What the road sector needs to improve maintenance

It is not uncommon across the country to find a Boda Boda rider dragging iron bars and other such sharp objects on the road or somebody who stops along the main road and empties garbage in the drainage channels. 

Road maintenance in Uganda isn’t facing only funding challenges. Bad road use damages roads and increase the cost of maintenance. However, there are other challenges as well.

Gravel, a key component of road maintenance, which used to be freely available in the past within the road reserves is now sold at premium rates in almost all districts across the country. 

“We have to compete with contractors for national roads for gravel and other construction businesses,” says Mugisha, the Mukono District Engineer. “This limits us from making gravel roads which are better than just grading,” he adds. 

Besides gravel, in Kabale and Masaka, there are no stone quarries. “We have to buy stone chippings from Kakiri in Wakiso District or Mbalala in Mukono District. The transport costs are so much,” says Abel Ssembajjwe, the Senior Assistant Engineering Officer of Masaka Municipality. It is the same for Kabale. 

Some districts and municipalities have basic equipment for road maintenance while others don’t have yet they must use the force account system which means that road maintenance is not outsourced to contractors. 

However, districts and municipalities even those that have equipment all lack bulldozers and excavators and low bed trucks needed in transporting equipment. In case they need such heavy equipment, they have to order them from the regional workshops. “The regional workshops cater for many districts and it is almost practically impossible to get the equipment due to their busy schedules.” Says Turinawe Bagamuhunda, the Kabale District Engineer. 

Many officers in designated agencies echo his views. “You have to write to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works for authorization to use the equipment. The process is very cumbersome. And if you are lucky to find them, you need money to transport the equipment,” adds Olal Andrew Obong, the Gulu District Engineer.

“There is a need to introduce new regional workshops so that they cater for a smaller number of districts,” advises Alex Tumwesigye, the Kabale Municipal Engineer. 

Districts and municipalities also face supervision and operational challenges. A lot of such designated agencies have no vehicles for supervision of road maintenance. “We have poorly remunerated staff. A grader operator earns about Shs12,000 per a day but when they go to work with private sector construction companies, they are paid between Shs150,000 and Shs180,000 per a day for heavy equipment and Shs100,000 for light equipment like rollers,” Obong observes. “Once an operator leaves, sometimes you end up with a turn boy becoming an operator. There is a need for routine refresher courses for these operators,” Mugisha adds.  

The creation of new districts has led to many challenges such as determining which road or bridge to work on where the works are to be shared by two districts. For instance, the Oluo Bridge on Enyau River along the Katrini-Kijomoro Road needs to be replaced yet the Enyau River forms the border of Arua and Maracha districts. It is not clear which district is responsible for it. Arua may want to work on it yet Maracha doesn’t consider it a priority. This means that the two districts can’t come together to fix it. 

In fact, it is very common to find a very good road that simply turns into a bad one at the border of a district because one district hasn’t made that particular road a priority. 

“The Ministry of Water and Environment has a forum for district officers to share ideas and learn from each other. There is need for the Uganda Road Fund to create a similar platform so that designated agencies can meet and agree on how to solve such problems,” says Tariyo William Talyor Odaa, the acting Arua District Engineer. 

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