KAMPALA – A cloud of uncertainty and anxiety has engulfed the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) after it emerged that Cabinet has resolved to disband the Roads Authority and return its functions to the Ministry of Works and Transport.
Cabinet chaired by President Museveni last Monday, August 27 resolved to disband UNRA, with the Head of State, according to sources, not seeing the impact of their work since they started operations in 2008. Sources in the meeting said the President was not happy that most roads in the rural areas have remained impassable yet UNRA takes a huge share of the budget every financial year.
And now it has emerged that the Cabinet decision has rubbed UNRA senior managers the wrong way, with the Executive Director, Ms Allen Kagina, reportedly feeling “betrayed” by government given the effort she has put in revamping the authority.
Whereas disbanding UNRA does not mean Ms Kagina is losing her job, the merging of the authority with other ministry functions will see many staff lose jobs while UNRA’s semi-autonomous status will diminish.
The news has killed staff morale so much that in the course of last week, Ms Kagina last week was forced to write to an e-mail to all staff, appealing for calm and urging them to settle down and work since government has not officially written to UNRA, informing them of the Cabinet decision.
Current UNRA staff will have to apply to the Public Service Commission in order for them to be absorbed into the Public Works Department of the Ministry of Works and Transport.
Inside sources at UNRA said the Executive Director is “paying the price for not tolerating external interference in UNRA’s work” from the President to ostensibly fulfil his pledges instead of following the UNRA objectives.
Earlier sources inside Cabinet and State House had told this website that the President said he is “tired of begging Allen Kagina to do her work’ whom he allegedly accused of failing to speed up road projects, among them the Rukungiri-Ishasha-Kanungu Road and Busenga-Mpigi Express High Way, among others.
However, analysts say that Ms Kagina is paying the price for her uncompromising attitude towards corruption and political interference in her work. Ms Kagina, who holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, has been at the helm of public service for over 25 years and is credited with improving the URA’s financial performance during her tenure as commissioner general before moving to UNRA.
She is said to have worked to dismantle the mafia in UNRA, where some senior government officials used to win sub-contracts for repair, maintenance and grading of public roads through backdoor deals and yet would do shoddy or no work at all.
Ms Kagina is said to have recruited more professional staff into the UNRA staff who pay allegiance to her and have not been tolerating any sort of arm-twisting from the State to fulfil presidential pledges.
Inside sources in UNRA said it is some of these mafia elements that have working behind the scenes with whistleblower petitions, challenging UNRA’s procurement processes in awarding of some contracts.
One of them is in January this year when the IGG directed Ms Kagina to investigate whistleblower allegations that Ms Mary Kamuli Kuteesa, the Director Legal Services and Member of the Contracts Committee at UNRA, participated in the award of a contract to Chinese companies China Wuyi and China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC) which are clients of her husband’s law firm without declaring a conflict of interest.
And on August 11, UNRA said the document is from selfish individuals with the intent to derail the work of the roads authority and tarnish its image.
In one of the whistleblower petitions, they claimed that UNRA awarded the tender for the construction of the Busega-Mpigi expressway to the fourth lowest bidder, who had quoted more money, instead of the lowest person. The contract was awarded to a joint partnership of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and China Railway 19th Bureau Group Co Ltd (CCECC & CRBGC).
In a June 21 letter, the whistleblower claims that whereas the lowest bidder had given a quotation of Shs390.8b to construct the 23.7km road, the UNRA Procurement Directorate instead gave to one who quoted Shs534.1b, meaning government stands to lose Shs143.2b.
However, in response, UNRA said: “It is, therefore, our submission that the stories being propagated by a section of rumour mills are tainted with malice to misrepresent the office of the IGG and to further advance that there is an apparent crisis at the Road’s Authority.”
According to UNRA, the petitions and their subsequent investigations have delayed road projects such as Rukungiri-Ishasha road and Busega-Mpigi ExpressWay.
“The said letters and media reports are purely intended to malign and character assassinate persons of good repute, integrity and skill working to deliver services efficiently to all Ugandans.”