KALANGALA: In 2011, at the height of the quest of a better transport network between the Ssese Islands Archipelago and the mainland, Islanders who are said to be the residents of beauty started an enhanced quest for Maritime transport.
The quest saw leaders such as then Bujumba County Member of Parliament Fred Badda, elder, James Kibuuka Mulowooza and others plead with government for a comprehensive plan to develop infrastructure in the Ssese Islands.
At the time, government was also engaging a local company, Kalangala Infrastructure Services Limited, which had partners such as Infraco – UK, Eleqtra Africa Nedbank, amongst other companies ready to invest up to Ugx 128 billion (About USD 50 million) to invest in a hybrid project that could offer the upgrade of Kalangala’s main 66 kilometer road from Mulabana to Luku landing site in Mugoye, provide reliable power, clean and safe water and the purchase of two major Marine Vessels, MV Ssese and MV Pearl that would replace MV Bukakata which was at the Verge of collapse.
Government, through then Minister of Works and Transport Abraham Byandaala and the State Minister, John Byabagambi endorsed a deal where Kalangala Infrastructure Services would provide two ferries that would ply the Entebbe – Kalangala route.
The development also saw the company (KIS Ltd) sign a deal with GoU to provide the two ferries.
Under the initial agreement, the company was licensed to offer ferry services to the people of Kalangala, for which ferries would be paid for until they would turn to Zero Value for 15 years.
Also the People of Kalangala would pay for Ugx 6,500 each to access the service, while the free MV Bukakata that was taking people and cargo freely between Bugala Island and the mainland through Masaka is taken away.
Island leaders, led by then area MP Fred Badda, District Chairperson Willy Lugoloobi and RDC Deo Kayiwa Nsereko refused the argument on grounds that the people in the island District who pay taxes were deprived by not getting a free service, government ought to have provided free road services, with clear access as mandated by law.
“The Kalangala – Masaka route is our main road. Nowhere in this country do people pay for roads save for the alternative routes and the Express ways,” then RDC Deo Kayiwa Nsereko argued.
A meeting between the Company (KIS Ltd), the President, Vice President then (Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi), Attorney General then (Peter Nyombi – RIP), Works State Minister then (John Byabagambi) and island leader led by the MPs, Carol Nanyondo, Badda Fred and Tim Lwanga was organized.
The President conquered with the Kalangala Island leaders that the people ought to have a main road for which ferries through Bugoma and Bukakata bridged.
Government then committed herself to pay for the people as Kalangala Infrastructure Services provided the service.
The company then embarked on the construction of the two Marine Vessels, starting with MV Pearl that was introduced in August 2012 and in 2013, Kalangala Infrastructure Services launched MV Ssese, both plying the Luku – Bugoma, Bukakata – Masaka route.
Government signed an agreement with the company that would give KIS Ltd up to Ugx 16.8 billion annually to run both ferries.
“However, these ferries do not remain in the hands of government. They remain privately owned by KIS and are expected to be at Zero value at 15 years, something outrageous,” one of the former employees at the ferries told this website.
The annual Ugx 16.8 billion shillings remitted to the company through a quarterly remittance system includes the payment of fuel, money for transportation of people, payment of salaries to ferry staff major overhaul, among other issues. Government also pays for the transportation of the 250 people each route takes.
“Actually, the 250 people must be reflected in the passenger manifest which, in most cases has a less number of people. KIS does not submit such manifests to the relevant authorities for perusal and instead quantifies the ferry crossings to meet the desired Ugx 16.5 billion annually. Sometimes, a payment of Ugx 17.3 billion is done by government according a board paper by the Kalangala Infrastructure Services Limited.” A member of the senior Management at KIS told this website.
Sources privy to this website intimated that since the introduction of the ferries, there has always been infighting between the Ministry of Works officials, UNRA, the Ministry of Finance and that of investment.
At the height of the greatest impasse, in 2016, while responding to a 2015 Audit Query raised by the Auditor General, the Uganda National Roads Authority led by the Executive Director Allen Kagina refused to make payments to Kalangala Infrastructure Services on grounds that they were offered an excess of money that was much more than the budget of the institution.
At the time, UNRA operated 9 ferries whose budget was Ugx 10 billion. However, UNRA also had to implement an agreement where the institution had to pay up to Ugx 14.5 billion for the operation of 2 ferries managed by Kalangala Infrastructure services annually for a period of 15 years.
The failure to pay KIS Ltd by UNRA forced the laying down of tools by the ferry operators on grounds that they are paid by government of Uganda, in honor of the agreement signed between the two entities.
“Their argument was and still is that they provide better services than all other ferries across Lake. They have the shortest distance being covered and yet they are paid six times more of they are supposed to be paid,” says a source at the Uganda National Roads Authority who asked not to be named in 2018.
However, the payment of the ferry services was transferred to the Ministry of Works after the endorsement of then Secretary to the Treasury and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Keith Muhakanizi without amendments in the agreement.
Highly placed sources at the Ministry of Works and Transport and in the Office of the Solicitor General indicate that government entered an agreement more than Ugx 252 billion shillings paid to a company that invested to offer a service to government and yet no asset of those used will remain as that of Government at the end of the concession.
“It actually clearly indicates how different government officials should be held liable and responsible for the loss that government undertook,” wrote part of a report by Eng. Lilian Nakate, a former legislator in the previous parliament. Nakate had been commissioned by Parliament to investigate the KIS Public Private Partnership.
Sources at the Kalangala Infrastructure Services told this website that well as it is illegal, officials at KIS Ltd offered selves’ contracts to supply fuel for the ferry at exorbitant costs while others benefit from the high costs charged by the company to take ferries for total overhaul annual.
Total overhaul is a mandatory service that must be undertaken by each Marine Vessel to ensure passengers and goods being transported are safe. “What we don’t understand is why government does service for vessels that do not even belong to us.” An officer in the Solicitor General’s office says.
Currently, each trip being transported by the operators is charged Ugx 1.2 million without adding costs of operation. The ferries make 28 trips daily, each ferry making 14 trips (7 return journeys).
Kalangala Leaders have since argued that the costs of operating ferries that do not even belong to government is so exorbitant and deters government from offering vessels that ply through the outlying islands of the District. Kalangala is an 84 island archipelago.
However, government offers between Ugx 16 – 17 billion for two ferries which the Island leaders say would be enough money to operate four vessels, plying and interconnecting other islands that have a huge population with enough goods including high fish catches since other ferries and mini ferries use less than 10% of the money offered to KIS annually.
“We are being denied services as other people. Well as we would like ferries to be available for the Masaka route, other outlying islands where we come from must also be interconnected. Taking much more money for just one island doesn’t help our other places grow.” Says Robert Lwanga, the chairperson of Lujaabwa, Mazinga sub county where there isn’t an inter connecting Marine Vessel.
Also, the staffing of the officers at the ferry have on several occasions intimated to this website the inadequacies and disparities in the payment with many people, nationals being paid much less, despite the intense trainings and hard work in scotching conditions. “We fight so hard and earn less, even with much tiring work and those who sleep more earn and dictate solutions for our untiring issues,” a source at the ferry told this website.
The authorities are now proposing a review of the agreement between government of Uganda and the Public Utility entity which they say is depriving other islands from getting the requisite services that are much desired in the area like better outlying island transport.
The issues come at a time when the company wants to increase ferry crossings to also cater for people who move at night to ensure the ferries move during day and during night. “This means an increment of about Ugx 3 billion to the total budget of the ferries which we cannot afford,” says a Ministry of Works official who asked not to be named.
However, several senior staff at the company are blaming the Prof. John Ssenfuma led board that never reigned on several of the workers as they “swindled colossal sums of money from the institution without due diligence.” The board was also blamed for being out of touch with the realities the company is facing at a time when there dire need for realigning the institution.
Speaking at Port bell – Luzira last year, Prof John Ssenfuma told journalists that the institution had enough capacity, with competence to handle all tasks of the institution without fail. “They are all up to the task.” He said.
By Entebbe post