Taking a stand

Kampala Capital City Authority Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago - Photo by RonaldKabuubi/EAPPA Images
Kampala Capital City Authority Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago - Photo by RonaldKabuubi/EAPPA Images

After the ‘Seya’ controversy, I had expected to meet the new Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago in a run-down, smelly office in the basement of KCC. Instead I walked into a large, clean and well-furnished room. Actually the Lord Mayor’s office is three rooms, his office, a reception room and a spacious meeting room. Not bad digs. What was ‘Seya’ complaining about? The Mayor himself was calm and soft-spoken. A bit surprising for the person known for his public rants against UTODA and KCC during his times as the MP for Kampala Central. When asked about the public debates he is having with the Kampala Capital City Authority, the Lord Mayor was analytical like the lawyer he is, repeatedly saying that all he is doing is following the law. This answer is surprisingly similar to the stance of Executive Director Jennifer Musisi. Politics aside, perhaps these two public figures are more similar than the media has presented them to be.

Interview by Savio Kyambadde and Ole Tangen Jr.

KD: When you took over office, there was essentially a good relationship between you and the KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Semakula Musisi. But barely three months down the road, the media is now awash with differences between the two of you. What is your comment on the relationship between your office and that of the ED?

Lord Mayor: I think it was blown out of proportion to say that there is a war, which was portrayed as personal. I think there are two issues here. This is a new institution after the creation of a new regulation and there are overlaps here and there on the functions that are supposed to be executed by my office and that of the executive director.

You will find on one hand the law says I am the political head of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and I am supposed to head the authority in designing strategies and programs for the city. On the other hand, the same law says the ED is the executive officer and it never talks about the office of the ED being the head of civil service and the authority as well as the accounting officer.

The role of the councilors is also not very specific in that law. And then you find division: Mayors who are described as entities under the authority and at the same time they are not given specific work and budgets. These are some of the administrative challenges we are facing.

It is not a personal battle and the other issue is that we have been talking and working harmoniously trying to chat a way forward. Of course [this is] under difficult circumstances, which were created by the legislation and environment in which we were operating. Recently when the controversial UTODA (Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers’ Association) hot potato came up, she took a different position from mine but I felt I was doing my work to come up with service delivery standards within sections 7 and 11 of the KCCA Act. I thought it was within my docket to interface with the service providers to improve the transport system in the city.

KD: Do you see a solution to the UTODA controversy?

Lord Mayor: There must be change in the way public transport is managed. That is the will of the people and the aspiration of everyone in Kampala. It will be an illusion on UTODA’s part to assume that the status quo is going to prevail for decades and decades. The dynamics of the day compel them to adjust to the changes.

There is no doubt that people want to see better service delivery. They want to see better conditions. There is huge traffic congestion. The taxi parks are in a very pathetic situation and there is a huge outcry from the drivers and the entire community working there. Everybody is concerned and it does not give us a good image. Nobody is going to accept that, at least not during my leadership.

KD: Did your electorate know that you had issues with UTODA and the parks before you ran for office?

Lord Mayor: I formed my opinion long ago that UTODA has failed to manage public transport in Kampala before I even vied for this office. And this is the message I rolled out to the electorate: “Look, you vote me into office; I am going to overhaul the entire system of public transport in Kampala because I am equally dissatisfied with the performance of UTODA.” It is on that account that the people voted for me.

It would be a betrayal to the people that elected me to reach, turn around and claim not to see what UTODA is doing when I told them during the campaigns that it was bad. I cannot do that; I am living up to the promise I made to the people that elected me. That is what I committed myself to do and that is what I am going to do.

KD: What other solutions do you have for the mess in the city, like lack of parking space and the poor drainage system in Kampala City?

Lord Mayor:We are going to pass an ordinance so that each structure to be constructed must have parking space. Even the existing ones that have no parking space, we shall not pull them down but encourage the owners to remodel them so that they can provide for this facility. We also think that we should explore the possibility of constructing parking towers in the remaining pieces of land.

These are all noble plans but cannot be fulfilled unless the people already there come to terms and accept that change is on the way and they embrace it. This is where the issue of Multiplex [the company that collects parking fees in the city] comes in. Theirs is just to mark the parking spaces and collect revenue. That is all they are interested in. When you talk of this vision and tell them these ideas, they do not want to listen, so what do you want me to do with such people?

These are the issues I am bringing up and I am saying we have started with UTODA. The monopoly they have been enjoying cannot be tolerated anymore because they have failed to deliver.

KD: What plan do you have for the limited public toilet facilities?

Lord Mayor:We want to ask President Museveni to fulfil his promise during the last campaigns that he would construct 300 public convenience units in Kampala. That was a commitment he made and it is on record.

KD: You came out a few weeks ago and said that there should be no permanent structures in Centenary Park. How is that progressing?

Lord Mayor: I have a report here on Nalongo Estate in Centenary Park. The claimant entered into a management contract with Kampala City Council to develop and manage Centenary Park. The claimant breached the contract when they altered the plans by constructing semi-permanent structures when it was supposed to be maintained as a green belt and recreation centre. It was meant to be open space to the public but now it was made exclusively private. It is now more or less like a private property with more construction going on. We cannot allow that.

The Constitutional Square is gone and we cannot have a city where there are only slabs, concrete and mortar all over. I have never seen a city where you do not have places of public resort. So at least that is the only stretch we are left with in the city center. It must be jealously guarded and I am very tough on this. My colleagues in the councils were of the view that we give a lease to Nalongo Estate, but I am saying, “no”. That will be tantamount to destroying the little beauty left in the city.

KD: What would you tell someone who argues that there is no economic value from the green parks?

Lord Mayor: How much do we generate from the Kitante Golf Course? Nothing. You have seen it, doesn’t it look nice to you? You see value should not be seen in monetary terms only. We have to also preserve the beauty of the city. It serves as a filtering ground and a green belt for the residents. Even if it does not generate money for KCCA, we cannot put commercial structures or shopping malls there.

KD: Do you feel that being the first Lord Mayor under the new legislation, you are a victim of change?

Lord Mayor:I appreciate there was poor performance on the part of the old city leadership. This place had been turned into a den of thieves but that had nothing to do with the electoral system. The law wanted to change the electoral system and how leaders operate. The deficiency was not in the system of governance but [in] individuals and institutions of accountability. None of these people here were arrested or prosecuted so that you can instill discipline in them, yet the laws and courts are there. The IGG and police are all there, but the question is “who was responsible?”

Partially, it was the president because he would not call these people to order. He did not evoke the laws. So why then instead penalize the electorate, which looked at a gentleman who passed off as a good leader? I was elected the Lord Mayor. So what offense did they commit?

KD: What do you have to comment about the President’s view that you should perform ceremonial duties while the administrative duties go to the ED?

Lord Mayor: It is not according to his wish and pleasure that I am serving here. I am serving in accordance with the law, which is very clear. I am supposed to head the authority and I have highlighted this. The functions of the Lord Mayor include being the political head of the city, presiding over meetings of the authority, and perform[ing] ceremonial and civic functions. Others include hosting local and foreign dignitaries and head[ing] the authority in developing strategies and programs in the development of the capital city. This is too broad.

The executive director is supposed to be the accounting officer. You can’t be both the accounting officer and the same time a political head. It is impossible and cannot work that way. For that reason, I do not seek powers to sign cheques here because that is a duty of the accounting officer. I make policies, raise issues, and monitor administration because it is also my function to monitor the administration, which is provided for in section 11 of the law.

KD: The former mayor was evicted from the town clerk’s residence he was occupying as his office. Now we understand Gen. David Tinyefza is due to be evicted from the mayor’s official residence. What is your take on that?

Lord Mayor: There is nothing being done out of order. I requested the report and it was brought and presented to the authority and it indicates that plot 2 Mabua Road is a residential house meant to be the official residence of the Lord Mayor. Now I do not have an official residence and this is what we are demanding. That house is property of KCCA. We must take the bull by its horns. We want to know under what circumstances Gen. Tinyefuza is occupying those premises. We need to know if there are contractual terms and the revenue accruing to the authority and the returns. Then we [will] see the measures we can take.

KD: Most people believe that decongesting Kampala City requires moving government offices and departments out of it. Do you see that as viable?

Lord Mayor:That was actually the original arrangement where we had an administrative city, a commercial one, and an industrial one. Originally Kampala would serve as a commercial city, Entebbe administrative, and Jinja industrial but now you find it is a hodgepodge. Everything is here. We have industries alongside residences, toilets constructed on pavements. You find Parliament or ministries are near markets.

KD: Is this something you are going to pursue?

Lord Mayor: Why do we not have some of these ministries in Entebbe? Why should we continue to have a state lodge here? I am waiting for the Metropolitan Physical Planning Authority to be put in place so that we can get all these ideas implemented because it is provided for in the act. There are five members who are supposed to be appointed by the minister and I represent the authority on that so that we [can] design a broader development plan.

KD: Do you want us to follow the plan similar to the one of Kigali?

Lord Mayor: Yes. The one we have expired and we have to come up with a new one but we are waiting for the constitutional establishment of the Metropolitan Physical Planning Authority.

KD: What are the other priority areas apart from the public transport system?

Lord Mayor:I will be pursuing solid waste management next, followed by trade order as we work on major infrastructural developments because that is largely something that involves aspects like street lighting and reconstruction of our roads. But for service providers, I had to start with the transport sector.

KD: When you talk of trade order, do you intend to build new markets or maintain and improve on the existing ones?

Lord Mayor:There is no uniform plan. Each market has designed its own plan and ours is to come in and help them see how they can actualize that.

KD: Where do you see Kampala in ten years time?

Lord Mayor:That is an interesting one. We are trying to build systems from the start. If we move on course as planned and we live up to the timelines, I am sure in the next ten years we shall be somewhere near Nairobi in terms of infrastructure.

KD: Does that include doing away with slums?

Lord Mayor:No. The slums will always be there and I cannot assure you that they can be eliminated, but we shall have more green spaces and a more livable city where you have enough good infrastructure with lights on the roads. We have to carry out an overhaul and I am glad we are getting started and have public support.