By Onghwens Kisangala
Two weeks ago, over 40 people died in separate road accidents across the country in just one week. The Independents Onghwens Kisangala spoke to State Minister for Works, John Byabagambi, and asked him for how long will the carnage continue. Excerpts:
There are more deaths on our roads than any other country in the region. What is wrong on our roads?
It is true when you look at the statistics you find that every year there is increment in the rate of accidents in this country. What is not true is to say that we are the highest in the region. We are at per with Tanzania.
But of course, I’m not proud of that. We would love to hear that we do not have accidents at all on our roads. Most of the accidents are caused by human error. And that is what annoys me most. Second to this is driving under the influence of alcohol and drug abuse. The other major cause of accidents on our roads is the mechanical problem; most of our vehicles are imported in to the country when they are already tired. Then the conditions of the roads are also responsible for accidents to a fair degree. But reckless driving is a direct result of lack of enforcement of traffic laws! True the enforcement is lacking. There is a sort of laxity when it comes to law enforcement in Uganda, especially traffic laws. And this has been exacerbated by corrupt officers within the police force. A bus is over speeding and a traffic officer overlooks it, reason he took something [bribe] the day before.
What happened to speed governors?
The law is very clear and it is still in place. When we started enforcing the law, as usual there was a rumor that speed governors spoil vehicles and also a lot of interference, both political and civil. But now the Ministry of Works and Transport has been moving up and down, putting messages on radio sensitizing the public why speed governors are good.
Seat belts were a disastrous failure too, why?
I agree with you on that one 100%. And the reasons are almost the same, and it is from you the public; â€˜how can I wear a clean shirt and I strap dirty the seat belt,â€™ especially the taxis is what most of you say.
There have been attempts to fix the black spots on our roads, but if the accident at Bulyantete is anything to go by, you probably did nothing.
First, the work which was done is what was designed to be done (on that black spot). And what we envisaged at that time was that if these remedies are done then vehicles could move faster. But what annoys me most is that those places have turned to be parking areas. I have seen one at Lugazi before you reach Namagunga, taxis park there. They have again narrowed the area. But you see the black spots which were supposed to be worked on were far more than what have been fixed. In any case, the money we had was for Jinja and Entebbe roads, although we did not fix Entebbe road because of CHOGM. But we are about to start.
At Bulyantete, all you did was create space for walk ways and attempt to smoothen the road. Did you help anything about the spot?
I think we widened the road by almost three meters, and you know most of the people who used to die on that spot were pedestrians. Secondly, Iâ€™m not saying the design was the best. Even me, I was not satisfied with what was done on that black spot. To me the best would have been making a dual road. But it was due to the money we had, and you know, everything you are going to do will be dictated by the resources. But thanks to God we now have our own money and all these excuses are going to end. We have now embarked on a feasibility study to dual that road and I think that is going to be the best remedy.
The government policy is from Malaba up to Katuna. We are going to do it in phases. We are going to start with Kampala to Mukono, then from Mukono, we go to Jinja, and then from there we shall continue going that side until we reach Malaba. We canâ€™t do it at once because the money will not be enough.
Unfortunately, whenever you set out to start any project, the roll out is just as dragging as the completion, it never ends. Why?
The problem is that you need a consultant, who has to get a nod from the donor a phrase of only two words no objection – go ahead. Then we have our own bureaucracy here, but then it is not as long as the Western bureaucracy. Theirs is more complicated and we have to follow it. That takes almost two and half years.
When will Jinja-Bugiri road and Kampala Northern By-pass be completed?
The Jinja-Bugiri road is going on well but the problem is with Kampala northern by-pass. There are technical matters but which have been resolved. It was the wearing layer the one you are supposed to drive on that did not meet our specifications. We went in to find out who is right, who is wrong, we brought in experts who helped with the problem. But now the contractor is going to be back on the road. We expect by the end of March, or early April next year that road will be over. Then the government also has decided that since we have got our own money, why cant we finish the other section of the dual carriage? So as we open the complete section next year, work starts on the other section straight away.
The Owen Falls bridge is tired, what if anything terrible happened to it?
We are working with the Japanese government to build another bridge in Jinja across River Nile. We have even identified the point; it is on the upstream. It is progressing very well. The Japanese team was here recently when they spent 14 days in that place. Soon we are going to see a new bridge over River Nile.