Mayors without mansions

The house that was meant to be a residence for the Kampala Lord Mayor on Mabua Road in Kampala. The house was turned into a KCCA learning centre. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  • Whereas the law entitles district chairpersons, including city leaders emoluments such as residential accommodation, councils are allowed to monetise these benefits. As such, most city councils pay their mayors an allowance to make private arrangements for accommodation.

Uganda’s city and municipal leadership is modelled after the British systems, where mayors carry out ceremonial roles that promote culture, business, political and social ties. 
Among events commonly undertaken by their lordships include hosting keynote speeches, laying of foundation stones, planting of trees, hosting banquets for foreign leaders and city dwellers alike, commemoration and memorial ceremonies, expos and exhibitions, as well as setting up monuments.

In London, whose mayorship is the oldest elective position in the Commonwealth—if not the world—dating back to the 1700s, the Lordship hosts some of the city’s most formal functions at the official residence known as the Mansion House. These include the Easter Banquet for diplomats accredited to London, where the main speaker is usually the UK foreign secretary, who then receives a reply from the dean of the diplomatic corps, i.e. the longest-serving ambassador.

The other event is usually in early June when the Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent of the finance minister in Uganda) delivers a “Mansion House speech” about the state of the economy. It is often framed as a defining event for London, which seeks to be the financial capital of the world.
On top of being home to the Harold Samuel collection of Dutch and Flemish Seventeenth Century Paintings—described as “the finest collection of such works to be formed in Britain this century”—Mansion House also houses a plate collection. This includes, among other treasures, the five ceremonial city of London swords, making it a tourist attraction in its own right.
The equivalent of a Mansion House is conspicuous by its absence in Uganda. Appearing on NTV’s flagship political talk show, On the Spot, Mr Erias Lukwago— Kampala’s Lord Mayor—said he cannot stage a Mayor’s Ball [because] to host such banquets, I need a residence in the city … I live in the ghetto.” 

Private arrangements
While the Local Government Act of 1997 entitles district chairpersons, who include city leaders, emoluments such as residential accommodation, councils are allowed to monetise these benefits. As such, most city councils pay their mayors an allowance to make private arrangements for accommodation.
This arrangement, although prevalent, is hardly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind—at least going by the original structuring of cities and municipalities in the country. 

“There used to be official residences of the mayors, especially in the big towns. One would want to find out what happened over time,” Mr Raphael Magyezi, the Local Government minister, told Saturday Monitor via telephone on November 11, adding, “Even the one of Kampala, there is an official residence in Kololo, but does he use it?”

Mr Lukwago revealed on NTV that political reasons led him to ignore the subject of an official residence. He further added that his electorate would accuse him of fighting for his own comfort at the expense of theirs if he was to start complaining about the same.
Mr Magyezi told Saturday Monitor that “it appears some of the councils have either sold or some of these mayors have abandoned them.” He also noted that the mayors “start staying in their own houses because when you stay in your own house, there is an allowance than when you stay in an official residence.”

Combo(L-R): Local Government minister Raphael Magyezi, Jinja City mayor Peter Kasolo and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago

Complex picture
Even then, things seem complicated.
In Mbarara, which is one of the oldest municipalities in the country, the city’s Mayor Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi said the concept of an official residence is unheard of. If he wants to host a banquet, he resorts to the Mayor’s Gardens, where temporary structures are used.
Mr Kakyebezi said the lack of an official residence affects him because such amenities are extended to fellow leaders at the district level. 

“In areas like districts, they have accommodation for staff such as [the district] chairperson and other things, but here, we don’t have that one,” he revealed.
In Jinja, Mayor Peter Kasolo has had to contend with the same situation. And he sounded frustrated when Saturday Monitor contacted him by phone on November 11.
“Seriously, I just look on. I don’t know what to do because that is the right thing that is supposed to be done, but now I found a different thing—no mayor’s residence,” Mr Kasolo said, adding, “The mayor should have an official house because I can’t imagine if tomorrow I am hosting the mayor of New York in Jinja City or the President and he wishes to sleep at my home, I can’t take him to my home because this is my ka home of this young boy who was kweyiya (sic). It is my own arrangement, a funny one which is a ghetto arrangement.”

Mr Kasolo, a comedian-turned-politician, said such important council properties fall prey to former staff, who tend to take them over permanently once they are retiring. He suggests Jinja’s own official mayoral residence suffered this fate.
According to him, the previous council passed a resolution to permanently give the house to his predecessor, Mr Kezaala Beswale, after his 10 years at what was then Municipal Hall. 
“I think [this] is very wrong. Someone should come, work and leave the official residence to the next Mayor,” Mr Kasolo told Saturday Monitor, vowing to table a motion on the same before Jinja City Council for consideration of future mayors’ residences.

Back at the Ministry of Local Government, Mr Magyezi hopes to get clarity on the matter sooner rather than later. 
“It’s good to find out: Are they still there? Under what condition and under what use? We need to find out with a little bit of study, especially for the big towns, 10 of them, we can find out,” the Local Government minister vowed, adding, “If they are there, why have they been abandoned and all that?”
 

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