By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi
Lukwago wins hearts as minds change over Musisi
Kampala Capital City Authority Executive Director Jennifer Musisi scored sweet victory on July 9 when the High Court threw out, with costs, a suit by city Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago challenging her powers.
Unfazed by the loss, Lukwago quickly shifted the fight to the case of the Kampala District Land Board office which Musisi had ordered police to seal off over alleged corruption.
As opposition politicians, Lukwago and the Land Board chairman Yusuf Nsibambi are natural allies against Musisi who is President Yoweri Museveni’s special appointee.
Lukwago is from the Democratic Party while Nsibambi is the Buganda region’s vice president for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). In this sense, although Lukwago had gone to court seeking a clear division of power with Musisi and the tussle between them is seen as largely driven by swollen egos, it also represents the fight between Museveni’s ruling party and the opposition for the hearts and minds of Kampalans.
Lukwago and Nsibambi were rewarded when on July 23, Constitutional Court judge Steven Kavuma, ordered for the second time that Musisi and her police backers cease blockading the land board offices. But the stage was set for a major brawl Musisi and co. defied the court order and Lukwago vowed to kick them out.
Apart from allocating land, the land board renews titles and vets title registration and transfer, sub-division of leased plots and is required to back loan and mortgage applications in case one wants to borrow basing on the land they leased. The Kampala Land Board is, therefore, an important office with limited effect on the running of the city. That is why the fight over it is both a fight to control prime city land by Musisi’s team and as a symbolic trophy for whoever gains control of it.
As one KCCA councillor put it, the two are good reasons for Lukwago to enjoy the fights.
“Musisi is playing into Lukwago’s hands because he benefits from the fights,” the councillor said. He says Lukwago hopes to use the fights to demonstrate that he is fighting for the people of Kampala and boost his chances of re-election.
Lukwago also knows that Musisi would become a liability to President Yoweri Museveni if she continues to look like she is jeopardising NRM’s electoral chances in Kampala, especially as the polls draw closer.
A day after the land board offices were sealed off, on May 28, Nsibambi handed a ten year lease to vendors in St Balikuddembe (Owino) Market against Musisi’s will. It was a populist move that Musisi is still fighting to rescind. Talking about the event, Nsibambi sounds boastful: “They thought we had left the Owino lease documents in the office but they were wrong.”
Lukwago’s camp believes his enthusiasm about the war with Musisi has been enlivened by the battles over the land board. By taking on Nsibambi, they say, Musisi put herself up against “two opposition figures of different styles”.
Already, Musisi appears to be squeezed into a corner crafted by Nsibambi who is said to have played a part in mobilising KCCA councillors to work with Lukwago.
While early this year Lukwago could not convene KCCA meetings because the ruling NRM party councillors, who are the majority – 18 out of 30 with two NRM leaning independents, were firmly in Musisi’s camp, the tables appear to have turned. It is now Musisi who doesn’t seem to be sure anymore of majority support in council.
The shift in loyalties was apparent when Kawempe Woman Councillor Madina Nsereko, an NRM member and until then a close ally of Musisi, nominated Lukwago’s choice, Sulaiman Kidandala, for deputy lord mayor. Musisi, who had for about a year refused to approve him, relented.
Lukwago is also buoyed by the support of MPs Nsereko and Mukono Municipality’s Betty Nambooze, who have been urging councillors to work with Lukwago in return for support in the next election. The councillors have also been told that by sticking together as council, they can push for their pay to be raised and be comparable to what the technical officers at KCCA earn. Money is a major weapon in Musisi’s arsenal as she tends to block whoever is not her camp from accessing it.
Since her appointment in April 2011, Musisi has been able to do almost anything at her whim because she controls the purse strings. She has failed to take over the land office partly because unlike the KCCA councillors, members of the land board can afford to defy her because they are paid from the consolidated fund. She has, however, blocked their allowances, The Independent has learnt.
Musisi wants the land board has to be disbanded because, she says, since Kampala is no longer a district, it cannot possibly have a district land board. Musisi says similar bodies like the Contracts Committee and the District Service Commission were disbanded when Kampala City Council (KCC) turned into KCCA. To back her wish to disband KDLB and transfer its functions to the Uganda Land Commission, Musisi got a legal opinion in support from the solicitor general.
But her team suffered a major blow when the man charged with wresting the land office from Nsibambi, then-newly appointed KCCA Director for Physical Planning George Agaba was kicked-out over a botched eviction of squatters.
Nsibambi meanwhile opposes the disbandment of the land board, arguing that unlike the other bodies that were disbanded with KCC, KDLB has special functions and is a constitutional body that can only be disbanded after amending the Constitution.
Nsibambi says he is suing Musisi over the transfer of Shs 1.1billion from the Land Board account in one bank to Bank of Uganda under what Musisi called consolidating KCCA accounts. Nsibambi says that the transfer of the money was illegal since KCCA and KLDB are two different entities which must have separate accounts. He also alleges that the sum deposited on the KCCA Bank of Uganda Account was less than what was drawn from the KDLB account.
In another move, Lukwago’s camp plan to challenge Musisi’s appointment as ED in court. They say she is not qualified for the post which requires someone to be eligible for appointment as permanent secretary. Whereas Musisi has a Master’s degree, they say that the law requires a permanent secretary to have risen through the ranks of the civil service and acquired a given level of experience. They say Musisi worked for only a few years in Uganda Revenue Authority which cannot make up for the required experience.
Jennifer Musisi has been praised for taming city hawkers, fixing pot-holed roads, reining in taxi transport cartels, and cleaning up the city. But she is also accused of arrogance and acting with impunity.
Court officials were miffed when she appeared to defy an order to let the land board continue with its duties as the court prepared to hear the substantive petitions. Judiciary spokesperson Erias Kisawuzi issued a stern warning when the police, acting on her behalf, refused to open the offices even after the order. “Whoever is disobeying the court order should be notified that they risk serving six months in jail for contempt of court,” Kisawuzi told The Independent.
In the substantive case, two petitions were filed to the Constitutional Court by Nasser Kiingi and Winnie Kalyesubula seeking to block KCCA from disbanding KDLB, transferring its powers to the Uganda Land Commission or creating a new land board.
Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko, who is an ex-officio member of the KCCA council, also urged the councillors to go against Musisi’s and police’s decision. “The ED’s office is under investigation for mishandling the Youth Fund,” Nsereko claimed, “should it remain closed until investigations are complete?”
So when Lord Mayor Lukwago led Nsibambi and a group of councillors attempted to force their way into the offices on July 26 and a brawl ensued, they knew that both the law and popular opinion was against Musisi. The tone in which Lukwago demanded to know the identity of the commander of the police contingent, DPC James Ruhweza, and who sent him seemed to suggest that the officer better be aware of Kisawuzi’s warning. Hours later the police bowed to pressure and left.
Nsibambi says they took away “the vital files (even private documents) and destroyed some”. When The Independent visited the offices shortly after they were reopened, pieces of torn paper were strewn all over the floor.
When The Independent contacted Musisi on July 26, she said she had been out of office and was not in position to comment on the land board office closure. Peter Kaujju, the KCCA spokesperson, also said he would not comment because the land board issues “are being handled by the police”.
The Independent has information that on Sunday May 27, when the police first sealed off the offices of the Land Board, they had just received a letter from the acting Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director, Mike Okoa.
Okoa, the KCCA director for legal affairs, was working on behalf of Jennifer Musisi who was away in India. He wanted police to guard the offices because, he said, KDLB Chairman Yusuf Nsibambi and Secretary Sarah Kusiima were under investigation.
“Given that this body has custody of documents in respect of land in Kampala and some of the same are now the subject of investigation and their integrity needs to be assured,” Okoa wrote, “there is urgent need to secure land board offices at City Hall.”
But Nsibambi says the investigations are aimed at frustrating his work and he has come up with a plan. “I will never go back to police for questioning,” Nsibambi told The Independent. He says whatever case they want to bring against him, he will meet in them in court.
“We cannot have a police force that exists to serve individuals’ interests,” Nsibambi says.
When investigations into Nsibambi’s activities started, police attempted to charge him for advising the city council to lease off Plot 71 on Nkrumah Road on which a high rise building sprung up quickly after a KCCA clinic was demolished by a private, well-connected company, Securex Amenities Ltd.
At the time, police was investigating a case of Uganda VS KCC Executive Committee, Ref. KMP GEF 58/2011 over the plot.
Nsibambi escaped the noose because, although on April 21, 2011 he had participated in the meeting of the former KCC executive chaired by former Mayor Nasser Ssebaggala that gave away the plot, he had merely been called in to be consulted on another plot which was on the agenda. The case was dropped.
Later, allegations emerged that Nsibambi and Kusiima forged an application form submitted for Plot 2/6 Spring Road in Bugolobi in 2008.
But Nsibambi says it is malicious for the police to move against him and Kusiima, who hadn’t yet taken office by the time the offence under investigation was committed and leaving out those who were on the board then.
Nsibambi now says the police are combing KDLB files for anything he could have done wrong to bring charges against him and remove him from office in a move he says is engineered by “mafia”.
Nsibambi alleges that the original complaints against him and land board Secretary Kusiima were “typed in Musisi’s office, going by the font used”. He accuses Musisi of representing a group that wants to wrest control of land from him for personal benefit.
Musisi denies any personal interest in the management of land in Kampala but says she has to ensure that it is well managed.
Top Kampala lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi used to believe such declarations of good intentions by Musisi. He is not so sure these days.
“I used to think Lukwago was making her life difficult but I am now beginning to understand that she is also very difficult,” he said.
Rwakafuzi is unhappy that “a lot of energy is being wasted on a useless fight because of her (Musisi)”. To Rwakafuzi, the matter concerning the land board is “straight forward”. Land boards, he says, are a creation of Articles 240 and 241 of the Constitution and “Musisi should read (these articles)”.
Article 241(2) goes: “In the performance of its functions, a District Land Board shall be independent of the Uganda Land Commission and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority but shall take into account national and district council policy on land.”
Rwakafuzi asked: “Why did Musisi think it was her job to invite police to guard the offices of a different entity against its true occupants if she is not fighting a different war?” “I am starting to wonder,” he added, “is it in her interest for the city administrators to always be fighting?”
Musisi’s setbacks are partly blamed on her reliance of police officers like Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson, Ibin Ssenkumbi, DPC Ruhweza, and Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, Andrew Kawesa, who are good barking dogs with bad public relations skills.
In a revealing incident, as the KCCA councillors were agitating for the Land Office to be reopened, Ssekumbi poured oil on the fire.
Ssenkumbi claimed to be unaware of the court order restraining police from blockading the office.
“This country operates on laws,” Ssenkumbi said, “If they think we are not obeying the court order let them go to court.”
“What is the hurry?” he asked, “Those people are being paid their salaries; let them let the police investigate.”
Rwakafuzi is unimpressed by this attitude. “For how long will the investigations go on?” he wonders. He thinks the police should not have sealed off the land board offices for over two months just to investigate. “When will the concerned officers work; what about the people who want services from the land board?” Rwakafuzi asks.
Even Ssenkumbi knows that as long as the land office remains either closed or unable to operate because its files are in police custody, anyone who wants to transact in land in Kampala cannot. But Nsibambi has another warning; the land board has cases to defend in court and it could lose them and pay heavy fines if it remains non-operational.