By Our Writer
Eng. Francis Aryaturooza Karuhanga the chairman of the Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC), the association that brings together local Ugandan building and construction players to champion their causes, has died. His death, industry players say, will leave a big gap in the local players’ advocacy efforts for more and better government consideration in contracting. He has been a devoted champion of local content and transparency in the civil engineering sector.
Karuhanga who also doubled as the founder and chief executive officer of Armpass Technical Services Ltd took over the chairmanship of UNABCEC in 2017. Since then he has been an outstanding advocate for special consideration for local civil engineering and contracting companies in undertaking projects. Through efforts like these, UNRA now has an annual cap provision of close to Shs 1 trillion reserved for local contractors.
Cost Uganda Chapter, an affiliate of Cost International, an initiative that seeks transparency in the infrastructure development business said the industry had lost a champion. “We are saddened by the death of a strong pillar in the infrastructure other fields of national development. Mr. Karuhanga has been one of the agents of transparency and fair business practices in Uganda. His contribution to the sector will be forever remembered and emulated.”
Several engineers paid tribute, all saying that Eng. Karuhanga’s death is a terrible loss to the local construction industry. The Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers said they were saddened by the death.
Stewart Elvis an engineer with ROKO Construction said Eng. Karuhanga had distinguished himself as a champion for local content.
Speaking to The Infrastructure Magazine in December last year, Eng Karuhanga said the government held the key to the development of the local building and construction sector. At the time, he expressed frustration at how corruption was hurting the local construction industry as international companies that have deep pockets seem to be preferred for government projects, at the detriment of local contractors.
He said local contractors borrow money from banks, at high interest rates to invest in building capacity – acquiring equipment, human resources, among others, with hope to get work but that these efforts are undermined by corruption, leading to many companies running into bad loans with their banks.
He also told this Magazine that the local construction sector was reeling in debts because government does not pay their dues timely even for the contracts that the local players get.
One of his last advocacy engagements was taking on the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development’s Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure (USMID) Program project for ostensibly favouring Chinese companies in the construction of urban roads under the World Bank funded project. In a memo, he accused the USMID management for starving the local players yet they have capacity to undertake the magnitude of works for the municipal roads.
On December 24 (2020), the now late Eng. Karuhanga sent a tweet to Eng. Dr. Isaac Mutenyo, the coordinator of USMID. He wrote: “The year 2021 is doomed for Ugandan contractors partly due to your creation of room for sophisticated corrupt tendencies at USMID that is denying local contractors to build small urban roads in the program,”
Dr. Mutenyo did not respond to the tweet but the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Housing, Dorcas Okalany, in a statement to the press denied there was any corruption at the Programme. She said the management of the Programme was following well established procedures put in place by her Ministry and the World Bank, the funding agency.
Eng. Karuhanga also championed the local industry players voice to save ROKO Construction – easily the biggest local Ugandan contractor from being declared bankrupt following a suit by Roofing’s Ltd and other suppliers. He argued that the demise of ROKO will affect many other smaller local contractors which could also lead to their own demise. He called upon government to ensure that ROKO Construction is saved for the good of the local industry and the economy.