Not only Kampala is messed up. All urban centres in Uganda are also messed up. But who pays the price for this mess? On April 9, following Daily Monitor‘s report titled, “Water body, UNRA in Shs580m wrangle” in Daily Monitor of April 1, I went to National Water and Sewerage Corporation Arua office to see the resident engineer initially over a complaint I had regarding a delayed connection that had been pending for more than two months.
Fortunately, before I could see the engineer, I got to hear a lengthy negotiation with officials of a Chinese contractor that had been awarded the tarmacking of Mvara and Ediofe Cathedral roads. Their discussion was about compensation for damaged water pipes as a result of the on-going roadworks along Mvara Road.
To my surprise, NWSC is not the only company seeking compensation for such damages to utility infrastructure. Another utility company, WENRECo is also seeking compensation of more than Shs 91m from UNRA before they can relocate their electric poles to pave way for road works.
What was even more mind-boggling to me was not the interference with the existing infrastructure and its impact on the project schedule because in Uganda, it’s not unusual to see people damage already existing roads and utility lines. My concern was about who would meet the cost of these damage claims. I realised that as usual, these costs will be passed onto us the taxpayers yet they could have been avoided by having a well planned public utility infrastructure layout framework. I wasn’t sure if the Arua Municipal planners had anticipated road works would in future affect such utility lines and accordingly provided any safeguards to minimise damages arising from such subsequent developments.
It is at that point that I realised how important it is to have a well-planned city or town. Compensation demands by utility companies as a result of poor planning on the side of Arua authorities will not only cost taxpayers. It’s going to affect the health of inhabitants of Arua Town because they will end up drinking contaminated water from damaged pipes. They will further experience unnecessary delays to the project and suffer downtime that will negatively affect their livelihood avenues. Painfully, all this will be without any redress from the authorities.
Further disturbing is, Arua town just like many other towns in Uganda still has structures erected on road reserves with approval of municipal authorities in some cases with owners holding valid occupation permits on which the government has to continue spending taxpayers’ money on compensation whenever a new infrastructural project is undertaken.
How do we explain this? Isn’t there a mafia group minting money from these ventures? With rapid urbanisation taking place in Uganda, how much more shall we lose if nothing is done to correct the anomalies and tap the leaks? Urban planners in emerging trading centres ought to save from taxation utility companies by learning from the resource-depleting experiences of old towns like Arua that were not well planned or had their plans twisted to suit certain individuals.
Since the whole country is a planning area, there should be no utility companies seeking compensation for damages to utility lines damaged as a result of subsequent developments. Also, the public should be educated about urban development laws so as to minimise losses resulting from unplanned investments. Only through such proper urban planning shall we get rid of public resource waste and tap leaks that often cause shortfalls in our national budget.
Mr Oguzu is the founder, West Nile Rural Development Agency. firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE: Daily Monitor