Auditor-General: $700 million Juba-Rumbek Road risks going down drain

South Sudan risks losing millions of dollars in amount earmarked for the construction of Juba-Rumbek Road if the loopholes flagged by the audit chamber shall have not been sealed.

A recent report by the Auditor-General has exposed flaws and delays in the building of 396-kilometre highway with the concerns ranging from improper public procurement procedures and the lack of oversight for the project among others.

The audit’s purpose was to determine if the Ministry of Roads and Bridges had made sure that road was constructed “on schedule, at a reasonable cost, and in accordance with quality standards.”

While presenting the report on the construction of Juba-Rumbek Road to the National Assembly, the Auditor-General, Amb. Steven Wondu, revealed that the contractor was not procured through open competitive tendering, but through single sourcing.

“It was therefore not possible to confirm whether the contract was awarded to the most competent contractor at the most reasonable contractor price,” he noted in the findings.

According to Amb. Wondu, the South Sudan Roads Authority Act, 2011, states that the “Roads Authority is required to assume project management responsibilities for all of South Sudan’s trunk roads.”

But although the audit found that Juba-Rumbek Road is a trunk, “the Authority was not involved in the road’s construction.”

“It was only involved when a committee was formed to investigate and recommend remedial actions after the road was destroyed by floods in May 2020,” he noted.

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Additionally, Amb Wondu, disclosed that the reason the Road Authority was not involved in the road construction was unclear. This despite fact that the project is to swallow $736,533,725 from the coffers when complete.

“There is risk that the quality of the road may be compromised when the Ministry of Roads and Bridges prepares the policies, standards, and specifications for road construction and again monitor and supervise the implementation of the road construction,” he stated.

He noted that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry was not initially involved in feasibility study for the construction and upgrading of Juba-Rumbek Road and as a result, “the design was inadequate and Hydrological information on the volume of water was missing in the feasibility study.”

He said, “Consequently, the river catchment areas along the route were grossly underestimated.”

 “As a result, the contractor installed inadequate drainage structures causing water accumulation near Bilpam, which eventually washed out a section of the road.”

However,  the report stated that when the design was changed, the work had to equally stop and this later ballooned the resultant cost of the project by $25,408,025,  raising the contract price from $711,125,700 to $736,533,725 (approximately over SSP700 billion)

The auditor general also disclosed the existence of “unclear financing agreements,” which were bilateral agreements between the Chinese and South Sudanese governments providing funding for the construction of the road.

He said that initially, the financing was to be through the sale of crude oil but this was cancelled. By the time of auditing in February, 2023, the Ministry of finance had not given the audit report indicating that the construction of the road was being financed.

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He said, “Though the Ministry of petroleum indicated that 21,780,134 barrels of crude oil worth $1,558,763,802 had been shipped between 2019 to 2022.

 It has not been possible to know how much that oil was meant for financing construction of Juba-Rumbek Road.

He explained that the Juba Rumbek Road has not been constructed within the agreed time. As at the time of audit in February 2023, only 63 kilometres, roughly 16 per cent of the whole work had been done. This left 333 Km or 84 %, for the remaining to be finished in 8 months.

“There is a risk that the road will not be completed within the remaining period. The slow pace in the road construction was mainly attributed to delaying making advance payments and nonpayment of Interim Payment Certificates,” Wondu said.

He further added that the country may in the long-term spend above the market rate for the project.

“Juba-Rumbek Road may have not been constructed at the most reasonable. There was no open competitive tendering, the contractor was acquired through single sourcing, thus there is a possibility that the ministry did not procure the best contractor at the best market price,” he stated.

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 “In addition, the original design was not properly done and had to be revised at an additional cost of $25,408,025.”

Drawing from the audit’s findings and conclusions, the auditor-general recommended that the government should always make sure that road construction contractors are chosen in cooperation with the Road Authority, the Ministries of Roads and Bridges, Finance, and Planning, in order to guarantee that correct procurement procedure are followed.

“In order to guarantee the attainment of the intended road quality, the Road Authority must execute the project in accordance with the guidelines, norms, and directives established by the Ministry of Roads and Bridges,” he stated.

“The Road Authority should ensure that the works are efficiently supervised by competent engineers and that corrective action is taken on a timely basis to ensure the road works meet the required specification.” 

The main causes of the road construction’s slow progress were the failure to pay Interim Payment Certificates and the delay in making advance payments.

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