The seven cities of Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Jinja, Mbarara, Fort Portal and Masaka kick off operations today, with both excitement and controversy over their leadership.
District chairpersons and municipal mayors have spent the larger part of the last months, haggling over who should take over the interim leadership of the new cities.
Whereas the Ministry of Local Government says interim leaders will be elected to run the new cities until general elections in February, the Electoral Commission (EC) says there will be no such elections.
Away from the ceremonial preparations, the operationalisation of the new cities remains misty. There is also no budget to kick-start the city operations.
The cities are contemplating using the limited 2020/2021 budgets initially passed for municipalities recently as provisional funds to run their operations.
However, the Minister for Local Government, Mr Raphael Magyezi, yesterday said the seven new cities will be given Shs1.5b each in addition to the funds already catered for in the recently passed budgets for them under municipalities to fully operationalise.
"We got a certificate of financial implication from the Ministry of Finance and it indicated that we will need an extra Shs1.5b for every city. For now let’s work with what we have in the [2020/2021] budget. Government will look into any necessary adjustments in the budgetary areas in case there is need,” Mr Magyezi said.
He also clarified the issue of leadership for the new cities. “The mayor of the former municipality elected by universal adult suffrage shall be the interim city mayor,” he said, adding: “The interim mayor shall nominate from among the members of the council an interim deputy city mayor and interim executive committee.”
Mr Magyezi said the interim city council shall neither have a speaker nor a deputy speaker as these roles shall be executed by the interim mayor and interim deputy mayor respectively.
Mbarara Town Clerk, Mr Theo Tibihika said: “We are set to begin. We shall use resources of the Municipal Council as a start-up for the city. We are starting with the same staff and infrastructure.”
The city will inherit unreliable supply of clean water, especially in the divisions of Biharwe, Kakiika and Nyakayojo.
Mbarara Municipality is served by National Water and Sewerage Corporation but the supply has been erratic because the only source River Rwizi is drying up due to environmental degradation.
While launching construction of boreholes in Kakiika Division early this month, Mbarara Municipality MP Michael Tusiime said they are building boreholes because water from NW&SC has become unreliable.
The town is also grappling with street children, hawkers invading all walkways and motorcycle riders (boda bodas) who have caused crowding and traffic congestion.
The mayor, Mr Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi, said they are consulting several stakeholders to find tangible solutions to address some of the challenges.
Arua City hopes to thrive on the border trade with South Sudan, DR Congo and foreign investments. The city is a business hub connecting other districts of West Nile to southern Sudan and eastern DR Congo.
The new city council has not yet received central government transfers, nevertheless, it will kick off with a Shs28b budget initially for the municipality for 2020/2021 financial year.
Ayivu County MP, whose area has been carved to form part of Arua city, Mr Bernard Atiku, insisted Arua city is ready to start. Atiku is also chairperson of organising committee for the city inauguration.
Despite the uncertainty about the preparedness, Mr Moses Obeta, the chairman of Arua Business Community, believes the city will offer bigger business opportunities for both small and large scale traders.
“As a business community, we will look to opening up a bigger market to benefit all of us. We pray that the lockdown is eased because many businesses have crippled, but the city is a gold-mine for us because it thrives on local revenue, to which we are the main contributors,” he said.
The city will have two divisions: Bungokho and Industrial divisions. The former comprises the municipality’s current Northern Division, Nakaloke Town Council and the annexed neighbouring sub-counties of Bukonde, Nakaloke, Namasaba, Lwaso and Namanyonyi.
The Industrial Division comprised Bugema-Nauyo, Wanale, Bukasakya and Nambale (Bungokho- Mutoto).
Mbale District Council speaker Muhammad Mafabi said they were waiting for Ministry of Local Government to write to EC to organise elections for the interim leaders.
Jinja Municipal Council speaker Moses Bizitu said there is no clear law that has been made to guide on who leads the new cities but added that they will continue with the current Municipal Council leadership led by the mayor, Mr Majid Batambuze.
The new city will operate on the municipality’s Shs42b budget and at least Shs3.5b is expected to be generated from local revenue.
The Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) will provide more than Shs28b to the city to improve infrastructure-- roads, street lighting and a new abattoir. In the last five years, the World Bank has injected Shs60b in town’s infrastructure development.
Fort Portal City will have two divisions, Central and North after the merger of the municipality’s former South, West and East divisions. The new city management will later move to Kitumba, the current seat for Kabarole District administration when the latter relocates to Busoro Sub-county.
Fort Portal has high potential for tourism business and investment given its proximity to Queen Elizabeth National Park. New hotels have also opened.
Fort Portal Municipal Town Clerk Innocent Ahimbisibwe says: “What government wants now is to see these cities commence and operate normally and then funds will be released later in form of a special supplementary budget,” he says.
The district chairperson, Mr Richard Rwabuhinga, led his council to pass a resolution to the government to elevate Fort Portal to a tourism city.
The Municipal Town clerk, Mr John Behangane, says they have already drawn a clear local revenue enhancement plan to include all taxpayers in the municipality.
Those who have not been paying revenue, he says, will start paying and those with arrears will settle them on an agreed schedule.The city’s budget is Shs42b.
Before the beautiful roads that changed the face of Gulu were constructed under the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructural Development project, the little town had dirty paths and buildings.
Gulu sprang back to life after the two decades of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency by Joseph Kony that pushed people into settlement camps under squalid conditions.
During the insurgency, the town was used as a safety ground for over 15,000 internally displaced people at night.
Compiled by Felix Basiime, Felix Warom Okello, Scovia Atuhaire, Rajab Mukombozi, Fred Wambede. Denis Edema, Philip Wafula, Malik Fahad Jjingo, Cissy Makumbi, Irene Abalo & Polycap Kalokwera
Additional information by UBOS and Wikipedia. Note: Boundary alterations could change size and population of the new cities.