Construction of Kabaale Airport stalls as minister says contractor misused money

HOIMA-The construction of Kabaale International Airport in the oil-rich Kabaale Sub-county, Hoima district has stalled due to the unavailability of funds to construct facilities such as the fixed air traffic control tower.

The construction works for the airport kicked off in April 2018 after government acquired a loan of US$ 309 million [about Shs 1.1 trillion] from Standard Chartered Bank and UK Export Finance for the first phase of the project.

SBC Uganda Limited, a joint venture of SBI International Holdings AG and Colas UK is the implementer of the project, even though there are accusations that the company did not put all the money received to good use.

The project is currently at 87 percent progress and is soon expected to receive the shipped-in equipment for the construction of different oil projects.

The contractor was expected to hand over the project in February 2023 but this dream might not be achieved.

According to reliable sources, the financial resources for the project got used up as prices of different commodities such as fuel and other construction materials such as iron bars, cement, and sand among others shot up.

Following the shortfall in the finances, the contractors applied for more funding from government to see that they can complete the project.

However, recently the Ministry of Works and Transport [MoW&T] declared that the government has no money to continue with the rest of the project.

Fred Kayima, a senior engineer in MoW&T said the contractor submitted an application for further funding but the government has no money to construct the fixed air traffic control tower and other structures which include the 15 housing units for the airport Staff, fuel firm, and turn pads.

Kayima noted that government would now opt for a mobile tower as it looks for more resources. He said the airport will be completed in phases.

When contacted for a comment, Amos Murisa SBC, public relations officer said the matter was above him but said company would go with whatever the government will instruct them to do.

However, experts in the Ministry of Works and Transport said that an airport cannot called an international airport without a fixed air traffic control tower. “An airport without an air traffic control tower is like an unmanned airport, a pilot can decide to land on it or not,” said an expert who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity.

The Hoima district resident commissioner, Emmy Katera Turybagyenyi said the remaining part [construction of the air traffic control tower is more important than the completed works, arguing that Kaabale airport cannot be called an international airport with a fixed air traffic control tower.

However, he claimed that some selfish individuals in MoW & T want the contractor to hand over the uncompleted project so that they can get another contractor to give them kickbacks.

MP Pius Wakabi Rujumba, the Bugahya County Member of Parliament wondered how government could fail to fund such an important project, adding that the issue is a matter of national concern and promised to present it before Parliament for intervention.

When contacted, the Minister of State for Works and Transport, Fred Byamukama confirmed that the airport would be using a mobile air traffic control tower in the initial stages of operation, confirming that government does not have money right now to build a fixed one, which he said is expensive.

He said some investors want to use the airport by June next year, necessitating the use of mobile air control towers.

“We need to have the first aircraft on this airport in June next year to bring the machines for the oil development. We can use mobile control towers, and therefore we need the contractor to hand over the project next year. The air traffic control tower and housing units will be constructed in second phase when will ready to receive passengers” he said.

Alleged mismanagement of funds

He blamed the contractor for mismanaging the project funds, adding that the money which was given to the contractor was enough to complete it.

“They keep on complaining about variation in prices, Covid-19, but the money we gave them was enough for this project. They finished it without completing the project, there is no value for money. During the bidding processes, we considered the issue price variations,” he said.

He also said there are some selfish elements in the ministry pushing for Euro 40 million loan purportedly to complete the project. He did not talk much about this matter.

When completed Kabaale International Airport is expected to be Uganda’s second international airport besides Entebbe International Airport.

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