According to the National Population and Housing Census 2014, Mbale Town is among the 20 largest urban centres in the country in terms of population. It has been growing at the rate of 2.5 annually. Currently the town is inhabited by 96,190 people while 10 years ago it was a residence for 71,130 people.
Residents have criticised the Mbale Municipality leadership over failure to demolish illegal structures erected on sewer lines, road reserves and designated open places.
Mr Hakim Watenyere, a member of Mbale Municipal Development Forum, attributes the continued existence of the structures to corrupt leaders.
“The town is in a total mess and it operates as if it has no engineer. The planning department has been killed due to political meddling and deep rooted corruption,” he says.
Mr Watenyere adds that most municipality buildings were poorly planned and may collapse anytime.
“Mbale’s dream of becoming a city is bound to fail if the leadership does not act fast and prevail over this appalling situation,” he says.
Mr Laurence Kuloba, a businessman, accuses municipal officials of selling public land to developers.
“Most of the illegal structures belong to big people in government and business community,” he says.
In 2015, the municipal leaders launched a campaign to demolish buildings that do not conform to the physical planning. However, only containers housing shops and kiosks were razed.
“They only demolish structures belonging to ordinary people, who cannot afford to bribe them,” says Mr James Wambede, a resident.
The former municipality secretary for finance, Mr Rogers Kimaswa, says the planning unit and engineering department have failed in their work.
“It’s as if the planning department does not advise the developers on the physical plan of the town,” he says.
The former municipal council speaker, Mr Mwaule Denis Wanyera, says failure to implement the 2006 resolution, which stipulated that all open places be gazzetted, is leading to the mushrooming of illegal structures.
“We passed a resolution in 2006 that all open places should be gazetted but the council has ignored that resolution,” Mr Wanyera says.
He adds that land grabbers connive with civil servants and politicians to grab public land on which they erect illegal structures.
Mr Wanyera also says some of the illegal structures belong to municipal leaders themselves.
“They are victims which is why they cannot afford to demolish their own buildings,” he says.
Mr Michael Kutosi, a property developer, also blames municipal leaders for delaying to approve building plans, which he says, forces some developers to start building without approval.
“It takes two to three months for the building plan to be approved. So, if you want it to go through quickly, you have to bribe some of the officers within the municipal council,” Mr Kutosi says.
However, the municipality physical planner, Mr Fred Nambafu, says some developers construct at night with police protection.
“When they come to us, they ask for permission to renovate and paint the building but to our surprise, they instead embark on construction without approved plans,” Mr Nambafu says.
“Most of the condemned buildings are on Naboa, Republic Street. Most of these buildings were constructed in the early 1940s and 50s using mud but they have been plastered,” he says.
Elgon region police spokesperson Suwed Manshur dismisses allegations that police protect developers to put up illegal buildings.
“It’s them who clear these structures not us. I don’t understand why they are complaining now,” Mr Manshur says.
The town clerk, Mr Paul Batanda, acknowledges that there are many structures that do not conform to their standards.
“We want to ensure that the old structures are razed and upgraded instead of painting and plastering as some people have been doing of recent,” Mr Batanda says.
“We need to have a fire fighting mechanism inbuilt in the structurez, underground parking and pavers,” he adds.
He adds they plan to meet with land owners and property developers and inform them of the kind of structures they need in the town.