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Why Roko Failed to Complete Construction of Mbarara Central Market

MBARARA – The construction of Mbarara Central Market by Roko Construction Company has stalled since 2018.

The construction of this regional market situated in the heart of Mbarara City started in February 2018 among other central and auxiliary markets in Busia, Masaka, Kasese, Arua, Soroti, Moroto, Tororo, Kitgum and Lugazi.

Most of these markets are now complete and commissioned for use while Mbarara Central Market has stalled for almost 3 years.

The project is among the presidential pledges under the Markets and Agriculture Trade Improvement Project (MATIP) funded by USD 84.2M (about Shs 284b) loan sourced from the African Development Bank (ADB) and USD 9.52M (about Shs 32b) contributed by the government meant to alleviate poverty and improvement of agricultural trade.

Mbarara central market was contracted to Roko Construction Company at a contract sum of Shs 21,111,929,638 and construction was supposed to be complete by October 9, 2020.

Three years down the road, the market is still incomplete leaving vendors uncertain when they will occupy their original premises.

In response, Eng. Stuart Kasibante, Roko’s Project Manager told theCooperator that the delays were caused by three distinct reasons which include; change of design, regional blocks and Covid-19.

“A lot of things were changed to suit the customized requirements of the stakeholders. That shouldn’t have taken forever for us to resolve but as we were resolving that, then Covid-19 came and that stoppage of time has taken about 18 months.”

He adds that the company got a knock-on regional block which affected Roko’s financial muscle for several months in its operations.

“We had activities running in Rwanda and South Sudan but now a lot of policy shifts happened in the republic of Rwanda as well as the instabilities in Southern Sudan which gave us a lot of financial knocks. These also happen to coincide with the Lubowa project and in combination of this, Roko lost a lot of money that didn’t get help with the emergence of Covid-19,” Kasibante explained.

He also blamed the government on cash flow delays which equally affected the contract period for 6 months.

“When we started in 2018, our pace was to deliver the market in just 15 months but we have suffered a lot of internal challenges which are also hitting other local contractors both big and intermediate,” Kasibante said.

The company was demanding the government to finance the gap totaling to Shs 2.2billion equivalent to the certified works in phase three.

“We had financial setbacks and we are requesting for a boost from our client. For example, with this particular payment, the contractor received it on Tuesday last week whereas the application for payment was made quite substantially a little while ago,” says Kasibante.

“And you realise that when a lot of money is held within the system, certainly it affects your cash flows and we are in a situation where every entity has been affected by Covid-19,” he adds.

Kasibante says the cost of doing business for local contractors in Uganda is high and is requesting the government to take a keen look and consider supporting home ground entities like Roko.

“The bank line in Uganda is a little bit longer and if projects are to be helped, this has to be given considerable attention. Like processing a guarantee from our commercial banks here took several months yet all details and requirements were submitted but it is still too prohibitive for any local contractor to operate,” Kasibante emphasized.

He says Roko was lucky enough to have some little financial muscle to absorb some of these challenges thus guaranteeing vendors to hand over the market come 29th September 2021.

“All these issues have been resolved and we are now in better state because with Covid-19, we now have substantial open ups that can accommodate works, the payment for the previous works completed, a lot of activities are ongoing and materials have arrived. So to my brothers and sisters in the market community, in terms of progress and delivery of the market, we hope in 60 days from now we should be able to hand over to you this market,” Kasibante promised.

However, Emmanuel Mwebaze, the site supervisor confirmed that Roko failed on a contract condition of performing guarantee of Shs 2.1billion in 2020 which delayed them from getting phased payment in time.

“The contractor failed to furnish us with a renewed performance guarantee that curtailed the cash flow hence they lacked resources to work continuously because we could not pay without an active guarantee,” says Mwebaze.

Regarding the souring market saga, numerous contract extensions sparked off bitter exchanges between politicians, technocrats and the contractor while vendors called for contract termination as Roko failed to finish in time.

Vendors also threatened to demonstrate which forced a number of government officials including the ministers in charge of local government to intervene occasionally.

Like on 9th July, 2020, the Minister for Local Government, Hon. Raphael Magyezi ultimately ordered for a commitment from Roko Construction Company towards completion of works within weeks’ time.

Magezi had attributed the delays to slow works caused by a few workers on site.

On 13th April, 2021, State Minister for Local Government, Jennifer Namuyangu also visited the market facility. She was equally disappointed with the contractor’s delays to hand over the market to the vendors for effective utilization.

And last week on Wednesday, the newly appointed State Minister for Local Government Victorias Busingye also travelled to Mbarara to check on work at the central market.

Busingye confirmed that the previous directives never caused any positivity to the market completion.

The State Minister was furious at the company manager who was boasting that Roko has a number of sites including the ongoing expansion of the parliamentary chambers.

“We are annoyed because you can’t tell me the market is getting finished within two months when the roofing is not yet started and with the small number of workers you have on site,” she bitterly replied.

“Why do you take on all those contracts when you don’t have the financial muscle? Why should we allow people to get more than one contract? We are going to sanction and charge the contractor and if that is not the position agreed on then we’ve started the process of terminating the contract,” Busingye added.

She says Masaka is also grappling with similar contract challenges over the completion of the city market as well.

“When I was in Masaka, we agreed with the contractor to finish pieces of work for every given period,” says Busingye.

Way forward

Basing on project delays, the state minister advised the government to revise the contract agreements in order to check on contractors who play around with government facilities.

“What I am going to carry on to the ministry of local government is revision of contract agreements. Let’s revise contracts such that if someone fails to work, then we confiscate his property because we would be going to foot an expense of contracting another contractor,” says Busingye.

“Technocrats design a change that pins such contractors. I expect that revision to be made and submitted and we table it to cabinet and it adapts it. People should stop dilly darling around the money the government is sweating for to uplift the standards of our local people,” She adds.

Muhammad Nyombi, the Chairperson, Mbarara Central Market Vendors Association appealed to the government to amend the 1942 Markets Act allowing vendors to do business according to the current standards.

“We are still operating under the backward laws on markets which need to be amended. Like now modern markets have been constructed which allow us to operate past mid-night but the old version of the market act orders us to close at 7pm,” says Nyombi.

However, in response, Minister Busingye confirmed that the issue of the market policies is already being worked on in parliament.

“I want to assure you that the Markets’ Act is being reviewed and it’s at the level of a bill to be considered by parliament, so any time the results will be out,” says the state minister.

Busingye adds that she is determined to team up with the president and other government officials to fight corruption.

“Corruption is not going to be fought by only politicians. Technocrats, residents, the ministry and the auditors we all have to fight corruption and erase it out of Uganda. So, fighting corruption should be on everybody’s menu because when things go wrong it’s our people to lose. So don’t allow the  government to be soiled because of our own weaknesses,” she explained.

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