The World Bank has withdrawn its funding for a major road scheme in Uganda, following claims from local residents about the conduct of construction workers.

The US$ 265 million Kamwenge-Fort Portal Road project was largely funded by a World Bank loan of US$ 190 million, which was cancelled at the end of December on the grounds of ‘serious allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse by contractors’.

Awarded to state-owned China Railway Seventh Group in 2013, the project, launched last February by President Yoweri Museveni, has been run under the auspices of the Uganda National Roads Authority. It was due to have been completed this year.

In December 2014, residents of the town of Bigodi, first raised concerns about the conduct of road workers, but World Bank officials were unaware of the complaints until September 2015, when 58 handwritten notes from local community members were brought to their attention. In the notes, were allegations of underage sex and teenage pregnancies caused by the workers, while some spoke of a fear of retaliation if complaints were made.

According to a report published last year by the NGO Joy for Children, at least nine girls left the same secondary school between September and December 2014. All claimed to have left after having been made pregnant by construction staff.

In a statement, following the cancellation, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim spoke of blame being attached to all parties.

He said, “The multiple failures we’ve seen in this project – on the part of the World Bank, the government of Uganda, and a government contractor – are unacceptable.”

He added, “It is our obligation to properly supervise all investment projects to ensure that the poor and vulnerable are protected in our work. In this case, we did not. I am committed to making sure we do everything in our power – working with other stakeholders – first to fully review the circumstances of this project and then to quickly learn from our and others’ failures so they do not happen again.”

Following the World Bank’s cancellation of the loan, Allen Kagina, UNRA’s executive director said, “Some of the issues have been resolved while others are still pending resolution.”

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