Work on Hoima International Airport stalls, gov’t threatens contractor termination over alleged fraud

SBC construction machinery parked as found on Monday, February 20, 2023. (Image: Gad Asaba/Kazi-njema News)

Government has threatened to terminate the services of SBC Uganda – a company that was contracted to construct Hoima International Airport in Kabaale Sub-county, Hoima District.

During his tour to the airport today Monday, February 20, 2023, Works and Transport State Minister, Lt (Rtd) Fred Byamukama, claimed that SBC top employees are playing tricks to defraud the government by inflating bills of quantities.

He said exaggerating prices of construction materials resulted in the company’s failure to beat the deadline of February 2022 when the airport was projected to be completed and handed over to the government.

The handover of the airport that is a major infrastructure in the movement of some oil refinery equipment was later extended to June 2023 but few months to the next deadline, work has stalled after more than 300 workers went on industrial action.

The contractors complain that they do not have funds to complete the work accusing the government of failing to release money for procuring construction materials yet there is an alleged price variation contrary to the past when they quantified the bills.

However, the minister accused the employees of an alleged connivance to defraud the government that they want to remit loan funds purportedly to meet the alleged increased prices of materials to see the airport completed.

Mr Byamukama claimed that employees of Hoima International Airport are conspiring with a syndicate to swindle €28m (approximately Shs126b) in the guise of price variation.

The minister added that the government has already received intelligence information that the syndicate has already conspired with local leaders to allegedly mobilise people residing around the airport and the contractors to demonstrate as an avenue of squeezing the government to release the funds acquired from a loan.

Audio: Byamukama on connivance (English)

Mr Byamukama added that the government is aware of the alleged ring of criminals that wants to defraud the government in the name of procuring paraphernalia for the control tower revealing that the government has decided to instead tentatively use a mobile control tower after it realised the schemed scam.

The minister warned that the government will strictly terminate the contractor’s services should workers continue laying down their tools.

Audio: Byamukama on control tower (English)
Minister Fred Byamukama tours around Hoima International Airport on Monday, February 20, 2023. (Image: Gad Asaba/Kazi-njema News)

Mr Byamukama disclosed that the government is currently investigating some top government officials involved in the crime.

Audio: Byamukama on investigations (English)

However, Mr Amos Muriisa, the SBC Public Relations Officer, denies the company is involved in criminal acts to defraud the government.

He said the company had several engagements with the governments but their concerns have not been attended to for close to half a year.

The PRO maintains that the airport will be handed over to the government in June 2023 although it will work without a fixed control tower.

“The company strongly disassociates itself from mafias that are misleading the government and if anybody is doing it, it is on their own. SBC is only being disturbed by increased prices of materials. At least the price of every material we used during the Covid-19 pandemic has doubled. This is our challenge,” Mr Muriisa said.

Adding: “As a company, we are ready to continue with our work once the government solves everything challenging us at work.”

SBC trucks parked in the company’s yard in Kabaale Sub-county, Hoima District on Monday, February 20, 2023. (Image: Gad Asaba/Kazi-njema News)

In January 2018, the UK lenders identified as Standard Chartered Bank with guarantees from the United Kingdom Export Finance agreed to lend Uganda €307m for the period of three years for the construction of Kabaale International Airport which will later be named as Hoima International Airport.

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