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Minister issues deadline on Entebbe airport works

The works and transport ministry has given the Civil Aviation Authority two months to employ a consulting engineer for the Entebbe International Airport upgrade in a bid to end the controversies surrounding the Shs3 trillion project.

In an interview with The Observer yesterday, works minister Monica Azuba Ntege said the ministry had reached the decision after consultations with the Office of the Attorney General and other stakeholders.

“We gave [CAA] the guidelines and told them that within a month or two, they should have a consultant,” she said. “We have consulted with the Attorney General and there is nothing illegal about the procurement that is going on.”

The minister’s revelations come barely a month after the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) wrote a July 22, 2016 letter to the works ministry terminating efforts to hire consultancy services for the design, review and construction supervision of the Entebbe Airport works.

Entebbe Airport

PPDA’s decision to cancel the bidding process came after some of the companies that had expressed interest in supervising the works started a protracted battle to challenge the evaluation committee’s choice of winner.

Yesterday, CAA Spokesperson Ignie Igundura confirmed that they had received the works ministry’s instructions.

“We should be getting a supervising consultant, as you were told, within the next two months or less,” Igundura told us by phone.

Asked where the ministry’s instructions leave the earlier orders from PPDA, Igundura said, “Termination is termination. We terminated the procurement.”

According to Igundura, CAA will start a fresh search for a consulting engineer that is likely to rope in experts from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global supervisor of the airlines sector.

“They (ICAO) have a technical bureau which has a list of globally certified and respected experts in all these areas and member states are free to seek technical advice from that bureau. So we may have to take this route,” he said.

COST OF DELAYS

The latest attempt to shore up the loopholes derailing the Entebbe airport upgrade comes on the heels of a warning by Finance Minister Matia Kasaija that the controversies clouding the project could cost Uganda several more billions of shillings in legal and financial costs.

In a June 15, 2016 letter to the minister of works and transport, Kasaija wondered why CAA had not yet engaged the services of a consulting engineer to guide the contractor’s works, even after the contractor was on the site ready to start works.

“This is therefore to request you to intervene and re- focus the implementation of this project in order to avoid any legal and financial costs that may arise from the unnecessary delays,” wrote Kasaija. “I will be glad to receive an update on the steps taken to address these challenges.”

Other correspondences between different government officials, copies of which The Observer has obtained, indicate that concerns over the delayed start of the Entebbe Airport works have been around for a while.

On May 16, 2016, the acting Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury, Lawrence Kiiza, wrote to the Managing Director of CAA, Rama Makuza, wondering why no work had started nearly a year after Parliament secured financing for the project from China’s Exim Bank.

Kiiza, who is the director for economic affairs at the finance ministry, also noted that the contractor, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had been at the site for close to a year without doing any work.

“It has come to my attention that no progress has been made in implementing the project owing to the failure by Civil Aviation Authority to approve the preliminary designs that were submitted by the contractor for the works and also engage the supervising consultant. This is not acceptable and you should endeavour to fast track activities of this project immediately,” he wrote.

In his letter that was also copied to the works minister and his permanent secretary, Kizza asked CAA to “prioritise the implementation of this project in order to avoid any legal and financial costs that may arise from these unnecessary delays.” He also gave the authority a deadline of end of May within which they should have updated the finance ministry on the progress made.

However, going by Kasaija’s June 15, 2016 letter, CAA officials did not make any efforts to provide the finance ministry with an update, as initially requested by Kizza. This prompted Kasaija to write to their supervisors, the works ministry, to complain about the apathy at CAA.

The finance minister’s letter was copied to President Museveni, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, the permanent secretary in the ministry of works and transport, Alex Bwangamoi Okello, and the CAA managing director.

Kasaija also complained that the finance ministry had received information that even the preliminary designs that the Chinese contractor had made had not yet been approved by CAA due to lack of a consultant.

BIDDERS’ COMPLAINTS

The delay to procure a supervisor for the project resulted from a complaint raised by one of five bidding companies, Hill International, which said it was not satisfied with the results of the technical evaluation.

In a letter dated May 25, 2016, the Senior Vice President and Africa Regional Manager for Hill International, Waleed Abdel Fattah, cast doubts on the evaluation committee’s assessment of their bid.

The committee said Hill International, which is from the Netherlands, scored 52.1 per cent, below the minimum requirement of 70 per cent. However, Fattah said they were “completely surprised and appalled by the low score,” which he claimed was “not at all representative of the depth of our submitted technical bid document.”

“We can vouch that Hill International, with the pedigree as one of the top three project management companies in the world and having undertaken top Airport projects in more than 30 countries, have fulfilled and ticked all the evaluation criteria inputs and submitted a full list of technical personnel with vast experience with a minimum of 15 years experience and some over 40 years’ experience,” he added.

In response to complaint, CAA appointed an administrative review team led by the chief civil engineer, Geoffrey Wanyana, on June 6 to consider Hill International’s application for an administrative review of their bid.

The team produced a report on June 17, which urged the CAA boss to drop the complaint by Hill International because “there were various inconsistencies submitted and omissions made by Hill International that needed to be addressed before any consideration for bid re-evaluation is done.”

With a second bidder, Airport Consulting Partners, petitioning PPDA for an administrative review of the deal due to mistakes apparently committed by CAA during the bidding process, the authority threw a spanner in the works by terminating the process altogether. The works ministry is now attempting to resuscitate the project with her new instructions.

hobenon@gmail.com

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