Eng. Willie Swanepoel, the Contract Operations Manager, Roko Construction Company has promised to hand over Mbarara Central Market construction works on October 9, 2020 (Independence Day).
The contractor’s commitment comes after the Minister of Local Government, Hon. Raphael Magezi, on July 4 this year ordered the contractor to write to his ministry explaining the delays in completion of the project.
This website earlier reported that the projected completion date for Mbarara city market had been extended by close to a year beyond the February 2020 contractual commitment.
Magezi issued the directive following a July 4 inspection of the facility whose progress left him underwhelmed.
“I want the contractor to write me a letter of commitment for completion indicating the exact date of completion not later than one week from now since the market has gone beyond its contractual period,” Magyezi said.
The project is one of the presidential pledges under the Markets and Agriculture Trade Improvement Project (MATIP) meant to alleviate poverty and improvement of agricultural trade.
Emmanuel Mwebaze, a former engineer with the ministry for Local government, revealed that construction of the state of art market was due for completion early this year.
“The construction works commenced on February 14, 2018 and the market project was to be handed over within a period of 24 months, with a defect liability period of one year,” he said.
Mbarara City Town Clerk Theophilus Tibihika confirmed that the contractor has twice requested for the contract extension after failing to deliver on time.
“Previously we had had an extension up to May, but the lockdown was announced unexpectedly in March and delayed progress of construction works. As of now there is even an extension beyond May,” Tibihika said.
However, Minister Magyezi rubbished reference to the COVID-19 lockdown as an excuse, noting that government had allowed construction sites to continue working during the pandemic.
Rather, he attributed the delay to inadequate labour on site.
“I have realized that the work load is bigger than the number of workers here. Why is that? As a contractor, government paid you in full, and you have no excuse for not completing our market in time,” Magyezi fumed.
He directed the contractor to write a letter of commitment to complete works soon or risk having the contract terminated.
“After giving us a letter of commitment for completion, if we find out that nothing has changed, you will be penalized,” the minister warned.
New Independence deadline
Richard Mugisha, the Deputy Town Clerk, Mbarara City, confirmed, in an interview with theCooperator ,that on Friday, July 17, a site meeting was held by the city leadership and its technocrats with the contractor to discuss how to expedite completion of the market.
“The contractor requested for up to 9th October this year, and we agreed tentatively because the reasons he advanced seemed genuine,” Mugisha explained, although he could not confirm whether the contractor had as yet communicated this new commitment to the minister as directed.
Meanwhile, Donozio Kibanda, the Secretary for Publicity, Mbarara central market, expressed his frustration at the construction delays.
“Delays in completion of this market have greatly affected our businesses because the conditions are not good at the new place we relocated to. We pray that this market be completed as soon as possible.”
While Swanepoel insists on attributing the delay to COVID-19, he pledged that the project would be completed soon.
“Now that the situation has started to normalize we believe we shall overcome the wasted time and finish up in time,” he said.
The contractor also promised to deliver quality work on the project.
“We are going to construct a standard, world quality market that will go more than 20 years before we need any renovations,” Swanepoel said.
The project’s delay has divided opinions among the city’s technocrats.
Muzamir Ssekajja, the Secretary for Works and Technical Services at Mbarara City expressed disappointment with Roko Construction Company.
“The market is very much behind schedule. This is because, during the lockdown, the contractor abandoned the site, and has just resumed works. He [the contractor] is very lazy and this has delayed traders’ ability to reoccupy their market,” said Ssekajja.
However, Mbarara deputy Town Clerk, Richard Mugisha, was more sanguine in his assessment of the contractor’s performance.
“Actually, to me, one may not fault the contractor because some of the previous delays were caused by stakeholders who demanded a number of modifications. Also, he could not proceed amidst COVID-19 given the uncertainty around the disease that made it difficult to insure any staff who may have remained on site,” Mugisha said.
He called for the contractor to be given the benefit of the doubt.
“Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and be confident that they are going to do some good work for us. At least all who have visited the construction site, including the vendors, do not question the quality of work being done,” he said.