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Inside Story: Why World Bank Lifted Suspension on UNRA Funding

UNRA Executive Director, Allen Kagina inspecting the  road works recently (Courtesy Photo)

The World Bank has announced its decision to lift the suspension of the civil works components of the North Eastern Road Corridor Asset Management Project (NERAMP) and the Albertine Region Sustainable Development Project.

The withholding of funding in 2015, capsule according to UNRA publicist, Mark Ssali, had “slowed down the progress of road construction works significantly on Albertine (Kyenjojo-Kabwoya) and NERAMP (Tororo-Mbale-Soroti-Lira-Kamdini).”

But the new development has since been welcomed by the roads authority body, with Ssali describing it as “vote of confidence in UNRA by the World Bank.”

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He told ChimpReports on Thursday that by lifting the suspension, the Bank is “indicating that they are now convinced by the organisation’s transformation drive and that we now have the capacity to manage projects they fund.”

How the suspension was imposed

The road works commenced under the Project on August 1, 2013.

However, World Bank supervision missions repeatedly found instances of non-compliance with a number of environmental and social requirements particularly concerning land acquisition and various physical impacts of construction – and alerted the implementing agency, the leadership of the then Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), that they required remediation.

After multiple reviews, a lack of progress with corrective actions, and concerns about allegations of sexual misconduct by contracted road workers, the Bank suspended financing to the project on October 22, 2015.

Sources said the World Bank officials were angered when a local leader said he was not moved by alleged abuse of girls in Bigodi, Kamwenge simply because “they are known for loving sex.”

Concerns related to sexual misconduct of contracted road workers under the project were first brought to the Bank’s attention in a letter of complaint from a community in December 2014.

Subsequent World Bank missions to the project site to review the issues raised, working closely with the government agencies concerned, specialized social development consultants and a local civil society organization, provided more insight into the complaints.

The Bank concluded that there was credible evidence of project road workers engaging in sexual misconduct with minors.

The World Bank alerted the Government and the ‘old UNRA’, urging the involvement of law enforcement and child protection agencies. The relevant authorities did not act as required hence ordering the suspension on disbursement of funds for the project.

Lifting

This week’s decision resulted from an assessment of progress made by the new UNRA in addressing issues that led to the suspension in December 2015.

ChimpReports understands that after intense lobbying and expressing determination to address World Bank concerns, funding was restored.

World Bank officials also met with President Museveni in Uganda during which they discussed the matter among others.

Ugandan officials including UNRA boss Allen Kagina and Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development travelled to Washington where they made presentations on addressing several issues raised by World Bank.

Change of Heart

The World Bank said in a statement on Thursday that its assessment found that “UNRA had made progress in strengthening its capacity to manage its roads program, in areas including contract supervision and a more systematic approach to environmental and social safeguards management.”

The Bank went on to say that its examination also “recognized a change in culture and commitment within UNRA to engage communities and deliver projects in a way that enhances positive social impacts and addresses labor influx issues.”

World Bank further noted that UNRA continues to “follow up on contentious, complicated cases related to compensation for project affected people and recruitment of reputable local NGOs to work on enhanced social impact management along all World Bank financed road corridors.”

Kagina inspecting the Kamwenge-Fort Portal road

Kagina inspecting the Kamwenge-Fort Portal road

Ssali told us that World Bank is now “satisfied and happy with the interventions we have executed on the Fort Portal-Kamwenge Project since the unfortunate events that led to the cancellation of funding on it.”

He added: “Indeed in recent meetings they have said UNRA is becoming a case study and reference point on how to deal with Environment and Social Safeguards issues on road projects.”

The World Bank revealed its plans to support Uganda through a national scale project on gender-based violence prevention and response in a more systematic way.

The Government of Uganda is financing with its own funds the completion of the Fort Portal to Kamwenge road.

Programmes

In partnership with the Government and civil society organizations, World Bank intends to implement the Emergency Child Protection Response Program to provide support to survivors of sexual abuse, measures aimed at preventing further abuse of minors and strengthening institutional structures for child protection in the affected areas.

Financing from RSR will also support UNRA and the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development to strengthen their Grievance Redress Mechanisms, with special focus on improved targeting of child survivors and populations at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Ssali said lifting the suspension means that “projects that had slowed down will pick up pace, and that the World Bank and other development partners will go into future funding agreements with full confidence in UNRA. And finally, the lessons learnt as a result have helped UNRA grow in many different ways.”

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