The promise: In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the ruling NRM party released a manifesto in which it promised to, among others, address the accommodation problem that has plagued the Uganda Police Force over the last several decades.
“The challenge of providing adequate accommodation for the Police Force shall be decisively addressed over the next five years, directly through government budget and Public Private Partnerships,” read the manifesto in part.
In making this promise, which was aimed at “accelerating prosperity for all through better service delivery and job creation”, the ruling party boasted of making substantial progress in improving police welfare between 2006 and 2010.
Some of the areas in which it claimed to have scored include administration, infrastructure development, transport and equipment, human resources development and personnel.
The manifesto listed the construction of 19 new district police stations, erection of 34 accommodation blocks and the construction of eight anti-stock theft units.
It claimed that the number of men in uniform had increased from 14,000 in 2006 to 38,168 in 2010, and that an additional 5,000 men and 500 cadets would be recruited during the Financial Year 2011/2012. Thereafter, the manifesto said there would be gradual recruitment aimed at arriving at the internationally acceptable policing ratio of one police officer for every 500.
In light of what the NRM claimed to have achieved and what it said was being lined up for accomplishment in the period between 2011 and 2015, the promise to fix the officers’ accommodation in the barracks was deemed to be a move in the right direction.
Besides, it was also deemed to have been long overdue. In 2000 during the course of the Justice Julia Sebutinde-led Commission of Inquiry into Corruption in the Uganda Police Force, the public was left aghast when it emerged that some police officers were living in what had been planned to be mortuaries, toilets or kitchens in the various barracks.
It also emerged that the Force was so short on accommodation facilities that married police officers with children were being forced to share houses with some of their unmarried colleagues. Some officers were forced to dig deep into their pockets and pay rent outside the barracks in to order to enable their families live a semblance of a normal life.
That explains why the promise was very much lauded, especially among members of the Force. Optimism was once again raised in June 2013 when the North Korea Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs paid a five-day working visit to Uganda, during which he toured various police facilities.
At the time, the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, announced that the country would help the police to strengthen its own construction unit to help deal with the accommodation challenge. Unfortunately, nothing much ever came from that.
While it is true that the budgetary allocations to the police have been on the increase over the last 12 years, accommodation does not seem to be a priority. It appears that attention has over the last several years been focused on the acquisition of motorcycles, cars and armoured personnel carriers and riot fighting gear.
Little wonder then that while the matter resurfaced in the NRM manifesto that was released ahead of the 2016 General Election, it was talked about in more general terms.
“We put in place a programme for construction and rehabilitation of all barracks, including establishment and maintenance of health units and schools within them. We are also providing financial support for income generating activities to spouses of soldiers and police officers. These efforts are gradually improving the welfare of UPDF and UPF personnel,” the 2016 NRM manifesto reads in parts.
This financial year, the Force has been allocated Shs524 billion, but the expenditure list talks of Shs11 billion for water, Shs14 billion for training, Shs16 billion for electricity, Shs29 billion for special meals, Shs20.9 billion for classified expenditure and another Shs95billion for classified assets.
The closest we have come was an announcement by the then minister for Internal Affairs, Ms Rose Akol, in May 2016 that government was to fund a project aimed at providing the Force with thousands of modern housing units.
“We have funding to initially provide 7,000 units of housing to our police force but starting with the Kampala Metropolitan area and thereafter spread out to other locations outside Kampala to address accommodation challenges we are facing,” she said.
The minister said the project would start with Kampala metropolitan area before being rolled out to other parts of the country.
Under the plan which the minister said would be implemented through the public private partnership arrangement, all dilapidated police stations, many of them an eye sore on the landscape, were to be phased out to pave way for the construction of the modern structures.
However, more than a year since Ms Akol’s comments, neither a ground breaking nor an earth movement, which would have signaled the commencement of the said project has taken place. The public is still waiting.
While there has been some progress in erecting quite a number of units in different parts of the country, housing remains an acute problem for many a police officer.
A 2010 report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) indicates that the police accommodation ratio stands at about 49 per cent, that is, two families per dwelling unit, and that the Force had a housing deficit of 51 per cent.
The deficit has since increased; currently, the Force has about 44,000 men and is meant to accommodate at least 35,000 of them, but only has about 5,000 housing units.
At the same time dilapidated structures remain a mainstay of police barracks all over the country. Going by what happened at Kira Road Police Station in Kampala, it would appear that police have opted to use advertisement billboards to conceal the eyesores that the housing units in there are.
In some cases, individual officers have been forced to either dig money from their pockets or rely on well-wishers to maintain some of the housing units.
For example, following a storm that destroyed more than 50 housing units in Jinja Police Barracks on November 9, 2014, leaving more than 82 families without roofs, it was Jinja Municipality West MP Moses Balyeku and sections of the business communities that raised funds to purchase iron sheets to replace the old asbestos sheets that had earlier been blown off.
That the police have serious accommodation challenges cannot be overemphasised. The shanties in which some of the officers live are testimony enough, but that is not to say that nothing has been done. And for what has so far been done, we say kudos to the government. However, even as the government pushes to ensure that it solves the problem by entering into private public partnerships (PPPs), we should, as a country, tread carefully, especially when entering such agreements for institutional land in Kampala metropolitan area and other major urban centres and municipalities such as Jinja, Entebbe and Mbale.
Entering such agreements usually spell out what percentages of the contract sums that the partners are meant to put up in order for such projects to be realised. As a country, we have a history of poor planning. We suffer from a chronic lack of readiness whenever major projects come up, which has often resulted in penalties and delays in the implementation of projects.
The stakes here might be different, but they are likely to culminate into prime pieces of land. The only way to mitigate this is by ensuring that funds are available for any PPP undertaking before government puts pen to paper. And it should not be about availability alone, but also a readiness to put the agreed percentage on the table right from the beginning. This would help avert the possibility of losing out.