Opinion: 7 years down the line and the China Exim Bank loan to upgrade Entebbe Airport can become a liability

The State Minister of Finance, David Bahati assured the legislators that the implementation of the project will be monitored to ensure the funds are properly utilised” (The Observer – ‘Parliament endorses Shs 680bn Entebbe Airport expansion loan’ 30.10.2015).

It is now evident that the Government of Uganda and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) might struggle with a loan it took out in March 2015 from the China EximBank to fund upgrades of the Entebbe International Airport. We are now in October 2021. There was forewarnings about taking expensive and extensive loans to build and development infrastructure projects. The ones who was steadfast and worried about the rate of loans the state took out was silenced. The state had a plan and initiated with thresholds of loans the state could borrow.

Alas, the state is starting to struggle to cope with all of these loans. It is not shocking as the NRM and the state have been busy with deficit financing it’s budgets to balance it. They are operating with a higher expenses than it has domestic revenue. So to go from red to black the state borrows vast sums from various entities, both locally and internationally. These are taken out with interests and with that… the debt burden is ballooned and at one point… the creditor will either ask for the collateral or make an agreement to cover the funds to cover the defaulted debt. This is what that could happen to Entebbe International Airport…..

Here is how the story went…

How the loan was made:

On October 8, 2014, Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) entered into a contract for the up grading and expansion of Entebbe International Airport (Phase 1). To access funding for the project, the Government of Uganda (GoU), represented by the finance ministry, signed a concessional agreement with EXIM Bank of China dated March 31, 2015 for the principal amount not exceeding Renminbi 1.26 billion (about $200m) and interest to be charged at a rate of 2% per annum” (Africa Tembelea – ‘AG Muwanga raises queries on Entebbe Airport Expansion’ 12.01.2019).

How CAA looked at the agreement in 2019:

Current overall progress for the upgrade and expansion of Entebbe International Airport is at 52 per cent as opposed to the planned progress of 55 per cent. This is commendable progress. At one point in time, there was a delay in release of money from the Exim Bank of China to the contractor (CCCC), which led to a slight delay that has since been resolved. There was a difference of opinion between Exim Bank and the Government of Uganda on the loan agreement clauses. This necessitated the Government of Uganda and Exim bank of China to renegotiate the terms. This was done and the matter resolved amicably. The contractor has since increased resources committed to the project including manpower and equipment. The rainy season also affected works” ( Dorothy Nakaweesi – ‘Renegotiating loan terms slows Entebbe Airport expansion’ 03.06.2019, Daily Monitor).

Xinhua reports:

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, construction works started in May 2016 after Uganda acquired a 200-million-U.S. dollar loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (China EximBank). The project is scheduled to be implemented in two phases, said China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which was contracted to design, construct and manage the project. The first phase, with three-quarters finished, involves construction of a new passenger terminal, a new cargo complex, and upgrade of two runways and their associated taxiways, rehabilitation and overlay of three aprons. “For the new cargo building, it is about 10,000 square-meters and when it is finished, it can handle 100,000 tons of cargo per year; for the new passenger terminal building, it is about 20,000 square-meters (and) can handle 3 million passengers per year,” Li Qinpu, CCCC project manager told Xinhua in a recent interview” (Ronald Ssekandi – ‘Feature: China revitalizes Uganda’s aging airport to carry more int’l traffic’ 15.10.2021, Xinhua).

Brian Luwanga tweeted today:

EXIM Bank of China can take over Entebbe Airport in case Uganda fails to pay back a loan of 740 billion shillings ,this has been unearthed by COSASE while meeting Finance Minister Matia Kasaija. The loan was advanced to Uganda for upgrade of Entebbe Airport(Brian Luwanga, 28.10.2021).

It is now a shot that the state promised was safe and would be able to liable for. The state said it would be able to repay the Chine EximBank and service the debt. However, it now seems likely the state is failing to pay back the loans. This means the state is defaulting in it and depending on the agreement. The creditor will have power to cover the debt from the debtor. In this instance, the state has to give collateral or any other sort of value, which will practically cover the lost debt and get returns on the loans issued.

This here is a sad story, but they could have done things differently. Even MPs and some said the state should use other sources to raise the funds for the upgrades of Entebbe International Airport. There was one MP who said the state should borrow this from the NSSF to cover it. Alas, that wasn’t the case and now we are here.

We shouldn’t be shocked at this current rate and with the trillions of shillings of debt. The debt isn’t only the amount you get directly from the lender, but you will also pay additional fees and interests. Meaning the loan isn’t just the fixed funds, which the debtor is receiving, but also the costs of servicing it too. That is what the state has do to when it takes these sort of loans and financial instruments.

The general public should worry about this. Because the state has taken out so many loans and these could it easily default on. The state needs domestic revenue, but is running on huge burden of running costs. While it doesn’t have a growing economy or financial structure to cover the deficits. That’s why the state has taken out loans to cover these expenses and this is why they are defaulting on it.

This was inevitable and the state has to restructure itself. Also, ensure it only has expenses that it can cover and just continue to add debt until the sky. Now the rainy days are coming and the loans taken out in recent years will come to haunt the state. This will hurt the state even more and the spiral of depreciative loans will eat up the budgets, which it is already doing. The rate of paying down on it will be destructive, unless there is a sudden miraculous change of financial fortunes. Alas, await more tragedies like these, as the Entebbe International Airport is the top of the ice-berg. Peace.

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