Fort Portal City chokes on Shs10b debt in court awards

An aerial view of a section of Fort Portal City. PHOTO | ALEX ASHABA 

Fort Portal City is currently grappling with a debt of Shs10b in compensation for damages arising out of 60 court cases the institution has lost in the past years.

The city leaders lost various cases where courts ordered them to compensate the parties involved.
The leaders have in desperate attempts to raise funds to pay the money resolved to sell off some of the city properties, including a council administration block.

Fort Portal City Mayor Edison Asaba Ruyonga, however, warned that selling off some of their properties will affect their local revenue base and cripple service delivery.

“As a new city, we are under pressure to pay all the people who sued this institution and won cases in court. This explains why service delivery in the city is slow. From now onwards, it will be hard for us to continue extending services to people,” he told Monitor yesterday.

He said the institution is required to start paying immediately but they are stuck.

“Three weeks ago, one of the council vehicles was impounded by court bailiffs and we have to borrow the money to pay the debt to have our vehicle returned,” he said.

Mr Asaba attributed many court cases to his predecessors, who suspended paying claimants, resulting into accumulated costs.

“Some court cases are seven years old but our predecessors failed to clear them and this was deliberate such that when we come to office, we face the same challenges,” he said.

He added that last year, the truck for collecting garbage was impounded by court bailiffs and they had to pay Shs37 million to recover it.

“We had a law firm that has been working with us for more than 10 years but when the government changed the law and instead directed us to drop the law firm and use the Solicitor General, the law firm was not compensated, they took us to court and are now demanding more than Shs2b. We lost another case three years ago and court awarded the winner Shs1.4m. However, that money has since accumulated to Shs14m due to delayed payment,” he said.

He said as council, they have resolved and are now planning to sell off some of the city assets such as the city council administration block, grounded vehicles and 198 hectares of land in Mwenge, Kyenjojo District, to raise the required money.

“We are now appealing to the Ministry of Local Government and the Attorney General to come to our rescue as we look for a way forward. We are also planning to reach out to President Museveni for help,” he said.

The former Fort Portal City mayor, Rev Kintu Willy Muhanga, said in his five-year tenure, the city registered only one case in court, which it even won. He said all the lost cases were inherited.  He said by the time he handed over office, the city had 43 lost cases.