Uganda Road Fund – more than a decade of financing road maintenance

Over the years, the government of Uganda has prioritized the construction of highways to all the major towns in Uganda. Almost all major towns in the country are connected with a paved road, with gravel roads dominating the public road network. 

The infrastructure in municipalities and town councils has also been significantly improved as well as district and community access roads.  

The national road to Moroto in Karamoja through Soroti is under construction thereby connecting this once hard-to-reach-area with the rest of the country. 

The construction of these roads costs trillions of shillings every year. In the current financial year, 2019/20, Shs6.4 trillion went to the transport and works sector. Roads, like any asset, need to be maintained and protected. This requires timely maintenance to ensure the quality and safety of the road in a condition close to its original state. 

A well-designed and timely road maintenance programme inhibits the impact of deterioration agents (traffic and water) and prolongs road life. Road users, in turn, derive experience from a road in a good or bad condition. 

It is under this background that the government through an Act of Parliament in 2008 set up the Uganda Road Fund (URF), which commenced its operations in January 2010. In October 2019, URF will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. 

The Uganda Road Fund is, therefore, the body responsible for financing of routine and periodic maintenance of public roads in Uganda. 

Road maintenance is implemented by designated agencies with the responsibility for various categories of public roads and a total network of 140,000km. These include the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) for national roads; Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) for Kampala city roads; and local governments responsible for District, Urban and Community Access Roads (DUCAR). 

Every financial year, the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development releases funds to URF for routine and periodic road maintenance. Currently, the cumulative release for the last 10 years stands at Shs3trillion. On average, the annual road maintenance budget has been Shs470 billion financing road maintenance programmes of 171 designated agencies.

The designated agencies of the Fund over the last 10years have implemented road maintenance programmes through the Force Account system whilst in addition to the traditional contract-based works. The Force Account system involves the use of own equipment and labour to implement road maintenance works. Previously, all agencies could either use Force Account or Contracting or a mix of the two to carry out maintenance on their respective roads. In the financial year 2012/13, there was a policy reversal moving from the mix to dedicated use of Force Account for road maintenance on the DUCAR network. However, the mix was maintained on national roads and Kampala city roads.

The force account scheme is also complemented by road gangs who are road workers constituted into gangs and assigned works as a group. A gang comprises of 10 people to work on 20km, i.e. each worker maintains 2km of a road usually near his/her home. Road gangs have been crucial in executing routine manual maintenance and keeping roads functional and safe through desilting side drains, bush clearing and slashing, and pothole filling among others.

Interventions 

Equipment 

With the support of the Government of Uganda, some designated agencies have complete force account units comprising of a grader, a wheel loader, a roller, 2 dump trucks, and a water bowser that facilitate respective road maintenance works.

To ensure that the force account unit is running unimpeded, the Fund has been allocating over UGX24bn annually towards Mechanical Imprest for maintenance (repair and servicing) of district, municipality, and town council equipment.

Special Interventions 

a. Town Council Project 

The Fund has financed extended periodic maintenance by tarmacking 1.0km of main streets of Town councils in a bid to improve user comfort through the reduction of dust and safety in urban centres. The intervention was aimed at curbing long-term costs of maintenance and also stimulate local town council economies. A total of 46km in 41 town councils have been covered at UGX 20bn. 

b. Bridges on DUCAR

The Fund has financed maintenance of bridges on national and DUCAR network to ensure uninterrupted connectivity all year round. Over 300 bridges have been maintained and rehabilitated on both networks.  

c. Emergency interventions on the DUCAR Network 

To ensure all-year-round connectivity, a total of UGX3bn was allocated annually to cover emergency interventions and bottleneck removal on the DUCAR network to address the most serious proven disruptions to the road network connectivity.

d. Community Self-help project 

The Fund in its 6th year started promoting the “Bulungi Bwansi approach”, a community approach for the maintenance of community access roads. The approach involved road users in these communities and rallying them to perform specific routine manual maintenance activities on their community roads. The Road Fund support would complement the community’s efforts through technical assistance. 

e. Axle Load Control and Enforcement

In a bid to ensure asset preservation, every financial year UGX13bn is spent on Axle load control and enforcement under UNRA to facilitate operations and maintenance of 8 fixed and 4 mobile weighbridges. 

f. Ferry Operations 

The Fund has been financing operations and infrastructure improvements of nine (9) ferry crossings. Ferries link communities that are surrounded by water bodies as well as shortening journey times that would be the case if a user was to travel by road. A total of UGX12bn is allocated annually to UNRA to facilitate the operations of these ferries.

g. Road Safety 

Road safety has been an impediment to the Fund’s efforts of ensuring safe roads in the country. To that end, the Fund has continued facilitating road safety activities on both national and Kampala city roads with over UGX15bn annually. The activities include street lighting, road signage, marking of roads, demarcation of road reserves, protection of road reserves on national roads, and signalization of junctions and maintenance.

h. Green roads

The fund is financing the green roads projected implemented by UNRA through tree planting especially on national highways. The Fund has financed a tree bank with UGX1.5bn every financial year to facilitate the planting of 10 million trees by the year 2020.  

i. Research 

Every financial year, the Fund finances research on low-cost seals technology. This technology is an alternative to the expensive asphalt used to pave roads. UGX100bn has been spent for the last 10 years on national, districts and urban roads. 

j. Technical Service Units

The Fund has financed Technical Service Units in the northern region in a bid to strengthening agency technical and financial management capacity. The project was piloted in five agencies of Lira, Apac, Nebbi, and Arua districts and Lira Municipal Council.

Accountability for road maintenance Funds 

In a bid to hold agencies accountable, the Fund monitors and evaluates road maintenance works and activities of agencies as well as undertaking financial and technical review of agencies’ works every quarter or financial year. The Fund has been duty-bound over the years in informing the public about the disbursement and utilization of road maintenance funds. 

Performance Agreements: Every financial year the Fund signs performance agreements with its designated agencies. These agreements are a statement of intent on the part of URF and its designated agencies providing terms and conditions for financing annual road maintenance programmes for agencies. The agreements were set out to provide mutual understanding of the obligations and expectations between URF and its agencies as well as defining the performance deliverables of which the agencies will be held accountable in the financial year.

District Roads Committees: The road committees provide an oversight function over the road maintenance funds. These committees have been operationalized in all districts across the country. The committees have been pivotal in prioritization and quality of work through their participatory approach.

Road User Satisfaction Survey: The survey has also been utilized as an accountability tool to understand road user experience.The Fund has undertaken two Road User Satisfaction Surveys (RUSS) that serve to provide information that enables road agencies and other key stakeholders to understand the level of customer satisfaction among road users. These have provided an opportunity for road users to give feedback to road agencies on the quality of road services and infrastructure. This information guides road agencies and other planners to try and ensure that road interventions address the actual needs of road users.

Challenges 

Over the last 10 years, the budget has significantly grown from UGX110bn to UGX470bn a year. The Fund to be able to finance adequately all maintenance needs of agencies, it requires over UGX 800bn every financial year. These funds are meant to be on the URF fund account rather than the quarterly disbursements from the consolidated fund. The Fund is not operating as a second-generation Fund that collects money and disburses it to its agencies. 

Every year new roads are opened up especially on the DUCAR network and a number of roads are upgraded to tarmac. All this requires maintenance planning so that when roads fall due for maintenance, this is done in time to avoid them from falling due for extensive rehabilitation. The amount of traffic has also increased over the last 10 years, which has caused road deterioration especially on most highways that carry heavy traffic on most regional roads. 

“The impact of inadequate maintenance can be felt almost immediately on the safety of roads and vehicle performance. Left unchecked, minor maintenance problems become more serious backlog issues requiring expensive repairs, including rehabilitation or reconstruction,” says Eng. Dr. Michael Odongo, the Executive Director of the Uganda Road Fund. 

The longer the road takes before being maintained, the more expensive it becomes to restore it. “It’s estimated that repair costs can rise to six times the maintenance cost after three years of neglect and to 18 times after five years of neglect,” adds Eng. Dr. Odongo. 

Also, there are roads that simply collapse. For example, in November 2018, River Mayanja in Wakiso District burst its banks along the Nkoowe-Mmende-Ssanga road cutting off villages and making access to services such as education and health impossible. A similar problem was experienced in Arua District at the Osu bridge along the Ociba-Ombaci road. Such roads need emergency funding yet it can be costly — sometimes wiping out a district’s entire annual budget for road maintenance. 

However, to ensure that some areas are not affected, the work is phased over different quarters. “We had to improvise a temporary pedestrian bridge to enable people access services from one area to another as we complete the works,” explains Eng. Samuel Mwesigwa, the Wakiso District Engineer. 

As URF marks its 10th anniversary, there is a need, to have a balance in road development and maintenance to protect the huge investments made in the road infrastructure sector. 

Key statistics 

  • National roads maintained by UNRA – 20,500km
  • City roads maintained by KCCA – 2,110km
  • Roads maintained by 134 Local Government Districts – 30,000km
  • Roads maintained by 41 Municipalities – 3,800km 
  • Roads maintained by 227 Town Councils – 7,700km
  • Amount of money disbursed in the last 10 years – UGX3 trillion
  • Total number of roads in Uganda – 140,000km
  • Total Annual average number of kilometres maintained – 80,000km
  • Average annual national road maintenance budget – UGX542bn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.