Business operators near the Hoima International Airport are in fear following the suspension of the construction works at the airport.
The contractors for the construction of the airport, a joint venture of Israeli-British firms, Shikun & Binui International-SBI/Colas Limited halted the works two weeks ago following government’s failure to allocate them 126 billion shillings.
As a result, the company relieved laid off more than 500 workers as it negotiates with the government on how they can obtain the money to complete the remaining works.
The most affected workers are the drivers, builders, cleaners, engineers and security guards among others.
Suspension of works at the airport is negatively impacting on the various businesses set up in the area. Initially, workers at the airport would buy items including food from the neighbouring community while others were also renting in the area but ever since the company suspended operations, the business community has equally been affected.
Justus Balyesiima who owns rentals at Nyamasoga Trading Centre that is situated a few kilometres from the airport construction site, explains that he had more than 15 workers renting his rooms but all these have varnished after the company suspended operations.
Joan Rukundo, who operates a restaurant at Nyamasoga explains that before the suspension of the construction works at the airport, she would receive between 50 to 80 customers daily but this is no more. Currently she hardly receives 5 customers at her restaurant.
Everlyne Kababiito, another restaurant operator, explains that business is totally down in the area as most workers have left. She says most of the workers fled with their money since they were supplying them food on credit. She calls on the government to negotiate with the contractor so that work can resume in order for her business to survive.
Nabos Ayebale, a butcher at Buseruka Trading Centre, says he used to supply meat to the workers but currently business is down after the company suspended operations.
Everlyne Nyangoma, a shopkeeper says her business entirely depended on the workers at the airport who would come and buy items from her shop. She is considering closing her business.
Beka Kiiza, a landlord at Buseruka Trading Centre, says most of the workers fled before fully clearing their rent arrears.
Kate Atulinde, one of the workers explains that they were not notified and prepared in time that the company would suspend operations saying they would have planned earlier. She says currently most of them are undergoing untold suffering with nothing to do yet they have to look after their families.
Ali Tinkamanyire, the Buseruka sub county Chairperson says the suspension of the construction works at Hoima airport has a negative impact on people’s businesses.
Amos Muriisa, the Communications manager at SBC, explains that work will only resume when government avails them more funding. He says construction works at the airport cannot go on when they don’t have resources.
In June 2020 SBC laid off160 workers due to COVID-19 Pandemic. The company then said in a letter to staff that the decision was in line with the government guidelines to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter that was signed by the SBC Senior Project Manager Mihail Gorachivoc instructed all workers to return all company belongings including identity cards to the human resource office.
The termination letter was also copied to the Hoima district Labour officer Anthony Ayesiga and the Company’s Human Resource Officer.
The 309-million US-dollar Airport, financed by Standard Chartered Bank, will have a capacity of accommodating four cargo planes at ago, a fire station, an apron, a control tower, accommodation facilities for the workers and Parallel Runways,Taxi way, air rescue firefighting house, power substation house, communications and navigation systems, perimeter fence and air ground illumination system among others. Construction works at Hoima airport currently stand at 89 percent.
The airport will handle both cargo and passenger flights because it has a multipurpose terminal building.
Currently, construction of the runway, which is 3.5 kilometres long and 45 meters wide is 98 percent complete, while the cargo terminal building, the limited-capacity passenger terminal building, the air rescue firefighting house, power substation house and the air ground lighting system are all between 89 and 90 percent complete.
The Airport is one of the key support infrastructure projects for the next course of the fast-paced activities leading to commercial oil production.
Construction works at the airport commenced in April 2018 and is expected to be complete in June this year.