopped from working, the people whom you are working with are suffering.
What does the law say about this?
The law on procurement is changing. You can’t come with administrative review and stop the process. The project will continue as investigations go on.
What is your work program in the next five years?
Our work programme is about Shs 5 trillion, if we are to construct and maintain all the roads on the program. We always have fatal road accidents and the first reason given is bad road.
Do you agree with this?
Do you think drivers can agree that they were in the wrong? Why do we get more accidents when the road is tarmacked than before; it’s because of bad driving, not bad road. Some roads have curves to slow down, but drivers don’t.
When we did operation Fika Salama on Mbarara-Kampala highway together with police and ministry of Works, the number of people we got with fake driving permits was frightening. There are many vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition and many young boys driving lorries under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
However, there are incidents where roads are bad such as sharp corners, poor surface areas, potholes and with no road signs.
What is UNRA doing to raise the confidence of development partners such as the World Bank who finance some of the roads? What is their assessment of UNRA’s performance?
I don’t know how they assess us, but I know we have good working relationship. They have been very supportive; they fund major projects like one of the longest road from Mbale to Lira and we have signed the contract. They are funding Kyenjojo-Kabwoya-Kyenjojo and Masindi-Fort Portal roads.