What you need to know:
- Billed as essential to take services to the people and enable better spatial planning for the metropolis of the future, elected leaders find themselves in positions, but with neither cash nor power, exposing the reality of how they promised more than they could deliver to voters based on a mirage.
- Timeframe. Some of the cities became effective on July 1, 2020.
A rushed decision by the 10th Parliament to create new cities without a legal framework and budget has, two years after the pronouncement, returned to haunt elected leaders and hamstring service delivery.
From Mbale in the east to Masaka in central Uganda to Fort Portal in the West and West Nile’s Arua City, political leaders who coursed to victory in elections early last year, have found themselves with positions without power or resources.
They can neither break ground for new development projects or implement their manifesto because all the cities, for the second year running, are operating on the original budget allocation to them as municipalities.
Yet, as our survey in interviews with various city officials reveal, more land has been annexed to make the cities bigger than the predecessor municipality, meaning serving more people on smaller budget.
Overall city mayors, for instance, do not have clarified power and responsibilities in law, and the fluid borders of operations have birthed clashes with division mayors, including on territory control for revenue collection.
The town clerks who superintended civil servants in municipalities are still in office, but they do not know whether to sign official documents under their current title or as city clerks, which is the de facto portfolio.
Neither has there been a pay raise for political and technical city official and for the latter, uncertainty about how long they will have their jobs after the Public Service ministry rolled out a revised staff structure for them, raising hope that new hirings could commence at the start of the next fiscal year in July.
In the void of enabling law or policy, and budget hole, our investigations show that operations in most cities are being stymied by power fights and low funding.
In February, Mr Justinian Niwagaba, the commissioner for urban administration in the Ministry of Local Government, said the government is set to embark on fresh validation and rationalisation of employees in the new cities.
He said the move is aimed at streamlining and operationalising the structures of the new cities.
“We have finalised and approved the new structures and we are now set to undertake the fresh validation of civil servants in all new cities,” he said.
Mr Niwagaba made the remarks during the election of the chairperson of the Urban Authorities Association of Uganda (UAAU), a seat won by Koboko Municipality Mayor Wilson Sanya, which took place at Mbale Secondary School in Mbale City.
Mr Amuza Wamono, a senior researcher on local governments, said the lack of a policy guiding the operations of the new cities is partly to blame for the leadership fights.
This has given birth to fights between the division mayors and city mayors in some cities across the country as they battle over who has what powers.
“There is no policy guiding the city operations. No clear administrative boundary definition of what city divisions should do; where they start and end, whether a city division is the one to collect local revenue or the mother city [council],” he said.
Mr Wamono further said the current administrative structure in the cities is an inheritance from the former municipal councils, something he said has led to a laissez faire operation.
In Jinja City, political infighting has delayed the take- off of staff structure.
Sources say although the Ministry of Public Service sent a structure for all staff, the politicians have failed to approve it, making it impossible for the recruitment to start.
It was believed that a section of councillors led by the mayor, Mr Peter Kasolo, want the staff structure to be passed, but another group led by the Speaker Bernard Mbayo reportedly stymied the move.
The Mbayo group is said to be failing the passing of this staff structure due to the disagreement over the membership of the Land Board --- that is pending approval.
The Jinja City public relations officer, Mr Rajab Kito, however, said since the creation of the city, there has been no special funding for operationalisation of any project from the line ministry.
“We only received funding that was due to Jinja while still a municipality and this funding is also being reduced,” he said.
Mr Kito said even ongoing upgrades are bankrolled under the World Bank-financed the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) meant for municipalities.
“However, on [a] good note, we have a physical masterplan, which has been approved and we are only awaiting funding,” he said.
He said other issues such as garbage collection are being managed by a private company, which the council contracted.
The Jinja City Northern Division mayor, Mr Ayub Wamika, said it is unfortunate that the government has not sent any seed money including for rehabilitation of roads in the cities.
“The government promised to give us (cities) start-up funds, but they haven’t done so, not even for the roads,’’ he said.
In Masaka, little has changed in terms of service delivery.
Some of the key areas, included improving the road network to first class gravel and planting more than 2,000 trees in all road reserves, but nothing has been done yet. Reason? No money, according to officials.
In addition, Masaka City has failed to instal solar-powered street lights to cover all areas under its jurisdiction and build a welcome monument as its political leaders, elected early last year, promised to do within the first 100 days after taking office.
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Mr Swaibu Sulambaya, a social rights activist in Masaka City, faults authorities for rushing to charge garbage fees from dwellers even before vetting competent firms to manage solid waste and setting up a modern landfill.
“Our leaders behave as if they are still running a municipal council. How do you expect to manage solid waste when there is no gazetted landfill? I hear even the land they had bought to serve as a dumping site is under dispute,” he said.
Masaka generates at least 100 tonnes of garbage every week, according to official statistics, it the city council can only collect about 70 percent, leaving 30 percent of garbage uncollected.
The uncollected solid waste, which includes biodegradable garbage and degradable rubbish, washed into road side drains, blocking surface rain and leading to backflows and flooding.
This damages infrastructure, lowers the value of properties, can lead to death or other safety risks to urban dwellers while serving as a trigger for communicable diseases.
Speaking in reference to Masaka, in central Uganda, Mr Sulambaya said the city has only six dilapidated public toilets for several thousands of dwellers and transit population.
Masaka City Planner Martin Kigozi said they are revising the city’s physical or structure plan to provide for better land use, amenities, productivity, and aesthetics and they will, as required by the Physical Planning Act, display it for three months for stakeholders to make their input in fashioning a city of the future they want.
A hamstring, he noted, is speculative land pricing by brokers in new places annexed to the city.
Masaka Municipality was sitting on 46 square kilometres, but the new city is almost double the size, at 100 square kilometres.
“Local governments are responsible for land management, but in several areas, you find that the land management regulations and guidelines are flouted,” he said.
The Masaka City Mayor, Ms Florence Namayanja, said they have tried to change the face of Masaka, but they are still financially constrained.
“We are not seated, roads are being tarmacked, solar lights installed, something visible has been done given the circumstances under which we operate,” she said.
She said they are trying to boost revenue collection in a bid to improve service delivery.
In Arua, Ms Catherine Candiru, a trader in Ayivuni Parish in Ayivu West Division, said they had hoped that when they became a part of the city, roads would be rehabilitated.
“It is like we do not pay taxes to this government. Our roads are bad even though we are part of the city. This is disappointing,” she said.
Another resident of Riki Trading Centre in Ayivu East Division, Mr Joseph Adiga, said the government should act fast and provide graders for road maintenance in cities.
“The best way would be to tarmac these roads because that will cut the cost of maintenance. We also need good services because we pay a lot of tax to this government,” he said.
Mr Paul Batanda, the city clerk, said the roads are not being maintained due to the breakdown of the grader.
“We received a grader from a Chinese Company some years ago, but it broke down,” he said, adding that they resorted to borrowing grader from neighbouring districts.
Currently, Arua City is reorganising the staffing structure where they expect some of the jobs to be filled. In addition, it has prepared a new structure plan, which is on display until August to enable stakeholders contribute ideas on how to appropriate the land uses to achieve a livable city of the future.
In Fort Portal City, the deputy city clerk, Mr John Rusoke, said they recently received a letter from the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, directing them to implement the approved city staff structure within the approved wage provisions for 2021/2022 fiscal year.
Mr Rusoke said that currently the former Fort Portal Municipality staff are the ones who working for the city.
“We are going to carry out a validation process among staff with the aim of retaining the qualified people and positions that will remain vacant will be advertised,” he said.
According to him, the new city staff structure will comprise 133 employees at the city headquarters and 194 for both North and Central divisions.
“Shs2 billion has been earmarked as salary for the two divisions’ staff while Shs1.7 billion will pay the salaries for the staff at headquarters of the city,” he said.
Mr Samuel Musana, the acting city physical planner, said they plan to complete the physical plan being prepared for the city by next financial year.
Mr Richard Muhumuza, the mayor central division of Fort Portal City, said they have faced different challenges. For example, the delay of the government to remit funds back to the city to carry out different activities.
He said they have managed to construct 45.18 kilometres of roads with funding from USMID under the DDEG grant.
In Lira, the construction of roads such as Teso Bar and Olwol under the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) are ongoing.
The city engineer, Mr Fred Owiny, said they need about Shs400 million to repair broken street lights.
“About 141 solar-street lights have broken down and this is endangering the lives of pedestrians at night,” he said.
Some civil servants and the support staff who used to work in four divisions in Lira Municipality have also been rendered jobless.
In Soroti, Ms Stella Amuron, a businesswoman, said there is no change in service delivery.
“We had anticipated a lot in terms of service delivery, but unfortunately, I see nothing on ground. It’s like we are still in a municipality,” she said.
Mr Paul Omer, division mayor for Soroti City East, said the issue of creation of cities was a political move with little motive to boost service delivery.
“The money which is collected is sent to the Treasury and thereafter it is remitted back in piece meals, which can’t do much in ensuring that the city is clean,” he said.
City Mayor Joshua Edogu said certain issues have remained constant, among them, operational budgets disbursements.
The city clerk, Mr Ambrose Ochen, said budget allocations for the city have not changed.
“The budget allocations for the city have not changed though the city is now wider than it was when it was a municipality,” he said.
In Mbarara, the city speaker Bonny Tashobya Karutsya, said they are in process to recruit staff because the City Service Commission is fully instituted.
“By the start of the new financial year (in July), we will be able to advertise so that we can fill the vacancies at the city,” he said.
He added that as a council, they have agreed to buy two graders for two divisions to help to improve on service delivery.
“We are doing very well on garbage management because we signed memorandum of understanding with different service providers who collect garbage from the residents…,” he said.
In Mbale, service delivery has been a challenge especially in terms of garbage collection.
The city has been embroiled in leadership wrangles between the division leadership and the city, which continues to hamper service delivery.
Mr Steven Masiga, a researcher and writer working with Makerere University Mbale branch, said the leaders should work together.
“There is separation of power, which is being abused by some local government actors,” he said.
Mr James Kutosi, the spokesperson of Mbale City, said they are soon starting recruitment of staff to streamline city operations.
“We are going to embark on recruitment of the staff in order to improve service delivery,” he said.
Reported by Fred Wambede, Philip Wafula, Abubaker Kirunda, Tausi Nakato, Denis Edema, Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Wilson Kutamba, Felix Ainebyoona, Bill Oketch, Simon Peter Emwamu, Felix Warom Okello, Alex Ashaba & Irene Kirabo.