How Museveni got the World Bank to unfreeze road funds

Saturday June 10 2017

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni inspecting the guard of honour on budget speech day June 8, 2017. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG 

By GEORGE KAMAU

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has intervened to unlock funding from the World Bank for the country’s road sector, after an 18-month freeze caused by the negative environmental and social impact of the projects.

In a statement released last week, the World Bank said that President Museveni had committed to continue a campaign aimed at reducing violence against women and girls.

“President Yoweri Museveni confirmed to the Bank that the government of Uganda is committed to ensuring that social and environmental safeguards policies are adhered to in undertaking large infrastructure projects.  He also emphasised that the government is committed to continue with the national campaign for reducing violence against women and girls,” said the World Bank in a statement released on June 7.

While reading the 2017/18 budget on Thursday, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija said that that the World Bank had agreed to lift the suspension in the next financial year, which starts next month.  

“I am pleased to inform the House that the World Bank has lifted suspension of funding to the roads sector, and I thank them for that,” said Mr Kasaija.

Sexual abuse of minors

The Bank had frozen the funding because of concerns including allegations of sexual abuse of minors by contractors working on the Fort Portal — Kamwenge road.

The World Bank, however, will not continue funding the project and the government has to look for other resources to complete it.

“The Bank’s assessment found that the Uganda National Roads Authority had made progress in strengthening its capacity to manage its roads programme, in areas including contract supervision, and a more systematic approach to environmental and social safeguards management,” said the statement.

The funding freeze has been lifted following the government’s commitment to compensate those displaced by the road work and addressing gender based violence.

Among the projects expected to benefit from the resumption of funding are the 100km Kyenjojo-Kabwoya road under the Albertine Region Sustainable Development Project, and the 340km Tororo-Mbale-Soroti-Lira-Kamdini road under the North Eastern Road-Corridor Asset Management Project (Neramp).

The two projects were being funded to the tune of $388 million, with Neramp taking $243 million. The World Bank maintains that Uganda has to address contentious land compensation cases, saying that no road works will be undertaken in any sections where land compensation has not been completed.

Paved roads

Workers of the Chinese Railway Seventh Group contracted to build the 66.2km Kamwenge-Fort Portal road at a cost of Ush120 billion ($36.4 million) were accused of preying on underage girls at the site and sexually abusing female employees.

Uganda has 4,919km of paved roads, which is 1,081km shy of its 2020 goal.

Resumption of funding comes at a time when Uganda is under pressure to improve its infrastructure network so as to take advantage of opportunities in tourism, agriculture and oil production to drive the economy.

Last year the country’s economy grew at 3.9 per cent, against a target of 5.5 per cent.

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