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Uganda mega public-funded projects hit by contractor absence

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CHARLES M. MPAGI

By CHARLES M. MPAGI
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The coronavirus outbreak has hit Chinese-controlled infrastructure projects in Uganda, threatening to stall upwards of 90 per cent of the country’s major roads construction.

The Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) spokesperson Mark Ssali says an assessment of the overall impact is still being made, but confirmed that construction has “slowed down a bit”.

Simon Kasyate, the head of communications at the Uganda Electricity Generation Company, which contracted two Chinese firms to construct two new mega dams at Karuma and Isimba, regretted the timing of the outbreak, when most of the workers had flown to their country.

“Most had gone for their leave for the lunar new year. They are experiencing delays on return and they have to be quarantined for another 14 days upon their return. That obviously has given us a bit of time lag though it has not had a substantial impact,” Mr Kasyate said.

He says the impact would have been worse had Isimba and Karuma projects not already made substantial progress. Isimba hydro power dam, a 183MW project in Kayunga district along the River Nile, was handed over to the government last year but a skeleton staff of the contractors remain on site for the Defect Liabilities Period, a technical contractual requirement for the contractor to identify and fix any minor defects before handing over the project.

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For Karuma, a 600 Megawatts dam at Karuma Falls, also on the River Nile, Mr Kasyate said physical works now stand above 96 per cent and most of the equipment was either already on site or at sea.

“Karuma is still on schedule,” he said, “and the good news is that part of the contract was on capacity building and therefore a good number of Ugandans had been trained and are able, together with the few Chinese staff that remained on site, to progress.” As many as 6,000 Chinese were working on the two dam projects at some time.

The impact is likely bigger at UNRA where more than nine out of every 10 major roads projects are contracted to Chinese firms. Egyptian and Turkish contractors are undertaking two each of the four on-going new road projects.

Mr Ssali says the agency is working closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure that only healthy contractors are on site, following through the quarantine regime.

According to the Ministry of Health, a group of 100 China returnees who included Ugandans and Chinese nationals completed the 14-day self-quarantine on Saturday without showing any signs of the virus.

According to Dr Diana Atwiine, the Permanent Secretary, the country has capacity to test for the virus. “We are able to conduct the tests locally,” she told The EastAfrican.

China is a major player in investment and contracts in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, the value of investment and contracts in the three years between 2015 and 2018 totalled $299 billion, according to the China Investment Global tracker.

In 2018, President Xi Jinping pledged an extra $60 billion.

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