For more than five years, government and the World Bank/European Union engaged in talks for the much-vaunted project to redevelop Port Bell in Luzira and the Jinja pier. As part of the ambitious Lake Victoria Transport Programme project, there were plans to refurbish the ailing rail and road networks to link these places. Consultants and policy experts pored through the details of the blueprint; feasibility studies reports were discussed and meetings were held, only for government to pull the plug on the project, writes Frederic Musisi.
Early last year, a meeting was convened in one of the ministry of Works’ boardrooms, attended by top ministry officials and those from both the World Bank and European Union (EU).
The agenda of the meeting was the Lake Victoria Transport Programme (LVTP), a project meant to foster marine transport on Lake Victoria by rehabilitating three to six ports on the lake and introducing a fleet of modern and purpose built freight vessels, to be owned and operated by private sector investors and operators.
Sources familiar with the project say the Works ministry technocrats told World Bank/EU team that after consultations, the government decided to prioritise the construction of Bukasa Inland Port in Wakiso District.
The officials indicated, however, this does not deter the World Bank from proceeding with renovation of Port Bell/Jinja pier. The Works officials, sources added, further told the meeting that President Museveni had endorsed the Bukasa inland project.
Disconcerted by the revelation, as the meeting came to a close, the donors requested the ministry to communicate officially—in writing—that the Ugandan government was no longer interested in the LVTP project to inform their next course of action.
It remains unclear whether the ministry has since communicated officially, at a meeting where the hosts treated the matter at hand in a cavalier attitude, which jolted the donors.
The World Bank and EU declined to comment on the matter, but Works and Transport minister Monica Azuba told Daily Monitor “they have not notified us that they have abandoned the project.”
“When we met, I told them that government had decided to fast-track the Bukasa project but they could not hear none of this, “Ms Azuba said adding, “They told us not to develop Bukasa, and if we insisted then they would have a rethink.”
Ms Azuba said: “What I can tell you is that I consulted widely, including with the President, but as a country we had to make a decision that is good for us after all for both projects, we were going to borrow.”
“We are already doing Bukasa port so we cannot expand Port Bell. It is a matter of looking at the economics of the two ports (Bukasa and Port Bell) closely,” Ms Azuba said.
“Yes, the World Bank, as far as I know, has expressed some concerns but have not written to state that they have withdrawn.”
The project that never was
The Lake Victoria Transport Programme was initially conceived as an East African Community project, to benefit all the four countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, sharing the lake’s basin.
According to one the World Bank’s conceptual studies, the Lake Victoria catchment is responsible for an approximate Gross Domestic Product of some Shs123 trillion ($30b) or 40 per cent of the total GDP of four countries, with great potential in, among others, inland water transportation whose demand declined as a result of a combination of factors from broken rail connections and maritime ports, and unreliable ferry operations across the lake.
The project, was conceived to “facilitate the sustainable movement of goods and people around the lake “whilst strengthening the institutional framework for maritime transport safety.”
It was meant to serve as an alternative multi-model route to the sea via the central and southern corridors in Tanzania. In Uganda, the plan was to redevelop Port Bell and the Jinja pier: in Tanzania Mwanza and Bukoba ports: and in Kenya; Kisumu port.