One of Uganda’s infrastructures that suffered most on the onset of the NRM regime was the railway. Not only was it left to fall into derelict neglect, especially on the Kampala-Kasese line. It is alleged that this railway stock was sold off to Kenya as scrap metal.
Another aspect of this exploitative vandalism was that the developments of the Uganda Railway (UR) Corporation (URC), as regards the houses, were sold off to “investors”. Alongside these structures was part of the land on which the railway runs through. Further, the whole URC was sold off to the Rift Valley Railways (RVR); so only a portion of the present UR can be confidently claimed to belong to Uganda.
It is this as one of the first reasons in the background of the recent agreement between Uganda and China, that must be looked at, as the deal concerning the revamping of the UR is concerned. This supposed cost is a whooping US $ 13 billion.
And this is the second aspect of the redevelopment that has to be considered alongside the part of the East African Railway (EAR) where Kenya is immediately in the picture; but eventually that may cover the entire Lake Victoria Region; including Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan – possibly the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Whereas this would be saluted as a major infrastructural development in the region, eyebrows have to be raised at the cost of the Uganda section of the project. It is hopeful that this must have come to the attention of the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, when he was instantly reluctant to go ahead and sign the deal pending the Chinese government carrying out a feasibility study on the standard gauge railway (SGR), before any financial support is made.
If the Chinese officials consider this merely as a framework of understanding (FoU), more so should Ugandans, since it concerns future payments to that country which will be borne by the future generations, after the construction is finalized. This money offered is merely as a loan and is being understood as being tied to a futuristic mining of the oil. All this is in the ambit of the Parliament and its committees to unlock the apparent jigsaw “investment”.
To start with, the committee concerned or the entire House, must come up with the explanation behind transferring the initial infrastructure project of the SGR from what has to be considered the more relevant China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC), to China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). There is now suspicion that CCECC was linked to a politician who has fallen out of favour of the regime. If this is the case, is this another a notch in the explanation of how the country’s finances are being run – on mere whims?
Now go to the costing! The Kenya side of the “unit cost”, usually considered as a kilometer of the SGR construction, is US $5.9 million, which for the entire 609 kilometers comes up to US $ 3.6 billion. The shorter Uganda section is to cost nearly ten times as much at US $ 59 million per kilometer, which for the 218 kilometers comes up to US $ 13 billion. Even for a sleeping Parliamentarian, it is going to be incredible to believe that the same company can charge as much considering that the Uganda section is even less of an engineering challenge than its Kenyan section.
When the Chinese come to carry out the feasibility study, what parameters will they come up with to justify the tenfold cost of the Kenyan section, which the Ugandan Parliamentarians will accept? Is the House going to leave all these to the Executive arm of government to play with? Will the re-buying of the land on which UR originally occupied going to defray the difference of the costing? Will some of the other infrastructure? What about the people who originally sold of the rolling stock off, are they to be let off scot free, even when they are known?
There are more questions that are going to arise from this deal. But the MPs will need to come up with genuine answers for their constituents to these glaring inconsistencies in the construction of the SGR which is essentially the same for Kenya and for Uganda.