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Kicking out Lukwago

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

What if Musisi’s NRM councillors can do it?

When Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago showed up in Council Hall for a scheduled meeting on March 7, the ceremonial mace was missing.

An agitated Lukwago mounted a hunt. No meeting of Kampala Capital City Authority’s (KCCA) can take place without this ornamented symbol of the mayor’s power. Lukwago recovered it after about 20 minutes.


That incident was just one of frustrations that KCCA councilors and other officials like to visit on the Lord Mayor. Since he was sworn-in in May last year,  the opposition-leaning Lukwago has been unable to effectively conduct KCCA business because of deliberate blockades imposed by a council dominated by the ruling party NRM members. An over-assertive Executive Director, Jennifer Semakula Musisi has rubbed salt in the wound.

Now word in the corridors of Whitehall, as the KCCA main office in Kampala is called, is that the councilors are plotting to kick Lukwago out of office. The question is: Can they do it legally?

Before the March 7 incident, Lukwago had failed to hold Authority meetings on at least two major occasions as councillors walked out on him.

One councillor told The Independent they are planning to have Lukwago removed from office for incompetence “because he has failed to hold Authority meetings”.

But they will have a hard task proving Lukwago’s incompetence just because they walk out on him during meetings.

For the plot to remove Lukwago to succeed, the petition by one-third of councillors has to be examined by a panel chaired by a High Court Judge or someone of comparable qualifications. If a prima facie case for the removal of the Lord Mayor is established, then at least two-thirds of the councillors must vote to remove him.

The councillors appear to be building their case.  Even after Lukwago, who doubles as Speaker for Council and is vested with authority to call and preside over its meetings, found the mace, they ensured he could still not cause the March 7 meeting to take place. Out of the elected 30 councillors, only six were in attendance. The rest had stayed away because Executive Director Jennifer Musisi had advised Lukwago that the meeting had been called on a “wrong date”.

It was Musisi’s latest move to place Lukwago in what she considers his rightful place; below and answerable to her.

All this happened a day after Musisi and Lukwago, after weeks of prodding by MPs, presented to parliament a joint statement a about the new bus transport in Kampala city, Pioneer Easy Bus.

Musisi had previously had to deal with difficult questions from Lukwago before the parliamentary committee probing the bus issue. Lukwago had expressed fears that Musisi, who is vociferously pushing for the speedy introduction of the bus company which has been linked to powerful people within the ruling party, wants to create a transport monopoly.

Regulating transport in the city is close to Lukwago’s heart too – but his focus is on regulating the management of taxi transport in Kampala and setting rates payable by taxi operators to KCCA. He had hoped to force the councillors who always side with Musisi to first consider his city transport agenda through the KCCA special sitting. Possibly that is why Musisi could not allow the meeting to proceed.

Lukwago and Musisi have been at loggerheads most of the time – over taxi management, eviction of vendors, demolition of unplanned buildings, appointment of deputy lord mayor, and now the introduction of city buses. A court case in which Lukwago accuses Musisi of usurping his powers is pending before the High Court.

Compromise or fight?

Lukwago is not the first city official to face this dilemma.

Makindye Division Mayor Ian Clarke, who works under KCCA, tasted it first. Elected on the independent ticket in 2011, Clarke faced a Makindye division council of 46 councillors, 35 of whom were NRM and one independent. He had to pick a deputy and had a checklist of desired qualities. Clarke decided that the most qualified person for deputy mayor had to belong to the Democratic Party. That person had to speak English, a female, a Muslim and from Makindye West since Clarke lives to the east.

NRM councillors, who were an overwhelming majority, erupted. They boycotted Clarke’s meetings and snubbed his administration. As the majority group, they demanded to be recognised by that appointment. Clarke reluctantly accepted to appoint an NRM deputy.

Today, Makindye division roads and tunnels are cleaner than those in any of the other four divisions of the city. Part of the success was because, at the beginning of his term, Clarke used to roll up his sleeves and join the workers in cleaning the division tunnels and streets.

Clarke, who says he was driven into local government politics to help improve his area and has a hands-on approach, argues this is what the councillors and city mayors have to do because they are paid for it. “I take home Shs 7 million of tax payers’ money every month,” he says, “I must earn it”. Clark’s deputy at Makindye division takes home Shs 5 million while the other 45 councillors each take home Shs 3million per month.

When Lukwago was faced with a similar dilemma, he chose to dig in other than compromise.

The NRM majority (18 out of the 30 elected councillors) demanded that Lukwago names his deputy from them but he declined. Lukwago also ruffled some of his DP members who had been councillors before when he passed them over and appointed Sulaiman Kidandala, a relative novice.

Kidandala has never been officially recognised. Kidandala says ED Jennifer Musisi has withheld the facilities and benefits attached to the office of deputy lord mayor from him, because the councillors declined to approve his appointment. Lukwago appears to be paying a heavy price for fighting Musisi and the councillors. However, Lukwago and Ian Clarke who compromised are, of course, playing different ball games.

Politics

Lukwago needed to name a deputy who could improve his standing within DP, a party with whose leadership he disagreed and stood for lord mayor as an independent, but he would like to lead. Appointing an NRM deputy would have made Lukwago be viewed by his supporters as kowtowing to the ruling party, like his predecessor Ssebaggala. Lukwago possibly concluded that it was better to be stuck with a legally unrecognised deputy who makes political sense than a political disaster of a compromise pick.

Clarke says, after all, Lukwago makes no mistake by sticking with his choice of deputy lord mayor.

He argues that even if the KCCA Act gives councillors the right to approve the mayor’s appointment for his deputy, the approval “should be based on technical and not political reasons”.

But Clarke is not as embedded in Uganda’s politics and even as division mayor he can afford to carry on like a technocrat. He does not care about re-election and repeatedly says he will be Makindye mayor for only these five years. He could vie for a bigger position next time, of course.

So it was possibly easier for Clarke to compromise, although not completely. The NRM councillors fronted their colleague Bob Muhumuza for the appointment but Clarke reminded them it was his job to appoint – they were only supposed to approve. He eventually appointed a female.

Wrangles, accusations, counter-accusation, brinkmanship, compromise, and belligerence have been the story of KCCA during its first ten months. It does not sound different from what had gone before during the KCC days.

“What Musisi is doing is essentially what the town clerk used to do (during the days of KCC),” says Clarke.

Clarke says KCCA is still dogged by multiple problems which need to be addressed in the first place, but “implementation remains a bigger challenge than even corruption”. Clarke says his division has eight garbage collection trucks but at no time during his tenure has he ever had even six of them running. This inhibits service provision.

Clarke says it is about the attitude of the political leadership and not whether Kampala is directly managed by the central government.

“If a district is created and it has only two health centres,” argues Clarke, “it is unlikely to have capacity to build a strong health services division to provide quality health care for the locals”.

But Musisi disagrees. She says Kampala’s new structure is better placed to handle service delivery. “The ED is insulated from political interference by councillors as compared to how the town clerk was,” Musisi says.

Lukwago says, however, that the difference is in where the political interference Musisi talks about is coming from. “Does she mean she isn’t influenced by the politician who appointed her?” Lukwago asks.

Lukwago, along with his predecessors Nasser Ssebaggala and Ssebaana Kizito all from the opposition DP, told The Independent that taking over the city was meant to give NRM control over a city it couldn’t capture through elections.

Decentralised stakes

KCCA was crafted as a vehicle for sidelining the elected mainly opposition-leaning politicians in Whitehall. It was envisaged to end political wrangles in the city and uplift Kampala to the standards of a modern city. Now experts argue the takeover of the administration of Kampala city by the central government, other than achieving its intended goals, typifies the failure of an earlier policy the NRM government had lauded as a success.

“Re-centralising the management of Kampala city by the same government which introduced decentralisation almost 20 years ago is an admission that decentralisation is not working,” says Makerere University’s John Kanyamurwa, who researches in decentralisation and local government.

He doubts the structure of KCCA can work meaningfully. It is a hotchpotch of local government structures, representative politics, and executive political gerrymandering.

At its helm is the “ceremonial” executive Lord Mayor without any administrative structure. Below him are a deputy he appoints and controls and ordinary councillors he does not control.

Parallel to the Lord Mayor is the Executive Director with a technical team and administrative structure and powers. However, the ED cannot legally originate policy.

In other local governments countrywide, the elected district head similar to the Lord Mayor heads the executive which comprises a chairperson, vice chairperson and not more than five executive secretaries. Usually the most important secretaries are for finance, production and works and social services.

The executive, with assistance from the civil servants, drafts policy proposals that are debated and approved by the council, which has a speaker independent of the executive. Kanyamurwa argues this structure has more potential than the KCCA structure to lead to progressive local governments.

Introduced in 1993 as a pilot scheme before being rolled out to the entire country in 1997, decentralisation was supposed to take services closer to the people by devolving decision making power to local governments.

Kampala city was then just another district, managed by a mayor, councillors, and a team of technical people led by the town clerk. But the government claimed, the corruption and inefficiencies at Whitehall were caused by rivalry between its officials and city mayors, who since 1997 and 2006 were from the opposition parties.

Historical baggage

President Yoweri Museveni first deliberately set out to seduce the opposition mayors. Nasser Ssebaggala’s second tenure as mayor, between 2006 and 2011, saw the hitherto opposition guru lean heavily towards the ruling NRM before eventually declaring his support for Museveni towards the end of his tenure. Meanwhile service delivery got worse as mounds of garbage remained uncollected in the city and pot-holes got bigger.

Museveni decided to directly oversee the city and the Kampala Capital City Authority Act 2010 was passed. It was a reversal of the decentralisation policy which Museveni and government technocrats had touted as the panacea to poor service delivery.

It was claimed decentralisation made local leaders more likely to understand the needs of their people and be more accessible to the people.

But the Lukwago and Musisi stand-off begs the questions: Was there sufficient basis for re-centralising the management of Kampala city? Is mere recentralisation the answer to the challenges of service delivery in the city?

In Kanyamurwa’s view, hiring and retaining competent staff, strong supervision and adequate funding were the questions the government had to answer other than take over the management of Kampala.

Musisi supports Kanyamurwa’s call for more funding for KCCA. She says the Authority needs Shs 1trillion to fix city roads but was allocated only Shs 45 billion this financial year.

But if Musisi feels the funding at her disposal is pitiable, she needs to hear former Mayor Ssebaggala’s story. Ssebaggala says when he was mayor, KCC would be allocated Shs 40 billion from the central government to work on 1500km of roads, collect garbage, and do other things.

The comparable figure for KCCA this year is Shs 148 billion. “Any elected mayor would do better with this money,” says Ssebaggala.

So far the increased funding has not done much. Experts, therefore, argue that all that needed to be handled were supervision, human resources and funding.

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