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Ready for a fight

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Lukwago takes on Gen. Tinyefuza and UTODA

Barely a week after evicting former Kampala City Mayor Al-haji Nasser Ssebaggala from the official residence of the town clerk, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago says he now wants the Mayor’s residence back too.

Located on Plot 2 Mabua Road in the plush Upper Kololo, the two-storey official residence of the mayor is currently occupied by the Coordinator of Intelligence Services, Gen. David Tinyefuza, who might not want to leave.

But Lukwago is adamant. “If the President has a State House and several State Lodges,” Lukwago told The Independent, “why shouldn’t the mayor have an official residence?”

Tinyefuza, who cited security reasons, took over the house three years ago. He will not be easy to evict. In fact, merely attempting to evict Tinyefuza makes Lukwago a daredevil. At the same time, Lukwago is taking on Utoda, the powerful monopoly that runs the lucrative public transport sector of the city.

He has set up a win-or-die showdown by making demands he knows Utoda cannot meet. The demands include a contract between Utoda and KCCA, Utoda’s memorandum and articles of association, its audited books of accounts, the annual returns they file with the registrar of companies and the structure of taxi fares.

Utoda is unlikely to give Lukwago what he wants. Why then is Lukwago fighting a battle where others have failed? The answer lies partly with character and partly with politics.

The June 24 eviction of Ssebaggala from the former Town Clerk’s house was on politics; it was on Lukwago’s campaign card. So he has scored a point although the eviction was spearheaded by the KCCA Executive Director, Jennifer Kiwanuka Musisi.

Restructuring Kampala’s public transport sector; including breaking Utoda’s racket, fixing the dilapidated taxi parks, the potholes, and city parking, was also on Lukwago’s cards.

But evicting Tinyefuza was not. Apart from confirming his opposition to the ruling party, Lukwago’s picking a fight with Tinyefuza is a question of character. Even in his mellowest pose, Lukwago is a stout gentleman with the bull-face of a wrestler readying for a fight.

Unlike his counterpart, the KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi who also likes a good fight but prefers those she can win easily, Lukwago, will fight any fight as long as it must be fought.

On the Utoda case, for example, Lukwago insists there is no running contract between Utoda and KCCA.

Indeed an email from the KCCA Executive Director’s office confirmed to The Independent that “to-date, no formal contract has been signed” between Utoda and KCCA.

But it also noted that “on the 15th April 2011, UTODA was informed that its management of the taxi operations in Kampala District had been extended from 1st November 2010 to 31st October 2014. UTODA was to pay Shs.392 million (VAT inclusive) per month to KCC.

But Lukwago told this reporter that extending Utoda’s contract first by one year and later by a further two years up to 2014 was a proposal not a contract. He is challenging Utoda and the KCCA executive director to produce the ‘duly executed contract’.

He also says the Shs 392 million per month that Utoda is required to remit to KCCA was determined arbitrarily because the authority does not know how many vehicles Utoda deals with and how much it collects.

In the end, Lukwago wants an open bidding process by which the KCCA will award a contract to a company to manage the public transport system in Kampala.

The politics

Lukwago has a personal fight against Utoda. One of his aides told The Independent that Lukwago’s camp had to mount a tough fight against Utoda operatives during the first Kampala mayoral election of Feb. 23 that were cancelled.

He accuses Utoda operatives of having been at the forefront of pre-ticking ballots in favour of Peter Sematimba, the NRM candidate Lukwago eventually beat to the mayorship during the botched mayoral election of Feb. 23.

Lukwago, who comes from the opposition Democratic Party even though he ran as on independent ticket, presides over a body dominated by elected councillors from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and an executive director appointed by President Yoweri Museveni. The NRM is expected to use its majority in the KCCA council to block Lukwago’s plans.

But forcing reform in the public transport system in the city or pushing Utoda out of business altogether would have enormous political advantages for Lukwago.

Lukwago claims that Utoda is an unpopular organisation. “The drivers, the conductors and the touts are all dissatisfied; it is only the management (of Utoda) which is happy under the current arrangement,” Lukwago told The Independent.

He also knows that most people who use public transport in Kampala are not happy either. The two taxi parks are heavily potholed and crowded, with vendors making it difficult for travellers to move around.

The parks also flood and get drenched in mud whenever it rains, and are so disorderly that filled taxis spend long negotiating their way out. Whenever there are swings in demand, operators vary fares to their advantage.

But at its recent General Meeting held at the Youth Sharing Centre in Nsambya, Utoda Kampala Chairman Hajj Musa Katongole indicated they would not yield to Lukwago’s demands.

Tough Utoda

Whenever Utoda’s contract expires, there is a heated battle over its renewal, but it has always come out on top. The fiercest battle it has so far faced was in the early 2000s when a company called Free Line Ltd vied for the management of public transport in the city.

Free Line enjoyed the open backing of powerful NRM individuals like controversial Presidential Advisor, Maj. Roland Kakooza-Mutale, but it still lost out because, observers say, Utoda was ‘too time-tested and connected’ to be pushed out.

The contest was also fought out on streets and taxi parks between Utoda and Free Line operatives. In face of the danger presented by Lukwago’s inquests, elements within Utoda are already warning of an impending battle.

Legal battles

The first battle, on whether KCCA and Utoda have a running contract, is on. Although their classes at the faculty of law of Makerere University are ten years apart, Lukwago who graduated in 1998 and Jennifer Semakula who graduated in 1987 appear determined to enjoy a lively debate. Lukwago possibly is referring to a written contract, while Jennifer Ssemakula Musisi is happy to accept an oral contract. In any case, issues in the current case are quite similar to those handled by Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire in 2005 when Utoda’s contract with KCC was challenged in court.

But if Lukwago’s attempt to pin Utoda legally is not iron-clad, the issues of transparency and accountability that he raises are pertinent. He wants to see the Memorandum and Articles of Association to confirm Utoda’s status because he knows it is a company ‘Limited by Guarantee’. This means it is not allowed to carry out a business for profit since its status places it in the category of a non-governmental organisation.

By asking for the annual returns and the audited books of accounts, Lukwago says he wants to establish how much Utoda collects, how many taxis they deal with and whether they meet the relevant statutory obligations like paying taxes. Utoda is unlikely to divulge these details.

Utoda’s General Secretary Charles Kamya-Kateregga told The Independent on July 1 that Utoda has about 50,000 members. Therefore, if it had been registered as a company ‘Limited by Shares’, its membership would have been constrained by the 50-member limitation. He says they didn’t register it as a public limited company because that too would “require so many things”.

He said instead of Lukwago insisting on “discussing the documents” he needs to discuss the challenges of their job, particularly, the escalating price of the Toyota Hiace commuter taxis from Shs 17 million five years ago to over Shs 40 million today.

Kateregga’s demeanour is of a person who has won many battles for Utoda before.  He was there in early 2007 when the Parliamentary Committee on Local Government Accounts ordered the revocation of Utoda’s contract due to non-payment of the agreed monthly remittances.

The Auditor General’s report of 2000/2001 had singled out Utoda as the biggest debtor to Kampala City Council (KCC now KCCA). It owed the council Shs 1.8 billion (Approx. 12 months taxes at the Shs 150 million per month rate then).

The parliamentary committee also queried the amount of remittances, saying that whereas Utoda then collected Shs 600 million per month, it was supposed to remit only Shs 150 million to KCC. They further argued that the renewal of Utoda’s contract in 2005 was irregular since it was not subjected to open bidding.

Although the then Town Clerk Ruth Kijjambu promised the committee that she would ‘immediately’ send out a letter revoking Utoda’s contract, the taxi body stayed put. The then Mayor, Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala, was said to enjoy an excellent relationship with the Utoda leadership, especially with the Utoda Kampala chairman, Hajj Katongole.

Katongole enjoys a similar relationship with President Museveni to the extent that many equate Lukwago’s win against Utoda to an opposition victory over Museveni in Kampala. As a result, Utoda is accused of covering up its inefficiency by supporting the rul­ing party. Because it mobilises and fund­raises for the ruling NRM, it has come to be regarded as untouchable.

Whenever NRM has a function within Kampala, Utoda usually helps mobilise and transport people to the venue. There are also accusations that it helps fuel the NRM’s alleged vote rigging machine in the city.

In any case, President Museveni has made no secret of his intention to ignore Lukwago and deal with KCCA’s Execu­tive Director Jennifer Musisi to ‘fix’ Kampala. He has already carried out an inspection of the city by night, conducted around by Musisi, to assess the progress of public works projects.

As the President’s Assistant Press Sec­retary Nabusayi Wamboka wrote in an article in the state-controlled New Vision newspaper, “the President is determined to ignore the politicians and put the man­agement of the city in the hands of tech­nocrats”.

The chief technocrat President Musev­eni hopes to spearhead his strategy is Musisi who has her own plans for the public transport sector. Among them, Nabusayi wrote, is a plan to tarmac the taxi parks. If she succeeds and traffic flow becomes smoother, it would cut some turf from under Lukwago’s feet and probably make Utoda more acceptable to Kampa­lans. That would leave Lukwago with the challenge of remaining a ceremonial Lord Mayor – an expensive ornament that Kampalans do not need.

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