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Kampala-Jinja Expressway: how a corrupt leadership continues to mortgage Uganda’s future

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By Moses Ssejjoba

Uganda is on course to break a world record, in the construction of the new Kampala-Jinja Expressway. Sadly, it will be for the wrong reasons.

According to experts, the 73-kilometer road, whose construction is set to begin in June next year will be the most expensive road in the world. The road will be built at a staggering US$ 1.4 billion, with the estimated cost per kilometer put at US$ 14 million. It is undisputedly the most expensive road infrastructure in the world.

To put things into perspective, it costs US$ 8.4 million to build a kilometer of a Standard Gauge Railway, which is a much more efficient infrastructure.

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The Kampala-Jinja Expressway will be built by a Chinese construction firm; China Railway 17th Bureau Group Company (CR 17th). The company was single-sourced for this work by President Museveni, with no consultations to the experts.

This has many worried; and not just the technocrats at the Uganda National Roads Authority and other government functionaries, but also Uganda’s traditional funders especially the World Bank.

In awarding the tender to the Chinese firm, Museveni wrote to his Minister of Works and Transport ordering her to stop the ongoing procurement process that had already kicked off. This news website has obtained a copy of the letter, in which, ironically, Museveni states that going through the standard procurement procedure would encourage corruption!

“My decision is motivated by a meeting I had with officials from CR 17th during which they promised to build the road with their own finances and would then take over the road toll collection to recover the money,” Museveni’s letter reads in part.

According to a senior engineer with UNRA who spoke to this website, this is a dangerous way of handling such an infrastructure project. “Not only will it be procured expensively, it will also affect our dealings with major funders. Most importantly, this is mortgaging our country and it is dangerous whichever way you look at it,” said the engineer.

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The engineer said that such orders have previously been issued on other projects but of much-less magnitude, whereby Museveni or those acting on his behalf have subverted an ongoing procurement process to impose on them contractors of their choice.

“But nothing of this proportion, and every technocrat is worried where our country is headed with this kind of leadership,” said another official from the Works Ministry who requested anonymity so as to speak freely.

He believes that much as Museveni ridiculously claims he premises his actions on the need to check corruption, a deal like this stinks to the high heavens of grand corruption.

Museveni and those around him reek of corruption after 33 years of misrule. One example of this is the scandal that went public on March 24 this year when a Chinese national, Patrick Ho, was sentenced to three years by the Court of the Southern District in New York for bribing foreign leaders.

Ho was found guilty by a jury for bribing President Museveni with US$ 500,000 in a deal that was brokered in New York by Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa. According to court documents, Ho was acting on behalf of a Chinese conglomerate, CEFC China, and he made his intentions clear to Kutesa during their meeting in the US city.

Ho wanted the powerful Kutesa, whose daughter Charlotte is married to Museveni’s son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to ensure CEFC not only won lucrative energy deals, but also took over a local bank. Kutesa, who was in New York at the time as president of the UN General Assembly, too was offered a similar amount.

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While Kutesa had his “cut” wired by the Chinese firm to his account, he advised that Museveni’s cash be carried to the meeting between the CEFC executives with the ruler of Uganda. He promised to deliver, and he would. “He advised his boss, the Chairman of CEFC China, to provide $ 500,000 in cash to President Museveni,” the transcript from the court ruling reads in part.

True to Kutesa’s word, the CEFC China executives were in 2016 invited (and attended) as Museveni’s “special guests” at Kololo Independence Grounds during his inauguration following a violent presidential election. After the ceremony, Museveni invited his guests to State House where his US$ 500,000 was handed to him.

Considering such a background Ugandans should be anxious about the latest developments – the Kampala-Jinja Expressway project – portend.

The country will surely be milked dry!

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