The award of billions in road projects to blacklisted Chinese firm Chongqing International Construction Corporation (CICO) has put the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) in the spotlight.
Awarded in September 2020, the projects include the upgrading of the 16km Kira-Matugga Road.
Expected to consume just over Shs200bn ($54m), the road will have segregated pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
CICO will also undertake works on the 11 km Najjanankumbi-Busabala Road at a cost of about Shs260bn (about $70m).
The condemned Chinese firm will also spend about Shs36bn (about $10m) to rehabilitate a 7.3 km road stretch in Masak city.
Top engineers and construction companies are now up in arms with Unra and CICO over the juicy project deals awarded to the Chinese firm that the African Development Bank (AfDB) blacklisted years ago over lack of integrity.
Whistleblowers have already interested Parliament in investigating possible connivance between top Unra officials and CICO bosses to defraud government of billions in inflated costs for the projects under government’s National Road Development and Maintenance Program (NRDMP).
They also want Kagina questioned on whether the contracts for these road projects went to yet another Chinese firm instead of a local company.
With Chinese firms bagging over 70 per cent of road deals in recent years, government has been under pressure to offer local companies incentives to build capacity and take on huge construction works.
Whistleblowers want MPs to task Unra executive director Allen Kagina to explain why she chose a firm that was blacklisted three years ago.
In August 2017, AfDB knocked Chongqing International Construction Corporation (CICO) off the list of firms it would award construction projects.
AfDB’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption’s probe found CICO guilty of engagement in “a fraudulent practice in bidding for works contracts in the context of an AfDB-financed road project in Uganda.”
Findings from the investigation indicated that “in order to meet the pre-qualification requirements of the tenders, CICO inflated its purported experience with similar projects, grossly overstating both the scope and the value of contracts it had supposedly successfully completed in the past.”
According to the AfDB, in 2013, while CICO participated in tenders for works contracts under the AfDB-financed Road Sector Support Project in Uganda, it lied about the value of the works it had handled.
“In order to prequalify for the tenders, CICO was required to show that it had successfully completed at least four similar projects in the previous five years,” noted AfDB in a statement.
“In pursuance of this objective, CICO inflated the scope and the value of its reference contracts.”
For example, AfDB explained, a contract for a road of 4.4 kilometers was falsely presented as having been 68 kilometers in length.
In another instance, the bank went on, the value of a reference contract was erroneously inflated from just about US$17.5 million to approximately US$79 million dollars in order to meet the prequalification criteria.
“It is the duty of the African Development Bank to ensure that the funds it receives from donors are used exclusively to further the socio-economic development of the institution’s regional member countries,” Bubacarr Sankareh, acting Director of the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption, said at the time of the debarment.
“CICO will therefore remain debarred until the Bank is assured that it is not putting funds at risk by doing business with this company.”