By Joan Akello
Erias Lukwago, the out-of-office Lord Mayor of Kampala talked to The Independent’s Joan Akello about his one year absence at Kampala City Council Authority (KCAA) and the endless legal battles.
What has happened since your impeachment last year?
I have never been impeached. There was a court order by the Registrar stopping the meeting and Justice Nyanzi said the impeachment process could not take place unless the court has pronounced itself on the matter. Justice Lydia Mugambe confirmed that subsequently April this year that there was no impeachment; saying that anyone who proceeded with the meeting was a contemnor who had defied the court order including Frank Tumwebaze, Peter Nyombi, Jennifer Musisi and Eng. Dr. BadruKiggundu who had purported to proceed to hold a by-election. Badru Kiggundu abandoned all arrangements after court told him there was no vacancy at City Hall.
But you have been kept out of office?
Save for a few hours this year when I sat in office this year, I have not been in office. The Attorney General said they were appealing the decision of Justice Lydia Mugambe and requested that; for the time being as they are pursuing the appeal, I should not resume the duties, but I remain the Lord Mayor. It was a very absurd situation and it was held by Justice Steven Kavuma saying that you remain Lord Mayor but you will not access the Lord Mayor’s parlor. It sounds paradoxical and absurd that a public office can remain closed for over a year, locked up on Nov. 25. I was looking at the skulls of Luweero and wondered why people had to lose their lives because Museveni and others went to the bush chanting slogans of rule of law, constitutionalism, and democracy but now vital as it is, the Lord Mayor’s parlour remains closed for a year; that is quite ominous and points to dark days to come.
Doesn’t it point to holes at City Hall?
It all goes back to President Museveni; he has personalised everything and everything rotates around personal rule in the country. He has killed almost all institutions. There are those offices that apparently seem to be functioning or occupied by people but they are non-functional. For instance the office of the Speaker, what is this parliament doing now? There is neither a Chief Justice nor a Deputy Chief Justice at the Judiciary because the court made a pronouncement that Justice Kavuuma cannot act as Chief Justice. The whole mess has gone beyond borders including the coup that was plotted against Margaret Zziwa, a resolution was passed to suspend her for 21 days in which period she will be investigated. This is breaching all rules of the regional assembly. In the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, the president himself signed a notice calling for a general assembly; a substantive Secretary General who was elected in a delegate’s conference is barred from executing his duties. It points to a national crisis, not peculiar to my office. It is because of personal violation or the rule of law of the country and entrenchment of one man’s vision and I believe that if we are witness change after a dictatorship has been in power, such events were bound to happen.
What would you have done had you been in office this year?
The office of the Lord Mayor remains the focal and nerve centre for policy formation. I would offer that environment and still serve as the nerve centre of Kampala. Right now it is in a total mess, there is no policy direction in issues of structural development and transformation or plan to guide the mushrooming structures in Kampala and that is my duty; issues of accountability and oversight; how much is sunk in, getting value for money. You would shudder if I told you how much is being siphoned off, the problem is that you (media) pick out flowers being planted, a fountain installed and you say there is progress. We appreciate that but you do not ask for the checks and balances. They are spending Shs48 billion to buy Usafi Market which is six acres but within the same locality there is Owino which is 7.7 acres was sold at Shs4 billion.
Where is the rationale in all those policies they are making?
Kiseka market was sold at Shs1.5 billion also prime land but now somebody proposing to purchase amakeshift six –acre market at Shs48billion and you are all clapping. There is a mess on other sectors including the transport. I came up with a Bill for an ordinance to regulate the operations of the matatus. It was nipped in the bud; now they are fighting each other. Recently we witnessed nasty incidents of people killing each other in the taxi parks.
Up to now the buses are still parked, is it Lukwago who is responsible?
We have no instrument to regulate them. Those without ideas to reorganize them say just throw them out. They have not thought of a comprehensive transport plan or policy on transport. Then chronicle problems of floods, recently a woman died in Lubigi channel in Kimombasa, Bwaise yet in 2011 the World Bank under the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructural Development Project (KIIDP) gave us Shs 20.8 billion which was paid to Spencon to reconstruct that channel to drain most of those parts. We came up with a Kampala drainage master plan to fix the drainage black spots but they have not been fixed such as Kalerwe, Namungoona, Bwaise, Kasubi, Kawaala are all supposed to be drained. There is a humanitarian crisis; the brutal methods used to enforce law and order. For us to create trade order in Kampala there must be both macro and, microeconomic policies. The iron hand must be used to deal with stubborn elements but should not be the primary method to use and l always questioned the US$ 13.5million Markets and Agricultural Trade Improvement Programme (MATIP-1)secured from African Development Bank that was meant to construct sixmarkets but only one, Wandegeya was constructed, the rest in Kasubi, Nakulabye, Ntinda, Kansanga- Nabutiti and Busega have not yet the time-line for the program ends in December 2014. Government has no clear policy ontransport for boda-boda, employment- people just come and start their own business, and none on housing. Now they are planning on destroying muzigos but where is that law or policy. Ugandans love ad hocking; jumping from one thing to another. For instance in the transport sector from chasing bodaboda to matatus, then the buses come and then they go, they talk of cable cars all of a sudden you are all excited, and also talk of a railway line and train and a municipal bond. This is getting excited over nothing; especially the elites.
Why should the public be concerned that you are not at City Hall?
Then why did they go to cast their votes twice because the first election was cancelled over malpractice? Why did government spend close to Shs 3 billion to hold those two polls to get the mayor of Kampala? Have you seen any organised society without a leader? People must be concerned; the census is telling us we have 1.5 million. That is a conservative figure; I do not believe it because they used to say 3.5 million during the day and about 2.5million at night. Now who is heading that community? The absence of elected leadership is anarchy; there is anarchy and rule of the jungle in Kampala. There are no systems in Kampala; it is not a functional city.
But your legal battles seem to have also stalled. What has happened?
The Supreme Court threw me back to the Court of Appeal. On Nov. 25, the day of the anniversary, I wrote to court to remind them of their obligation. The Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal in August to hear the case expeditiously and the registrar of the court said the court had shortage of justices with many of them in criminal session and would create space for my case in October but it passed and when we went back at the end of October, he said Mid-November. I have done everything humanly possible because I know the systems are not functional. Even the justice system because I would be knocking at the door of the Chief Justice, in parliament, the chairman and vice chairperson of theCommittee on Public Service and Local government were found to have forged a committeereport on KCCA last yearbut have never been reprimanded or prosecuted. So what do you want me to do?May be I will tell the people of Kampala to assemble somewhere and we call for divine intervention.
You have cried in public more than once; are you very emotional or crying is one of your strategies?
When you are happy, naturally you will express it; your conduct and demeanor shows that in the same way when you are offended. These are reflex actions. I am not one person who would be carried away by emotion; it is the media that exaggerates. If I were that type of person, I think I would be crying every day. I can resiliently handle challenges no matter the magnitude.There have been stressful moments and situations that have spillover effects on your family. I am touched emotionally when I see my parents or my children now that they are growing up and can understand the full import of these issues. But I cannot be broken down easily. Many of those people making those observations have never been in my shoes, when the whole state machinery sets out to crash you. When the head of state says I will crush this person unless he comes personally and apologises to me not only in words but in actions. He does all sorts of dirty things to bring you down and you say you will not break my back, you have seen people who have been to the bush who could not sustain that. I have been on the receiving end of this government since my campus days and I have survived.
What three things highlight and best describe your tenure as Lord Mayor?
The state machinery was aligned in such a way that I would be treated as a powerless person, ceremonial and said the law had whittled down the powers of the mayor and would come to define my tenure. The debate started after the elections. It was a hotly contested race; recall what President Museveni said, meaning that this position was so important and he wanted it at all costs. But after the rigging machinery was overwhelmed by the people power, they changed tact and said the Lord Mayor’s place is useless because the powers were taken over by the central government. So why did you rig to get a useless position? This pull and push has defined my tenure and it has also been characterised by the rule of the jungle.The third is humiliation of Lukwago using the Kidandalas as mere pawns and a number of proxies to humiliate me. Every time Museveni comes to Kampala he insults me or makes me a subject of ridicule. He insults those who voted me saying we committed suicide by tying a noose around their necks. He has gone on to deny me the basics emoluments I am entitled to. Even hosting the mayors conference in my absence was Museveni taking pride in humiliating his challengers.
What will it take to change KCCA’s image?
You cannot separate the issues of KCCA from the national crisis. Currently KCCA is alienated from the people just like the NRM government is especially from the people of Kampala. The biggest challenge has been becoming a lord mayor at a time the regime has lost legitimacy. President Museveni and his people, if they have any support in Kampala; it could be 10 percent. Such government definitely finds it difficult to have a functioning governance system. It will take the goodwill of the people to turn around the city. President Museveni has overstayed in power and the gap between the people and the government is extremely wide. This is the biggest challenge I have faced in Kampala. I have to one way or the other fit in the government system but it is illegitimate and now they are focusing on brutal methods of enforcing change. They have no development agenda in Kampala.
What should we expect in 2015 at KCCA?
Nothing new, even the talk of launching theShs260 billion Municipal Bond is a mere dream. Like I said, plans for Kampala are raw ideas and result of wishful thinking. Kampala needs plans that have been approved by the political wing, so who will approve the municipal bond and what policy is going to guide the projects the technocrats say will be catered for by the bond and how will it be repaid?All these questions must be answered but who will give this accountability when the political wing is not working? Even if 2016 comes and I have not been in office for over two years, I will not bend my back for President Museveni.