By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Former Kampala Central MP Erias Lukwago was on March 14 elected the first Lord Mayor of Kampala city under the new law that made the city an Authority. The Authority will now be administered by an executive director appointed by the President. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to Lukwago about his new job.
Why do you think people of Kampala voted you?
The overriding reason was I stood for fighting social injustices, corruption and for good governance. I stood for clean leadership. The reason you see the waste and filth, slum areas without proper sanitation, no clean water, no traffic lights in the city is because of bad governance and stealing of public funds.
What are the problems of the city?
There is total neglect by the central government. Collusion between the people at City Hall and politicians, their language has been “Eating”. Before they work on anything they first ask “where is my cut [share]?” In one transaction alone, a man from city council went to the account and withdrew Shs700m and put it in a box and drove away. The money central government gives to City Council for road maintenance and construction is very inadequate. What can Shs15 billion do in a city of 1100km yet it is only 340km which is tarmac and in a sorry state? I want to push government to make a specific vote for administration and development of Kampala because under the new law we are no longer a local government unit. Ours is a special unit.
How will you deal with these problems?
We have got a robust legal framework to fight corruption. It is the charisma and stamina to deal with corruption that is lacking and this is what I come with.
What is your solution to the controversial allocation of public land to tycoons in the city?
It is one of the critical issues because public land, greenbelts, schools, roads have been targeted in the land bonanza. We are going to freeze all pending transactions in regard to giving away public facilities. We shall re-demarcate and re-gazette them as public facilities so that we maintain the greenbelts and places of public resort as they are supposed to be in the city. We intend to develop these public places so that everyone enjoys the natural beauty of the city.
Do you think you will succeed given that you enter City Hall under a new law where the mayor’s powers have been clipped and you have an executive director on top?
That the mayor is just going to be a paper tiger or just ceremonial is a misconception being perpetrated by our detractors. The Lord Mayor is still wielding a lot of authority even under the new law. I have the powers to initiate policies, programmes, and strategies, preside over my council and pass them. The forward them to the executive director for implementation. The mayor and his council have the power to design service delivery standards and timelines for action. Some services are in the hands of private entities and we will talk to them to observe standards and those who will not comply we will cancel their contracts. The starting point is to review existing contracts.
We have the power to oversee the activities of the executive director. As Lord Mayor I do not need to control the funds, that’s not my activity, it is for the executive director. But how it is spent, whether there is value for money; it is our role to keep monitoring their activities. Of course we have the veto powers in collaboration with mayors of city municipalities.
The council is dominated by NRM. How will you convince them to adopt your ideas?
With this talk in the city that office of Lord Mayor is going to be toothless, that the council is predominantly NRM I intend to rely more on the will of the people. I know power belongs to the people and I will invoke it. People should not leave the responsibility to Lukwago alone. We should carry the burden together throughout my term.
You said money is essential to the running of this city. Yet you have been quoted as saying you will not beg Museveni for money. How will you manage running the city?
That is a statement of principle. People tend to think that this country belongs to President Museveni and that he should manage it as his own home. That’s where they go wrong. Even where I disagree with the President, there must be systems that will bring us to execute our respective obligations without necessarily one bowing down to the other. Appropriation of public funds is a function of parliament; whether Lukwago goes to State House or not, the vote of Kampala must be provided for. You cannot make the people of Kampala suffer because Lukwago has not knelt before you.
Former mayor Ssebaana Kizito says you should cooperate with the executive director appointed by President Museveni to oversee work at City Hall, what do you say about his advice?
I have no problem cooperating with the executive director as long as it is not contravening the law. But if you appoint a politician as an executive director with the view of frustrating my efforts and programmes, definitely you expect me to have a showdown with that person. President Museveni has not demonstrated the will to work hand in hand with my leadership.
Didn’t you receive his congratulatory message?
But how about the riders he put there? Actually it was a paradox of sorts. He has not conceded that I won. There are a lot of innuendos to the effect that I rigged and the arrogance he exhibited in that message saying that with or without Lukwago, time for recovery of the city has come. The president still has his hands in gloves and is punching and you are telling me to cooperate with him.
Museveni has a way of co-opting members of the opposition. Sebaggala, whom you will succeed, was DP but now he is a sworn NRM supporter. How will avoid this trap?
For Sebaggala it was quite obvious. Even before he was elected the mayor he was in the hands of President Museveni. I have a name to protect. I stand firm when I am convinced that the decision I have taken is correct. I stand for truth and justice so I respect the values I cherish. In this particular case I see nothing I admire about NRM.
Your critics say you have been confrontational to Museveni. Will this attitude help you achieve your dream for Kampala?
I have not been confrontational to him. He sees nothing good at all from the opposition. In my leadership style I am not going to be submissive; I will not be subjugated. I will respect the President, the central government, but I am not going to be a puppet. That is totally out.
You said yours was not only a victory against Peter Sematimba but a victory against Museveni yet everyone knows the President did not contest for mayorship. What were you implying?
Yes, President Museveni clearly came and indicated that he wanted to bring me down completely. He even used unorthodox methods of fighting me; summoning my agents at State House, compromising them and intimidating me. He facilitated Mr Ssematimba with all state resources. He assembled all the state machinery against me including the police. Even the Electoral Commission was against me; summoning me over frivolous claims. I stood firm and I was triumphant.
What’s the worst habit of Kampalans?
Sewage is overflowing; people lack social amenities like toilets, clean water, and garbage disposal manners. But before you condemn the public, let me first clean up City Hall then we shall inculcate this culture of people not littering anywhere and respecting greenbelts.
How do you plan to deal with it?
Let’s first deal with the leadership problem. Then we shall provide garbage bins and tell people not to step on the grass and clean the streets.
Do you have a model city you admire?
It would be fantasy on my part to say that I will transform Kampala to the standard of Paris, New York or London in five years. These are the cities you would admire. They have all the facilities you need in a real city.
What do you admire about them?
These have almost everything functioning perfectly. How can you talk of fully automated systems (here)? But it is possible to have the average standard of cities like Accra, Lagos, and Durban