Entebbe International Airport project is value for money, says UCAA amid recycled impropriety claims

October 19 2021

ENTEBBE —Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) has launched an impassioned defence of Entebbe International Airport expansion projects after recycled claims of lack of accountability were once again addressed to various bodies, including the Public Accounts Committee on Commissions and Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises.

UCAA is once again a target of smear campaign with a regurgitated wave of allegations of impropriety by bitter employee Mr. Pascal Jabbe Osinde, whose services were terminated following a court order.

It has now emerged that UCAA may be a victim of it’s own success with strong performance returns, a headache for some specific players who targeted UCAA and the new Director General Fred Bamwesigye in the aftermath of the fallout for the top job.

See full statement below

One of the misrepresented issues is in relation to a mix-up in the projects for relocation of the Karibuni First Class and Business Lounge at Entebbe International Airport, and another for creation of additional offices on the third floor of the passenger terminal building.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Entebbe International Airport was experiencing
steady passenger traffic growth, which often led to congestion, especially at peak time, and this impacted the passenger facilitation process. In an effort to decongest the transit concourse, it was resolved that Jamani Investment Ltd, the proprietor of Karibuni Lounge, should undertake to relocate their facility from the transit concourse area, and were to finance the construction of their Business Lounge facility in another area. They were to recoup their investment through rental fee waivers, a global practice undertaken world over. The Karibuni relocation has not even commenced (as insinuated in various reports) because the process is yet to be concluded.

In addition, the proposed area where the business/first class lounge is to be relocated to is currently occupied with staff offices, which were also agreed to be relocated and constructed on the third floor as an extension to the existing offices. It is on record that structural integrity studies for the passenger terminal building were carried out by two independent Consultants; Techlab Ltd and Sentoogo & Partners. All the two reports concluded a satisfactory structural integrity of the building. The two projects, namely; construction of additional offices on the 3rd floor and relocation of the business/first class lounge to the 2nd floor, are unfortunately being mixed up. There is also no extra floor planned to be added on to the existing Terminal Building as alleged.

The two projects are aimed at reducing on congestion in the Transit Concourse, modernizing the boarding lounges into the current Open Lounge Concept that has improved the passenger facilitation experience, leading to efficient screening of passengers, and providing a conducive environment for passengers. The projects will also ensure that the Terminal Building comfortably accommodates the growing number of
transit passengers following the coming on board of the National Airline. The spacious area currently occupied by the Karibuni Lounge would thereafter be reconfigured to become a comfortable waiting area for transit passengers waiting for long hours, thereby making Entebbe more competitive in terms of passenger facilitation.

The Open Lounge Concept has already been implemented leading to more space for social distancing within the terminal. It came in handy to address implementation of COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedure requirements, and has not only improved the ambience of the area, but also been highly appreciated by many stakeholders.

The construction of additional offices on the third floor was subjected to a competitive domestic public tender and the best evaluated bidder was Seyani Brothers & Co (U) Ltd. at a contract price of 10,460,210,156/=. The current implementation progress is at 62%. This is contrary to the unfounded allegation claiming that the project is to cost USD 5 million.
It is important to note that the UCAA Board of Directors were duly informed about the project, appreciated its rationale and gave it a go ahead to proceed in separate meetings held on June 18, 2019 and July 30, 2020. The Ministry of Works and Transport also cleared the project to proceed.

In relation to land allegations, it ought to be clarified that there were claims by a cultural group, Mmamba Kakoboza Ssiga Lya Mugula on UCAA land at Entebbe International Airport. Earlier on, Government allocated Plot M121 located near the airport and measuring 132 Hectares/362.17 acres to UCAA for expansion of aviation facilities. On November 22, 2001, Uganda Land Commission approved the lease that led to conferment of title to UCAA in October 2003 for a lease period of 99 years. The land was previously used by Ministry of Agriculture, Animal
Industry and Fisheries, and it comprises the site for the current Entebbe Airport Expansion Project.

The cultural group sought to reclaim a significant portion of the land arguing that they had customary interest. They asserted that during the construction of the Airport, the colonial regime compulsorily took over the said land without compensating them. They filed a High Court Civil Suit No. 595 of 2016 over alleged deprivation of land by the UCAA and the Uganda Land Commission (ULC). In January 2017, the Plaintiff withdrew the first suit and filed Civil Suit No. 033 of 2017, claiming customary ownership of part of the land measuring 68.113 acres of land that was allocated to the Authority. UCAA has made use of all possible avenues to ensure that physical possession of the land is not compromised. When senior officials were summoned to the Land Commission of inquiry on allegation of unlawful acquisition and eviction of the purported owners of the land, the Authority wrote to the Uganda Land Commission in February 2019 notifying them of the civil suit and requested them to
handle the claimants’ matter. UCAA was allocated land by Uganda Land Commission so there is no way that UCAA would compensate/pay any body for land vested to her by another Agency. In any case, UCAA does not have capacity to pay the 450 billion shillings mentioned in the wild allegation, given the current responsibilities for safety, security and now COVID-19 compliance in aviation.
The bulk of the Authority’s land at Regional Airports is secure following an exercise undertaken for boundary opening and cadastral surveys. While there are some challenges in Lira, most of the land elsewhere is fenced. Local authorities in Lira encroached on Lira Airfield land prior to 2005. In the recent past, the District Authority graded a road in close proximity to the runway, which the Authority stopped in liaison with the Resident District Commissioner. In
collaboration with local leaders in Lira, UCAA agreed to relocate the facility to a new site at Anai, in Erute county where land was earmarked by Government for an airport development for Lango sub-region. The current site was to be used for construction of a modern stadium in Lira town, now City. The current Lira Aerodrome is only 1200 meters long and 30 meters wide,
which is so limited to the extent that only light aircraft are allowed to operate. There are obstructions, including high rise buildings on either approach to the runway.

The proposed alternative land at Anai stretches over 4 kilometers and has a width of about 1 Kilometer, which is ideal for airport developments. We are, however, still owning Lira Airfield in its current state until it is decommissioned for other land use.

In line with Government’s plan to upgrade aerodromes at Kasese, Gulu, Arua and Tororo, UCAA undertook some studies that revealed need for additional land to be acquired for the developments. The Authority hired survey consultants who worked with local authorities and the Chief Government Valuer to determine compensation packages, and the compensations were effected. 100% of affected persons were compensated in Gulu, and 99% in Kasese where one person objected to the values. A section of the compensated people came up after 7 years and claimed that the values were low. The Chief Government valuer declined to review the already effected compensations and the matter is in the High Court in Fort portal. In Arua, 97% were compensated and in Tororo, compensation is approximately 98% complete.

At Arua and Tororo aerodromes, the few pending cases are being reviewed and once finalized, the Government will be advised to effect payments. The reviews involve multiple stakeholders, such as the Chief Government Valuer, Administrator General, Local leaders and other land management authorities.

In relation to land allocations, the Authority follows prescribed procedures and policy to allocate land to aviation related government service providers and private sector actors on a concessionary arrangement. Such allocations, include land allocated to Uganda Peoples Defense Air Force at Soroti for establishment of a military Airbase, land to Uganda Police Air wing (UPF) for the establishment of a maintenance hangar for their fleet of helicopters at Jinja Aerodrome, and land to Vine Air, a flying academy at Jinja Aerodrome for establishment of a training facility.

There was also a temporally allocation of land to Dalbit to set up aviation fuel depots at Gulu and Arua during the time the World Food Program was airlifting humanitarian supplies to South Sudan.

Government also entered into a memorandum of understanding with
BASE 7 International who are still going through the certification process for setting up an Aviation Training organization and Aircraft Maintenance facility at Mbarara Aerodrome. It needs to be clarified that land allocation is aimed at carrying out aviation related activities in a complimentary manner.

In relation to the project for the upgrade and expansion of Entebbe International Airport, the Government of Uganda secured funds from the Exim Bank of China for work to be undertaken by China Communication Construction Company. Government split the loan into 2 phases, with the 1st phase totaling 200 million US Dollars. The Government took a deliberate decision to split the loan due to limitations of absorption and redundancy, which
would accrue unnecessary interest.

During the phasing, the team took a critical look at the components of the project to fit within the available funds for the first phase. As a result, the freighter house, which provides office space for clearing and forwarding agents, could not fit within the available United States Dollars 200 Million for the first phase.

Through a competitive international bidding process, UCAA procured a supervising consultant for the project, Dar Al Handasah Consultants, one of the leading consulting firms in airport designs and construction supervision for the last 7 consecutive years, according to Engineering News Record. The project is well supervised and the project management team in conjunction with officials from the Ministry of Finance, Planning & Economic Development, Ministry of Works and Transport were able to renegotiate the unfavorable loan clauses to the advantage of Uganda.

During the 1st Covid-19 lockdown, the team was able to work on 2 runways; the primary runway 17/35 and the secondary runway 12/30 to completion. The overall project is on course and at 75% level of completion.

In relation to allegations of omissions that necessitated a scope change in the cargo center project’s construction, it should be clarified that there were no omissions, but changes dictated by the needs of the dynamic aviation industry whose planning parameters often change due to changes in technology, customer preferences, global threats and traffic volumes.

The changes addressed new challenges relating to global aviation security and two other critical factors, namely; Freight Integrators and Transit cargo.

The requirements necessitated a change in design layout to provide for more space for screening and to ensure departing cargo is in stored compartments or caged under lock and key. These were new requests from end users that had to be taken care of before operationalizing the facility.

The growth in Freight Integrators cargo also surpassed previous projections. At the time of design in 2014, cargo operators were occupying a space of 100m2 in the existing cargo building. The design provided for a space of 200m2 for the freight integrators (double what they were occupying). At the time of construction in 2019, the freight integrators were occupying a space of 800m2 .

At the moment, one of the freight integrators is even asking for land to establish a hub for East and Central Africa at Entebbe International Airport. It is therefore super exponential growth that affected the Authority’s projections and subsequently planning. There is also exponential growth in transit cargo. At the time of the design, Uganda was not the hub for UN Transit Cargo, and there was no plan for Uganda to become a UN Transit Cargo hub, which it is now.

In relation to the internally funded re-modification of the Passenger Terminal Building, it was proposed to improve the departures Area as phase 1 Works and Arrivals Area as phase 2 Works by constructing two separate buildings as designed by Arch Design Architects.

The phase 1 scope covers remodeling of the existing Departures Area, construction of a new Departures (Concession) Block, refurbishment and upgrade of the existing Check in Hall and departure Road, drainage, landscaping, and vehicle parking works.

Following appointment of the Supervising Consultant, Ssentoogo and Partners, Architects and Planning Consultants, a Review of the Designs was undertaken in consultation with Airport Stakeholders. It was agreed that instead of two separate buildings, one building should be constructed incorporating Departures and Arrivals, as it is with the existing Terminal.

The cost of the redesigned project was 49,099,280,704/= in comparison to the original cost of 42,695,016,700/= (as the best evaluated bid price from a competitive open domestic bidding) due to increase in scope of works aimed at eliminating congestion and eliminating security concerns, among others.

Upon completion of phase 1, Entebbe Municipal Council Authorities inspected the works and established that the Departures Floor level was constructed in accordance with the Approved Drawings under the Public Health Act and the Planning and Building Regulations, and issued the occupation permit.

Phase 2 works are yet to commence due to current financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 impact. UCAA through the Ministry of Works and Transport requested for government subvention to cater for the funding gaps.

The allegation of cost inflation is unfounded. The whistleblower also made an unfair comparison of the project with that of another government agency’s office tower whose scope was totally different.

Coincidentally, the two projects were executed by the same Contractor, Seyani Brothers and Company Uganda Limited. The office Tower project for another agency whose cost was being compared has a total surface area of 42,508m2 at a cost of 129,100,134,329/=, which translates into a unit rate of 3,037,079/= per square meter. On the other hand, the UCAA project has a total area of 17,327m2 at a cost of 49,099,280,704 Uganda shillings, which translates into a unit rate of 2,833,686/= per square meter.

With such works, one cannot use the number of floors as a measure of comparison because the floors are of different areas, have different functionalities, the details and requirements for each floor is different, and the figures quoted are inaccurate.

Adopted from: Ug. Standard October 19, 2021