By Moses Karugaba
The Daily Monitor of 4th December 2018 broke a story showing excitement in Eastern Uganda especially among the users of Nakalama- Tirinyi road following the tremendous progress registered by Dott Services, a Ugandan construction company, on the upgrading of the Nakalama- Tirinyi- Mbale road.
The story indicated that the company is ahead of the construction schedule stipulated by the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), having completed 32 kms out of the 99.9 kms in just 7 months.
I have been one of those people who had reservations about the competence of Dott Services Ltd especially regarding the quality of the works that were done on the Tororo-Mbale- Soroti road.
I have always driven on this road and found the quality of the road surface of poor quality compared to the other roads built by the same company I have used.
I was again incensed by the news that despite the fact that Kagamba- Ishaka is one of the finest roads in the country, the company didn’t complete the construction within the stipulated time.
Early this year, contractual issues had erupted between the company and the employer (UNRA) on this very Nakalama-Tirinyi –Mbale road.
In the Daily Monitor news, the head of contracts at Dott Services Ltd, Eng. Jamesone Olonya explained at length all the issues that had made the public including myself raise questions about the competency of the company.
On Mbale- Tororo- Soroti road, he explained that road designs are of different types. There are those with superior specifications and others with inferior ones and the employer (UNRA) chooses what the contractor should build.
The roads designed with superior specifications such as the Kampala- Mbarara- Kabale road have a lifespan of 15 years and it costs over $1m to build a kilometer.
The Tororo- Mbale- Soroti road was designed with inferior specifications and for a life span of only three years. Building a kilometer of such a quality of road is always below $500,000.
On this particular road, UNRA contracted a company to undertake an emergency rehabilitation to ease the movement of goods and persons as government worked on the securing of funds from the World Bank to do a proper road upgrade.
Also, much as the construction period was meant to be only two years (2010- 2012), the contractor received designs and plans from UNRA towards the end of 2011, only two months remaining to the expiry of the contract.
But as soon as the designs were made available, the Contractor successfully completed the project. Honestly, I didn’t have these details. I didn’t know that the employer (UNRA) is responsible for issuing of designs to the contractor and without designs, the contractor’s hands are tied.
I also didn’t know that the roads have different types and lifespans and that the type of road to construct entirely depends on the employer (UNRA). After this explanation, it become evidently clear that the contract wasn’t at fault in anyway.
According Eng Oranya,the delays on the Kagamba- Ishaka road were occasioned by the employer. The contract duration was supposed to be two years but compensation to persons and other institutions whose property was going to be affected by the road project took four and half years. Compensation to property owners is a responsibility of the government not the contractor.
Here I also wondered. Why was the contractor being blamed for the delays yet it was an issue completely beyond him?
On the Nakalama – Tirinyi- Mbale road, Eng Olonya admitted that yes, contractual issues erupted between the contractor and employer but were resolved and now work is ahead of schedule.
From the PR specialist’s point of the view, the submission by Eng. Olonya, made me wonder why a company can for so long suffer from misconceptions and choose to keep quiet about it.
I later authenticated what Eng Olonya had asserted in the interview from some of the specialists that are conversant with construction businesses.
In fact I even learnt that in roads construction, One can’t easily say shoddy work or not as it is all depends on specifications of the road and as a procedure every layer of road is tested and approved before proceeding to another layer, by the time all layers are done and approved at every level, it is usually a good product.
Again, that every contract has a consulting supervisor whose role is to ensure that all the plans and designs issued by the employer are strictly followed by the construction company.
The consulting supervisor even has a laboratory at the construction site to test every material the contractor is going to use on the project.
Before any payment is made to the contractor, the certificate of the work to be paid for must be verified and approved by both the employer and the consulting supervisor but again, the public doesn’t have this information.
In the public eye anything that doesn’t go well in the construction business, must be attributed to the contractor.
Now, if the company doesn’t come out to give this crucial information, it takes the hit.
For example, the compensation of property owners to be affected by the project is the responsibility of the government; and that delays in compensation lead to reduced acceleration of project as was the case on Kagamba- Ishaka Road.
The construction company should not in any way be blamed when designs and plans delay to be availed to the contractor by the employer.
Relatedly, if the contractor is hired to implement a road with inferior designs as was the case with Tororo- Mbale- Soroti project and when it is completed, the public begins to compare it’s quality with that with superior designs; it’s not ideal to blame the contractor for that type of road because if the contractor is given beans to cook ,you can’t expect him or her to serve chicken.
The question I have been asking my self is, why would a company as big as Dott Services Ltd that has capacity to crush hills of rocks, fail on small issues like PR?
It’s more interesting to note that of all the huge projects the company has successfully completed globally in different engineering disciplines, only few that don’t even constitute 5% have generated some misconceptions.
Why does a company accomplish big tasks and fail on small ones like PR?
When I continued my research, discovered with great sadness that it is not only Dott Services Ltd that is a big and reliable company with bad PR.
The absence of clear inform to correct misconceptions is a weakness that effects many big companies in Uganda and globally especially those that believe that focusing only at delivering quality work alone is enough to stop “haters” from twisting facts to look as if the company slept on the job.
Yet in the world of business competition, not investing in PR gives a golden chance to competitors to continue sponsoring false and misleading propaganda on the company to the public court and in the long run, misconception will set in and may affect the image of a fabulous and reliable brand.
Moses Karugaba is a Communications and Public Relations Specialist based in Kampala and the team leader of The Implementing Partner Ltd. He can be reached on Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 256 772333822, facebook @omukiga Whatsup +256753553000