Sam Mutabazi is the Executive Director of Uganda Road Sector Support (URSSI). He talked to Ian Katusiime about Uganda’s road sector and its urban planning.
What principles guide your management?
I am a democrat. I extend freedom to people around me and give my staff the benefit of the doubt. I believe a free mind leads to innovation. I give people the leverage to explore themselves and see what they can do. I do not believe in being around staff all the time. Also, I believe more in people who achieve results than those who work long periods of time.
What would you cite as three achievements of URSSI?
First of all, we are the pioneer Non-Government Organisation in Uganda that worked on advocacy on transport and urban planning. In 2011, we had a campaign of securing road reserves and protecting them. We are glad UNRA took up the issue and that the new UNRA kept up with it.
We championed the cause for amending the laws governing the road sector; the Roads Act and the Access to Roads Act. These laws are obsolete. We went across the country and gathered views. We presented them to the Committee of Parliament and the cabinet passed the recommendations and now they are before Parliament.
At the time of our inception in 2010, our purpose was to ignite debate on transport and urban planning. We wanted to create a discussion about how cities are growing in an orderly fashion. Today, urban planning is now a big issue.
The other is that African countries, for instance, Zambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, have been coming to URSSI to learn about road monitoring. Our aim is to make road infrastructure business an affair of community participation.
Why does local content remain a big hurdle in our road construction industry?
It is because no one is enforcing implementation. For example, everyone is talking about Buy Uganda Build Uganda ‘BUBU’ yet it is not backed up by any policy or instrument.
Everybody thinks that something is being done. BUBU is part of local content and President Yoweri Museveni also keeps talking about it but it is not backed up by any policy decision. As of now it is just hot air.
Can we ensure Ugandans are buying their own products? There is no legislation. Then, Ugandans are timid as we still think imported things are better or that foreigners have better skills which may be true but we need to start from somewhere.
Look at the local carpentry industry. The sofa sets have been improving greatly. They are competitive and you have some of them at the same price as the imported ones. People thought we can’t do this. You must empower the local population.
Presently, the Chinese are constructing roads but if there is no deliberate intervention, 50 years from now roads will be done by Egyptians or whichever country.
Some analysts say the money we have put into road infrastructure has not exactly spurred national development. What is comment on that?
Transport and roads is just a mere component of a large value chain of an economy. Roads per se wouldn’t turn around economy. Roads are like something you pour money into and you cannot see results immediately. Besides, they create much more value if majority are being done by local firms. Many of them are being done by foreigners who repatriate the profits.
Also, Uganda was investing much less money, about US$50m per year before UNRA was created. So there was hardly anything. You had a backlog of roads maintenance, and a backlog of creating new roads. UNRA has added about 2500km of paved roads since it came in.
If we had invested in roads from the beginning, we would be somewhere. We are now just trying to build a world class infrastructure amidst very poor road infrastructure.
What is the major problem affecting urban planning in Uganda?
Weak governance and weak management capacity. Our urban managers are not empowered to follow through their policies and programs. The biggest problem is that we are doing haphazard work. Why would KCCA approve the new Parliament Chambers to be in the city centre? Is it because KCCA thinks they cannot check Parliament? When it comes to city matters, they should direct all institutions including the presidency on what needs to be done. You have 450 legislators, each with a car all converging in the same space. So where is the plan? KCCA does not know where it wants to take the city. Is KCCA developing Kampala as an all-inclusive administrative and commercial city? If so, then remove high crowding infrastructure out of the Central Business District. It attracts a lot of people including visitors. You have about 2000 cars going to parliament, and you are allowing a new structure to come up. Our managers also do not know that roads and urban planning go hand in hand.
There should also be plans for the vendors and hawkers who have been pushed out of the city and are gathering on the fringes of the city.
Where do you see Uganda’s infrastructure road network in the next ten years?
With the way things are moving, not much change. UNRA may add another 2,000km of roads in the next ten years. Urban roads will continue to be miserable due to poor budgeting and prioritizing. Large scale projects like expressways around Kampala may stall because of the new system of tolling. It has worked well in countries like the US but in Uganda, it is likely to be rejected because of poverty. People would rather use the alternative route which requires less money. The private sector may not be able to recoup the money from the tolls because of low incomes. Government is likely to remove focus on roads, it is not likely to keep pumping Shs4.5trillion in roads for the next ten years which will have implications.